EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, August 22, 2014

What Happens in the Jury Room: Convicted Texas Defendant Seeks to Impeach Jury's Verdict

According to an article in the Hill Country News,

Greg Kelley’s new defense attorney Keith Hampton filed a motion for a new trial last week that says the 19-year-old former Leander High School football player was denied a fair trial "because 12 jurors never concluded he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Specifically,

According to a sworn affidavit filed with the motion for a new trial, one of the jurors who convicted Kelley states that, "I thought the prosecution’s case against Greg Kelley was trash… I was not persuaded Greg Kelley was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Speaking to the media outside the Williamson County Courthouse last Wednesday morning, Jake Brydon — one of Kelley’s most vocal supporters —said that some of the jurors simply went along with the others in voting for conviction to avoid being sequestered. Brydon said the juror’s affidavit states that the jurors who did vote to convict Kelley did so not because of reasons of evidence or proof demonstrated in court, but because of Kelley’s mannerisms or how his defense attorney presented herself.

So, how likely is it that Kelley will be successful? Not very.

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August 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Apples to Apples?: Court of Appeals of South Carolina Deems Prior Act Evidence Admissible in Lewd Act Prosecution

Similar to its federal counterpartSouth Carolina Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides that

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible to show motive, identity, the existence of a common scheme or plan, the absence of mistake or accident, or intent.

So, how does a court go about determining whether evidence that "may" be admissible under this Rule should in fact be admitted? Let's take a look at the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of South Carolina in State v. McCombs, 2014 WL 4087913 (S.C.App. 2014).

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August 21, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thicker Than Water: 9th Circuit Finds Brother's Statement Inadmissible as Statement Against Interest

Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement that:  

(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if the person believed it to be true because, when made, it was so contrary to the declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest or had so great a tendency to invalidate the declarant’s claim against someone else or to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability; and  

(B) is supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness, if it is offered in a criminal case as one that tends to expose the declarant to criminal liability.

Basically, while most hearsay is deemed unreliable and inadmissible, statements against interest can be reliable and inadmissible under the theory that an innocent man wouldn't generally say that he sold drugs or robbed a bank. What happens, however, when such a statement comes from the father, brother, or mother of a man charged with selling drugs or robbing a bank? That was the question addressed by the Ninth Circuit in its recent opinion in United States v. Gadson, 2014 WL 4067203 (9th Cir. 2014).

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August 20, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Inextricably Intertwined: Why Michael Brown's Strong Arm Robbery Would Likely be Admissible at a Trial Against Darren Wilson

Ken White has written an interesting post at Popehat and Paul Cassell has written an interesting post at The Volokh Conspiracy addressing the issue of whether the alleged strong arm robbery allegedly committed by Michael Brown before his fatal encounter with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson would be admissible at trial. White cites to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), which allows for the admission of other crimes, wrongs, or other acts to prove permissible purposes such as motive and intent. Ultimately, however, White says that the admissibility of the strong arm robbery is a coin flip decision because the judge could still exclude such evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which allows a judge to exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by dangers such as the danger of unfair prejudice.

Cassell, meanwhile, thinks that Rule 403 is less of an impediment to admissibility given the strong(ish) probative value of the prior crime. He also cites to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(B), which allows the defendant to present evidence of the victim's character for a pertinent trait. It is important to note, though, that this Rule would only apply in a criminal case and that, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 405(a), it would only allow for the admission (on direct examination) of opinion and reputation testimony, not specific act testimony.

The focus of both of the aforementioned posts is on the admissibility of such evidence at a case governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence, and I think that I have one major thing to add to the dialogue. I also thought that I would add to the discourse by posting about admissibility under the Missouri Rules of Evidence. But here's the thing: There are no Missouri Rules of Evidence.

 

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August 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Rare Federal Opinion that Gets, Really Gets, Rule 609

Federal Rule of Evidence 609 governs the admissibility of criminal convictions to impeach witness credibility.  In a 2008 article, I criticized how the federal courts apply this rule, arguing that because of a widely adopted, often misapplied, and partially incoherent multi-factor framework, courts were letting too many defendants' convictions be used as impeachment.  As I argued, if courts simply jettisoned the framework and did what the rule commanded – weigh probative value against prejudicial effect – exclusion would become the norm as intended.  Apart from getting the law right, this would have an additional benefit of generating more defendant testimony.  (Defendants generally decline to testify once a judge rules that their record comes in if they do.)  I don’t know how anyone can get behind a system where the person the jury most wants to hear from and who wants to tell his story sits silently at counsel table to keep the jury from hearing about his criminal record.

My arguments made little headway over the years and defendants’ convictions continue to be routinely admitted, but recently the Third Circuit cited my piece (along with criticism of others) in what may be one of the first signs of judicial dissatisfaction with the multi-factored balancing test.  The court also used/endorsed language rarely seen in published opinions that, in my view, gets the tone of Rule 609 right.

Commentators have observed that structuring the balancing in this manner creates a “predisposition toward exclusion.” Wright & Gold, Federal Practice and Procedure § 6132, at 216.  “An exception is made only where the prosecution shows that the evidence makes a tangible contribution to the evaluation of credibility and that the usual high risk of unfair prejudice is not present.”Id.  § 6132, at 217.

U.S. v. Caldwell, -- F.3d -- (3d Cir. 2014)

Expect to see this language in lots of defense filings going forward and join with me in hoping that the courts are finally awakening to the unmitigated disaster that is the multi-factored Rule 609 balancing test.

August 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Caller ID: Court of Appeals of Ohio Finds Proper Authentication of Phone Calls in Drug Case

Similar to its federal counterpartOhio Rule of Evidence 901(B)(6) allows for authentication of

Telephone conversations, by evidence that a call was made to the number assigned at the time by the telephone company to a particular person or business, if (a) in the case of a person, circumstances, including self-identification, show the person answering to be the one called, or (b) in the case of a business, the call was made to a place of business and the conversation related to business reasonably transacted over the telephone.

It's important to note, however, that Rule 901(B)(6) is a fallback provision, as is demonstrated by the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, in State v. Burton, 2014 WL 4049820 (Ohio App. 2 Dist. 2014).

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August 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Open File: Assessing Texas' Michael Morton Act

An article from kvue.com notes

that the Williamson County Attorney's office now processes four times more digital evidence than it did a year ago. It's doing so along with every county in Texas to comply with the Michael Morton Act, which requires prosecutors to turn over all evidence collected by law enforcement.

So, what exactly is Texas' Michael Morton Act, and why was it passed?

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August 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Telling Lies in the U.K.: Rape Defendant Claims Polygraph Results Should be Admissible at U.K. Trial

According to the Western Daily Press,

A man accused of raping a teenage girl has asked for his lie detector test results to be shown to the jury, in what could be a UK legal first. Paul Henry, 48, of Newport, Gwent, has been standing trial at Gloucester Crown Court. Polygraph tests are not currently admissible to court but are used outside court by the probation service The defence team have claimed polygraphs should be admissible.  

So, what's the United Kingdom's position on the admissibility of polygraph evidence, and why might there be some merit to Henry's argument?

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August 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

If It's Not Boeing: Western District of Washington Finds ADR Evidence Not Inadmissible Under Rule 408

Federal Rule of Evidence 408(a) reads as follows:

(a) Prohibited Uses. Evidence of the following is not admissible — on behalf of any party — either to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement or a contradiction:  

(1) furnishing, promising, or offering — or accepting, promising to accept, or offering to accept — a valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise the claim; and  

(2) conduct or a statement made during compromise negotiations about the claim — except when offered in a criminal case and when the negotiations related to a claim by a public office in the exercise of its regulatory, investigative, or enforcement authority.

But when exactly is there a "claim," triggering the protections of Rule 408(a)? That was the question addressed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in its recent opinion in Alexander v. Boeing Co., 2014 WL 3900574 (W.D.Wash 2014).

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August 13, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Absof***inglutely: Supreme Court of Canada Creates New Rule of Evidence Deeming Mr. Big Confessions Presumptively Inadmissible

The Mr. Big technique is a Canadian invention.  Although a version of the technique appears to have been used more than a century ago, its modern use began in the 1990s and by 2008, it had been used by police across Canada more than 350 times.  The technique, used only in cases involving serious unsolved crimes, has secured confessions and convictions in hundreds of cases.  The confessions wrought by the technique are often detailed and confirmed by other evidence.                      

However, the Mr. Big technique comes at a price.  Suspects confess to Mr. Big during pointed interrogations in the face of powerful inducements and sometimes veiled threats — and this raises the spectre of unreliable confessions.  Unreliable confessions provide compelling evidence of guilt and present a clear and straightforward path to conviction.  In other contexts, they have been responsible for wrongful convictions — a fact we cannot ignore.                      

Mr. Big confessions are also invariably accompanied by evidence that shows the accused willingly participated in “simulated crime” and was eager to join a criminal organization.  This evidence sullies the accused’s character and, in doing so, carries with it the risk of prejudice. R v. Hart.

Now, pursuant to the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in Hart, Mr. Big confessions are presumptively inadmissible.

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August 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Now Available?: Court of Appeals of Minnesota Finds Defendant Failed to Prove Witness's Unavailability

Similar to its federal counterpartMinnesota Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant's pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant's position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. A statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement.

And, similar to its federal counterpartMinnesota Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) only applies if the declarant is "unavailable." One way a party can prove unavailability is by showing that

is absent from the hearing and the proponent of a statement has been unable to procure the declarant's attendance...by process or other reasonable means.

In State v. Carlson, 2014 WL 3892071 (Minn.App. 2014), the Court of Appeals of Minnesota found that the defendant did not use process or other reasonable means to procure a declarant's attendance. Was this the correct ruling?

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August 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Due Diligence: 9th Circuit Finds Proper Foundation Laid Under Rule 803(10) in Snowmobiling Case

When a party seeks to introduce a private business record (e.g., a memorandum from XYZ Corp.) under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6), that party must establish foundational facts through, inter alia, the testimony of the custodian or another qualified witness. When a party seeks to prove the absence of a public record (e.g., the absence of an alleged HUD report) under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(10), that party must establish "that a diligent search failed to disclose a public record or statement...." The Rule, however, is silent as to who must conduct that search. So, who must conduct such a search? Let's take a look at the recent opinion of the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Parker, 2014 WL 3747132 (9th Cir. 2014).

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August 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Missouri Abolishes "Corroboration Rule" and "Destructive Contradictions" Doctrine

In Missouri v. Porter (July 29, 2014), the Supreme Court of Missouri abolished two odd doctrines formerly applicable during sufficiency of the evidence challenges to sex crimes convictions.  The first, known as the "corroboration rule," provided "that an appellate court is to disregard a sex crime victim's testimony if it is contradictory and  uncorroborated."  See page 1, footnote 1 of the opinion.  The second, the "destructive contradictions doctrine," was theoretically applicable in all criminal cases (although it seemed to be applied pretty much only in sex crime cases), and it specified "that an appellate  court is to disregard a sex crime victim's testimony if it is contradictory and  uncorroborated."  See id.

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August 5, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court of New Jersey Reverses Vonte Skinner's Convictions/My New Essay, Freedom of Character

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed Vonte Skinner's convictions for first-degree attempted murder and related crimes in State v. Skinner, 2014 WL 3798993 (N.J. 2014). Readers might recall that I mentioned the Skinner case in a prior blog post. In that post, I mentioned that I had written an essay inspired by the Skinner case that I presented at a conference on the intersection between free speech and criminal law. In that essay, like the New Jersey ACLU, I argued that if Skinner's convictions weren't reversed under the rules of evidence, they should be reversed under the First Amendment because the prosecution used his lyrics to secure his criminal convictions. In its opinion yesterday in Skinner, the Supreme Court of New Jersey relied on New Jersey Rule of Evidence 404(b) and thus did not need to address the Constitutional arguments made by the ACLU or myself. For those interested in those arguments, though, I just posted a copy of my essay, Freedom of Character: Creating a Constitutional Character Evidence Test. That essay can be downloaded by clicking here. Here is the abstract:

This essay seeks to fill a scholarly and judicial void by proposing a First Amendment test that courts should apply when prosecutors seek to introduce defendants’ speech as character evidence. Under this constitutional character evidence test, assuming that the defendant can prove that his words are protected under the First Amendment, the prosecution would have to do more than simply satisfy the rules of evidence; it would also have to prove that application of the rules of evidence to the defendant’s words is narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest.

-CM

August 5, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Shaken Baby, Shaken Defendant: Northern District of Mississippi Deems Polygraph-Related Testimony in Child Abuse Case

As is the case in most states, "[n]either the fact that a polygraph test was administered nor the results of any such test are admissible at trial under Mississippi law." But can evidence be presented that a polygraph examination was scheduled but not conducted? That was the question addressed by the United States District Court for the Nothern District of Mississippi in its recent opinion in German v. Streeter, 2014 WL 3699836 (N.D.Miss. 2014).

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August 4, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ipse Dixit, Take 2: 11th Circuit Finds District Court Erred in Deeming Pap Smear Testimony Inadmissible

I've written before about the concept of ipse dixit in the context of expert testimony. Ipse dixit is Latin for "he himself said it," meaning the only proof we have of the fact is that this person said it. In many cases, courts will deem expert opinion testimony inadmissible because it is based solely on the ipse dixit of the expert, without any external controls of corroboration. Sometimes, however, a court can go too far in labeling something ipse dixit, which appears to be the case with the recent opinion of the Eleventh Circuit in Adams v. Laboratory Corp. of America, 2014 WL 3724190 (11th Cir. 2014).

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August 1, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Louisiana Purchase: The Louisiana Counterpart to Federal Rule of Evidence 413

Federal Rule of Evidence 413(a) provides that

In a criminal case in which a defendant is accused of a sexual assault, the court may admit evidence that the defendant committed any other sexual assault. The evidence may be considered on any matter to which it is relevant.

After the enactment of Rule 413 in 1994, the Supreme Court of Louisiana issued two decisions --  State v. McArthur, 719 So.2d 1037 (La. 1998), and State v. Kennedy, 803 So.2d 916 (La. 2001), in which it deemed sexual propensity character evidence inadmissible while noting that the same evidence would have been admissible if Louisiana had its own version of Rule 413. So, how did the Louisiana legislature respond?

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July 31, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Proof: Court of Appeals of Ohio Finds Magistrate Erred Under Rule 608(B) by Allowing Documentary Impeachment

Similar to its federal counterpartOhio Rule of Evidence 608(B) provides that

Specific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness's character for truthfulness, other than conviction of crime as provided in Evid. R. 609, may not be proved by extrinsic evidence. They may, however, in the discretion of the court, if clearly probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness, be inquired into on cross-examination of the witness (1) concerning the witness's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, or (2) concerning the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of another witness as to which character the witness being cross-examined has testified.

A good example of the dichotomy found in Ohio Rule of Evidence 608(B) can be found in the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Ohio in Ryerson v. White, 2014 WL 3700500 (Ohio App. 8th 2014).

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July 30, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Human Polygraph: 10th Circuit Deems FBI Agent's Testimony on Defendant's Dishonesty Inadmissible

It is well established that, except in New Mexico, polygraph evidence is inadmissible to prove the guilt (or innocence) of a criminal defendant. But what if the prosecution wants to call a human polygraph -- an expert, like Dr. Cal Lightman on the TV show "Lie to Me" -- who professes to be able to distinguish truth from falsehood? That was the question addressed by the Tenth Circuit in its recent opinion in United States v. Hill, 749 F.3d 1250 (10th Cir. 2014).

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July 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Colin Miller Named Associate Dean for Faculty Development at University of South Carolina School of Law

I'm happy to announce that I have been named the Associate Dean for Faculty Development at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Here is the announcement from the law school.

-CM

July 28, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)