Saturday, April 25, 2009
Juror Under The Influence: Delaware Court Denies New Trial Motion Despite Juror Conversation With Son About Drugs
A juror has heard all of the evidence in the trial of a man accused of Possession of Cocaine within 300 Feet of a Church and Possession With Intent to Deliver Cocaine. As the first day of deliberation ends, the juror believes that the defendant is guilty of possession, but is undecided on the possession with intent to distribute charge, but he is leaning against a finding of guilt. The juror thereafter discusses the case with his son, a recovering drug addict, asking him "whether the amount of drugs involved in this case was more consistent with simple possession or possession with intent to deliver." The next day, the juror returns to deliberations, agrees to vote in favor of a conviction on the possession with intent to deliver charge, and the defendant is convicted of both charges. Should the defendant be entitled to a new trial? The answer, at least according to the recent opinion of the Superior Court of Delaware in State v. Black, 2009 WL 147023 (Del. Super. 2009), is "no."
Friday, April 24, 2009
Coming Out of the Closet: How Arizona v. Gant Could Lead to the Shrinking of the Scope of Searches Incident to Lawful Home Arrests
(Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg)
In Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969) the Supreme Court held that a search incident to a lawful home arrest may only include "the area 'within [an arrestee's] immediate control' - construing that phrase to mean the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence." According to the Court, there were two justifications for allowing such searches: (1) "When an arrest is made, it is reasonable for the arresting officer to search the person arrested [and the area within his immediate control] in order to remove any weapons that the latter might seek to use in order to resist arrest or effect his escape;" and (2) "it is entirely reasonable for the arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person [or within his immediate control] in order to prevent its concealment or destruction." The Court, however, was quick to note that "[t]here is no comparable justification...for routinely searching any room other than that in which an arrest occurs - or, for that matter, for searching through all the desk drawers or other closed or concealed areas in that room itself."
Twelve years later, in New York v. Belton, a majority of the Court found that "when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passenger compartment of that automobile." It was, however, Justice Brennan's construction of the majority opinion in his dissent that his since predominated. According to Brennan, the majority "adopt[ed] a fiction - that the interior of a car is always within the immediate control of an arrestee who has recently been in the car." While in Belton, a single officer searched a vehicle when there were four unsecured arrestees, Justice Brennan found that the majority's conclusion "would presumably be the same even if Officer Nicot had handcuffed Belton and his companions in the patrol car before placing them under arrest, and even if his search had extended to locked luggage or other inaccessible containers located in the back seat of the car."
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Goodyear? No, The Worst: Minnesota Opinion Reveals That The Anti-Jury Impeachment Rule Precludes Jury Testimony Concerning Quotient Verdicts
The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Mississippi in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Kirby, 2009 WL 1058654 (Miss.App. 2009), provides a nice illustration of how the anti-jury impeachment rule precludes post-trial jury testimony on whether the jury reached a quotient verdict.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Dismissed With Prejudice, Take 2: Court Denies New Trial To Death Sentenced Defendant Despite Jury Exposure To Racist Comment
Sometimes, I read a court opinion, and all that I can think about are the immortal words of John Patrick McEnroe, Jr.: "You cannot be serious!" Readers of this blog might remember a post that I did back in February about Rejon Taylor, an African-American man convicted of four capital offenses in connection with a carjacking, kidnapping, and murder and given a death sentence. As I noted in that post,
He thereafter moved for a new trial and evidentiary hearing and moved to interview jurors ahead of that hearing. The basis for the latter motion was at least two-fold. First, according to alternate juror Everage Holloway and two regular jurors, all 12 seated jurors and all six alternates were aware of and discussed media reports which indicated that Taylor had called jurors "racist rednecks." Also, according to Holloway, he "heard (jurors) talking about how we needed to make an example of him. It was like, here's this little black boy. Let's send him to the chair, and all I ever thought was that he made the unluckiest (gun)shot of his life."
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Trying Over Spilt Milk: Ninth Circuit Finds District Court Improperly Admitted Fault Letter As Business Record
In relevant part, Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6), the business records exception to the rule against hearsay, allows for the admission of
A memorandum, report, record, or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinions, or diagnoses, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, if kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity, and if it was the regular practice of that business activity to make the memorandum, report, record or data compilation, all as shown by the testimony of the custodian or other qualified witness.
The rationale behind this exception is that members of a business generally record things accurately to ensure the smooth functioning of the business. When, however a business prepares a record/report or has a record/report prepared for it, not in the course of regularly conducted activity, but after an accident, there is no such expectation of reliability. Instead, because the business in this situation likely anticipates suing or being sued, there is the strong possibility that the report/record will be unreliability slanted in favor of the business. And this was exactly the problem with a district court opinion, according to the Ninth Circuit's recent opinion in Millenkamp v. Davisco Foods Intern., Inc., 2009 WL 982787 (9th Cir. 2009).
Monday, April 20, 2009
Attention Wal-Mart Robbers: Third Circuit Finds Rule 701 Does Not Apply To Co-Defendants Identification Testimony In Wal-Mart Robbery Appeal
It is well established that an acquaintance of a defendant may or may not be allowed to identify the defendant in an incriminating photo or video pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 701. That Rule allows for the admission of lay witness opinion testimony if, inter alia, that testimony would be "helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony or the determination of a fact in issue." Of course, in such cases, an argument can be made that the jury is just as capable as the acquaintance of determining whether the defendant is the man in the photo or video, which would make the acquaintance's testimony not helpful and not admissible under Rule 701. But when there is a sufficient basis for concluding that the acquaintance is more likely than the jury to correctly identify the defendant from the photo or video, such testimony is admissible. See, e.g., United States v. Dixon, 413 F.3d 540, 544-46 (6th Cir. 2005). But what happens when the acquaintance was a participant in the event that was photographed or videotaped? According to the recent opinion of the Third Circuit in United States v. Shabazz, 2009 WL 1011971 (3rd Cir. 2009), it is Federal Rule of Evidence 602 that applies, and the testimony is admissible.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I Can't Put My Finger On It: Will England's New Fingerprinting Technique Have The Same Fate As Low Copy Number DNA?
Will a new fingerprinting technique from England become the key to solving cold cases in the United States? Or, like low copy number DNA and ear print evidence, will it be something that we decide is as unwanted on these shores as the British monarchy?