CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, January 12, 2008

SCOTUS to Hear Admissibility Case Concerning Out of Court Statement from murder Vic to Police

Court_front_med From The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a Los Angeles murderer's appeal to decide a legal question that sounds like a macabre joke: The man argues that his victim's statements to police shouldn't be admissible, because the dead witness isn't available for cross-examination.

The case, to be decided in the spring, could have a serious impact in many trials where a key witness isn't there to testify.

Three years ago, in something of a surprise, the high court said "hearsay" or other out-of-court statements generally cannot be used in a trial. That repealed the more relaxed rule that had been in effect for more than two decades. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 12, 2008 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Spotlight: Jennifer B. Sargent

Sargent72dpi This week the CrimProf Blog spotlights Vermont Law School's Jennifer B. Sargent.

CrimProf Jennifer B. Sargent specializes in criminal law, clinical practice, and legal and judicial ethics. As director of the J.D. Internship and Judicial Externship programs, she places, supervises, and mentors students in field-based, clinical internships.   The courses she has taught at Vermont Law School include Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law (General Practice Program), Introduction to Clinical Practice (J.D. Internship Orientation), Legal Profession, and the Professional Responsibility/Judicial Ethics seminar.

Professor Sargent earned her B.A. degree from Emory University in 1989 and her J.D. degree from Suffolk University Law School in 1992. She worked as a judicial law clerk to the justices of the Vermont Superior, District and Family Courts in Washington and Orange counties from 1992 to 1993. She then worked as a managing attorney, assistant appellate defender and staff attorney with the New Hampshire Public Defender from 1993 to 2000. In 2002, New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen appointed Professor Sargent as the special justice of the Littleton, Lancaster, and Haverhill district courts. She shares her time between Vermont Law School and the New Hampshire District Court. In 2003, the New Hampshire Supreme Court appointed Professor Sargent to the Hearings Committee for the New Hampshire Professional Conduct Committee. 

In 2005, Professor Sargent became a faculty member of the National Judicial College, where she lectures on various topics to judges from around the United States.  She is also a Visiting Associate Professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for the fall 2006 term, teaching freshman expository writing.  Professor Sargent has lectured on district court criminal practice, effective opening statements, and closing arguments for the New Hampshire Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education Program. She has lectured for the New Hampshire Public Defender’s Continuing Legal Education Program on domestic violence litigation and substantive legal issues in sexual assault cases. She has also lectured to the pro bono Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) program in New Hampshire on issues of domestic violence and divorce. [Mark Godsey]

January 12, 2008 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

FBI Has Been Cut Off of Access to Wiretaps for Not Paying Their Bill

From Telecommunications companies have repeatedly cut off FBI access to wiretaps of alleged terrorists and criminal suspects because the bureau did not pay its phone bills, according to the results of an audit released yesterday.

The report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said that more than half of nearly 1,000 FBI telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time, including one invoice for $66,000 at an unidentified field office.

The report cited a case in which an order obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- which covers clandestine wiretaps of terrorism and espionage suspects -- was halted because of "untimely payment." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 10, 2008 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Evidence Discovered of Prosecutor Wanting to Downplay Evidence in Innocent Man's trial

From Only weeks before Chad Heins' murder trial in 1996, a Jacksonville prosecutor sent a memo asking a state crime lab supervisor to downplay findings that stray hairs found on the victim's body came from an unknown person.

"I need to structure your testimony carefully so as to convince the jury that the unknown hairs are insignificant," Assistant State Attorney Stephen Bledsoe wrote in a letter recently obtained by the Times-Union.

In December 1996, a jury convicted Heins of the first-degree murder of his sister-in-law in her Mayport apartment. He was sentenced to life in prison until new DNA tests led to his release last month.

Bledsoe's letter was among thousands of pages of documents examined by Heins' lawyers after a judge allowed re-testing of DNA in the case. Although the attorneys don't believe it affected the outcome of the case, the letter shows a "cavalier disregard for the actual evidence," said Jennifer Greenberg, policy director of the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked for Heins' release.

"It actually made my stomach turn," Greenberg said Tuesday. "This is not a game. This is justice. These are people's lives and they matter and the truth matters." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 9, 2008 in Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CrimProf Kevin Washburn Speaks About Criminal Justice in Indian Country

Washburnmug200 Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law CrimProf Kevin Washburn, an expert in Indian legal issues, will speak on criminal justice in Indian Country for the first annual William C. Canby Distinguished Scholar Lecture at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.   

     "I have worked for more than five years on scholarship focused on the serious problems with criminal justice in Indian country, and I intend to provide an overview of those findings," Washburn said. "In the course of this work, I've looked at federal prosecution, sentencing, trial juries and many of the practical challenges facing criminal justice in Indian country."

     The lecture, "American Indians, Crime, and the Law: Five Years of Scholarship on Criminal Justice in Indian Country," will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, in the Great Hall in Armstrong Hall. The event is sponsored by the Indian Legal Program at the College of Law. It is free and open to the public, but registration is recommended.

January 9, 2008 in CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Man on Ohio's Death Row Freed After Pleading No Contest

From British citizen who spent two decades on Ohio's death row was released from jail Monday after pleading no contest to three charges related to a fire that killed a 2-year-old girl.

Ken Richey, who once came within an hour of being executed, walked free for the first time since he was convicted of setting a northwest Ohio apartment fire that killed the toddler in 1986.

"It's great to finally be free at long last, and I'm looking forward to going home to Scotland," said Richey, wearing a blue, yellow and green Scottish cap called a glengarry. "It's been a long time coming."

He spoke with a thick Scottish accent at an Applebee's restaurant, where he stopped to have a steak lunch with his family and attorneys.

"He's told me that for 15 years that when he gets out that's what he's going to get," said his attorney, Ken Parsigian.

Prosecutors approved the deal after an appeals court overturned Richey's conviction and death sentence last year. The deal lets Richey, a dual U.S.-British citizen, go home to Scotland without admitting that he had anything to do with the fire. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 7, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Charles Taylor's War Crime Trial Begins

From The war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia's former president, heard its first testimony Monday and saw video of victims telling of being sexually assaulted or dismembered by rebels who plundered West African diamond fields.

The trial before the international tribunal in this Dutch city resumed following a six-month break, having been adjourned in June after Taylor boycotted proceedings and fired his lawyer.

Back in court, Taylor looked confident and blew a kiss to supporters in the gallery as his new lawyers challenged the prosecution to prove that he was behind the widespread murder, rape and amputations during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Prosecutors allege the so-called ''blood diamonds'' mined in Sierra Leone were smuggled through neighboring Liberia and that Taylor used the profits to arm the rebels. Taylor, 59, is accused of orchestrating the violence from his presidential palace in Liberia's capital, Monrovia. He has pleaded innocent to all 11 charges.

He is the first former African head of state to face an international tribunal.

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 7, 2008 in International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FBI Report Shows Number of Violent Crimes Decreased Once Again

From The number of violent crimes reported nationwide dipped slightly in the first half of 2007, signaling the first notable decline in violence in two years, the FBI said today.

Violent crimes, including murders and robberies, fell 1.8 percent from January to June last year when compared with the same period in 2006, according to new preliminary FBI statistics. Property crimes fell also, by 2.6 percent, the data show. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 7, 2008 in Reports | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

SCOTUS to Hear Lethal Injection Case

Court_front_med From On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a Kentucky case to decide whether the method of lethal injection used in more than two dozen states, including Texas, is cruel and unusual punishment.

The case will not decide whether the death penalty itself is unconstitutional, but whether the drugs used to inflict death – sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride – cause unnecessary pain.

Sodium thiopental is used to render the inmate unconscious; pancuronium bromide paralyzes the muscles; potassium chloride stops the heart. The three-drug cocktail was first used in Texas in 1982.

The Kentucky inmates – Ralph Baze, who was convicted of killing a sheriff and deputy in 1992, and Thomas C. Bowling, who was convicted of killing a couple after an automobile accident in 1990 – argue that if the first drug wears off, the paralysis caused by the pancuronium bromide may hide excruciating pain, causing the inmate to suffer needlessly.

Pancuronium bromide "prevents a person from speaking, moving, or expressing any other outward signs of pain or consciousness, but is extremely agonizing in a conscious person as the person suffocates just as if he or she was drowning with weights on his or her body to prevent movement," the filings say.

In addition, the filings say, potassium chloride, "otherwise known as road salt ... is excruciatingly painful in a conscious person." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 6, 2008 in Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Improperly Withheld Evidence May Boost Actual Innocence Claim

From Fort Collins, Colorado authorities violated evidence-discovery rules when they withheld expert opinions that conflicted with their theory that a 15-year-old Tim Masters murdered Peggy Hettrick in 1987, according to special prosecutors.

In a Wednesday court filing that legal experts say should boost Masters' bid for a new trial, Adams County District Attorney Don Quick's office acknowledged that four sets of evidence were kept from Masters' original attorneys prior to his 1999 trial.

They include a plastic surgeon's comments to Fort Collins police Detective Marsha Reed about the surgical nature of Hettrick's wounds. "None of the information from that conversation appears to have been memorialized by Det. Reed," the pleading states.

Other improperly withheld evidence includes:

• An FBI profiler's memos criticizing the psychological theory that Masters' violent art renderings revealed a fantasy motive to kill Hettrick.

• Details of an unsuccessful week-long surveillance of Masters a year after the 1987 murder.

• Almost 300 pages of research compiled by the prosecution's star witness, some referring to the surgical precision of wounds inflicted on her genitalia and breast. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 6, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)