Saturday, July 11, 2009
A defendant is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. It turns out, however, that after the jury found the defendant guilty but before they decided to impose the death penalty, a juror spoke with a released alternate juror, who told her that he thought that the jury had done the right thing and that he had read newspaper articled that supported the jury's verdict. The defendant is thus entitled to a new penalty phase of trial, right? Well, actually he isn't, at least according to the recent opinion of the Tenth Circuit in Matthews v. Workman, 2009 1927051 (10th Cir. 2009).
Friday, July 10, 2009
Collateral Damage: 8th Circuit Finds District Court Properly Precluded Extrinsic Evidence of Prior Inconsistent Statement
It is well established that a witness who testifies at trial can be impeached if he made a prior inconsistent statement before trial; moreover, Federal Rule of Evidence 613(b) indicates that the attorney impeaching a witness through a prior inconsistent statement can prove the existence of that prior statement through extrinsic evidence as long as "the witness is afforded an opportunity to explain or deny the same and the opposite party is afforded an opportunity to interrogate the witness thereon, or the interests of justice otherwise require." As the recent opinion of the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Bordeaux, 2009 WL 1919390 (8th Cir. 2009), makes clear, however, such extrinsic evidence is inadmissible when the witness is being impeaching on a "collateral" matter.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Private Ears Are Listening: California Judge Expresses Doubt That Confidential Marital Communications Privilege Applies To Intercepted Conversation
Corey Lyons will soon stand trial in California for the slayings of his brother and sister-in-law. And, according to Judge Brian Hill, it is likely that statements that Lyons made to his wife in a locked interview room will be admissible, despite Lyons' claim that the statements constitute confidential marital communications.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Character Of The Matter, Take 2: Iowa Judge Precludes Specific Act Character Evidence In Murder Trial
Yesterday, I posted an entry about how criminal defendants claiming self-defense generally can present opinion and reputation testimony concerning the victim's character for violence but generally cannot present specific act testimony concerning the victim's character for violence. Well, a current case in Iowa presents another example of this dichotomy.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Character Of The Matter: Court Of Appeals Of Arizona Finds That Victim's Violent Character Is Not An Essential Element Of A Self Defense Claim
Evidence of a person's character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except...2. Character of victim. Evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the victim of the crime offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the victim was the first aggressor.
(a) Reputation or opinion. In all cases in which evidence of character or a trait of character of a person is admissible, proof may be made by testimony as to reputation or by testimony in the form of an opinion. On cross-examination, inquiry is allowable into relevant specific instances of conduct.
(b) Specific instances of conduct. In cases in which character or a trait of character of a person is an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense, or pursuant to Rule 404(c), proof may also be made of specific instances of that person's conduct.
So, how do these rules apply when a criminal defendant claims self-defense? Clearly, the defendant can introduce reputation/opinion evidence concerning the victim's character for violence, but is the victim's character for violence an essential element of the defendant's defense, meaning that he can also introduce specific instances of violence by the alleged victim? The answer, according to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Arizona in State v. Fish, 2009 WL 1872146 (Ariz.App.Div. 1 2009), is "no" at least when the defendant did not know about those instances before the alleged crime.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Let's say that a defendant is on trial for arson. A key part of the prosecution's case is going to be its evidence that the defendant used gasoline or some other agent to start the subject fire. And if there is no forensic evidence that the defendant started the subject fire, the prosecution is going to have to scramble to explain the absence of such evidence. One way it could do so would be to call an expert to explain the absence of such evidence. Another, as was the case in United States v. Myers, 2009 WL 1873510 (7th Cir. 2009), would be to itself explain the absence during closing arguments. Of course, the latter method would be improper, but would such an explanation lead to the creation of a "phantom expert witness," in violation of the defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause? According to the Seventh Circuit, the answer is "no."
Sunday, July 5, 2009