Monday, May 8, 2017
Would Asia's Testimony Have Magnified or Minimized the Flaws in the State's Case Against Adnan Syed?
Was Adnan Syed prejudiced by Cristina Gutierrez's failure to contact alibi witness Asia McClain? Judge Welch answered this question in the negative in his opinion granting Adnan a new trial on his cell tower claim. In that opinion, however, Judge Welch noted a first flaw in the State's case: "the State presented a relatively weak theory as to the time of the murder because the State relied upon inconsistent facts to support its theory." Specifically, Jay testified that he got the "come and get me" call after 3:45 P.M. while the State argued in closing that the "come and get me" call occurred at 2:36 P.M., after Adnan had killed Hae at Best Buy.
In its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State has now identified a second flaw in the State's case:
Of course, the State's claim is that Asia's testimony actually "resolves the flaw Gutierrez intended to exploit. Meanwhile, the defense's claim is that these two flaws mean that the State's case was already weak and that there's a reasonable probability that there would have been a different outcome if Asia had testified at trial. So, who is right?
Friday, May 5, 2017
Thursday, May 4, 2017
In its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State has a section titled, "Syed Cannot Establish Prejudice in this Case." This is, in effect, an updated version of Episode Six of Serial: "The Case Against Adnan Syed." Essentially, the State uses this section of its Reply Brief to set forth its best evidence against Adnan, other than the cell tower pings, in an attempt to prove that trial counsel's failure to use the AT&T disclaimer wasn't prejudicial. The problem for the State, though, is that its recitation of facts seemingly proves the opposite.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
In yesterday's post, I began my discussion of the law of the case doctrine and how it relates to Adnan's case. In its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State cited language from the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Fidelity-Baltimore Nat. Bank & Trust Co. v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 142 A.2d 796 (Md. 1958) regarding the doctrine:
Once this Court has ruled upon a question properly presented on an appeal, or, if the ruling be contrary to a question that could have been raised and argued in that appeal on the then state of the record, as aforesaid, such a ruling becomes the ‘law of the case’ and is binding on the litigants and courts alike, unless changed or modified after reargument, and neither the questions decided nor the ones that could have been raised and decided are available to be raised in a subsequent appeal. (emphasis added by Reply Brief).
In yesterday's post, I focused on the non-italicized portion of this language for the easy conclusion that Judge Welch was not barred by the law of the case doctrine from reversing his prior order on the Asia/alibi issue. In today's post, I will focus on the italicized portion of this language to address the more difficult question of whether Judge Welch was barred by the law of the case doctrine from considering the cell tower issue.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Adnan's ineffective assistance/cell tower might all come down to something known as the law of the case doctrine, and I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure how the court will rule on the issue. In its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State claims not only that the Court of Special Appeals's remand order was limited to the Asia/alibi issue but that the remand order had to be limited to the Asia/alibi issue based upon the law of the case doctrine. Here's the pertinent portion of the State's Reply Brief:
So, does the State have a winning argument on this issue?
Monday, May 1, 2017
Is the State Right That the Right to the Effective Assistance of Counsel is Distinct From the Right to Counsel?
In his opinion granting Adnan a new trial, Judge Welch cited to Curtis v. State, 395 A.2d 464 (Md. 1978), which held that (1) the right to counsel is a fundamental right; (2) fundamental rights require "intelligent and knowing" waiver; and (3) Curtis did not intelligently and knowingly waive his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Judge Welch then found that Adnan had similarly not intelligently and knowingly waived his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel with regard to the cell tower evidence.
The State has tried to distinguish Curtis, claiming in its Brief of Appellant that "Curtis dealt with a total abandonment by counsel...." In its new Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee, the State tries to strike a similar chord, but is its argument convincing?
Sunday, April 30, 2017
This is the big one. At the reopened PCR proceeding, in its Application for Leave to Appeal (ALA), and in its Brief of Appellant, the State has advanced a consistent theme: Even though Cristina Gutierrez did not use the AT&T disclaimer, she was effective because her attacks on the cell tower evidence produced a blueprint for cross-examination that continues to be followed today. Here's the pertinent language from the ALA:
And here's the corresponding language from the Brief of Appellant:
This argument from the State was dependent upon Gutierrez's master stroke of procuring a limiting instruction informing jurors that the cell tower pings were only evidence that could be used to corroborate (or dispel) Jay's testimony and not independent evidence of the location of Adnan's cell phone. As the State noted in its Brief of Appellant:
Thereafter, in what I characterized as a "legal bombshell," the defense responded in its Brief of Appellant that the Emperor had no clothes: While the trial judge recognized the potential prejudice associated with the cell tower evidence and asked the parties to craft proposed limiting instructions, the defense possibly ever never crafted a draft limiting instruction and definitely never objected to the judge failing to give such an instruction. So, how did the State respond to this revelation?
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Yesterday, the State filed its Reply Brief and Appendix of Cross-Appellee in the Adnan Syed case. This is the last brief before oral argument in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland on June 1st. It's also the first (and only) time before oral argument that the State is addressing the issue of whether trial counsel was ineffective based upon failure to contact prospective alibi witness Asia McClain; the State didn't address this issue in its first brief.* So, how did the State do?
Thursday, April 27, 2017
For the past 27 years, Ronald Jacobsen has been serving a life sentence for kidnapping a woman from a Newton County convenience store and then beating and sexually assaulting her on a two-hour drive down I-20.
A DNA test now shows, however, that Jacobsen did not commit the crime, Vanessa Potkin, a lawyer for the Innocence Project, told a judge on Tuesday. GBI tests show that male DNA from the woman’s rape kit could not have come from Jacobsen, she said, and she is asking the court to grant Jacobsen a new trial.
District Attorney Layla Zon, however, opposed the motion, claiming
that the DNA brought forward by the Innocence Project could have come from a man with whom the victim had consensual sex not long before the assault. As a result, she said, the test results are inadmissible under the Rape Shield Act, which prohibits evidence of a rape victim’s sexual history.
So, is Zon right?
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 provides that
The proponent may use a summary, chart, or calculation to prove the content of voluminous writings, recordings, or photographs that cannot be conveniently examined in court. The proponent must make the originals or duplicates available for examination or copying, or both, by other parties at a reasonable time and place. And the court may order the proponent to produce them in court.
Rule 1006 is a rule of convenience. Imagine a case where the prosecution has the defendant's phone records for a six month period and wants to highlight the calls that he made to his three alleged accomplices during that period in time. Under Rule 1006, the prosecution could prepare a chart that just shows the calls made to these three individuals.
As the recent opinion of the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Needham, 852 F.3d 830 (8th Cir. 2017), make clear, some courts also allow for the introduction of "pedagogic devices." The opinion, though, doesn't note an important point about these devices.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Federal Rule of Evidence 803(10) contains one of the more interesting hearsay exceptions. It allows for the admission of the absence of a public record. Georgia's version of this exception -- OCGA Section 24-8-803(10) -- describes the exception as follows:
(10) Absence of public record or entry. To prove the absence of a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, or the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of a matter of which a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, was regularly made and preserved by a public office, evidence in the form of a certification in accordance with Code Section 24-9-902, or testimony, that diligent search failed to disclose the record, report, statement, or data compilation, or entry.
Up until recently, however, the Georgia courts had never applied this exception. That all changed, though, with the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Georgia in Tran v. State, 2017 WL 939400 (Ga.App. 2017).
Monday, April 24, 2017
Federal Rule of Evidence 407 provides that
When measures are taken that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove:
- culpable conduct;
- a defect in a product or its design; or
- a need for a warning or instruction.
But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as impeachment or — if disputed — proving ownership, control, or the feasibility of precautionary measures.
This rule can be explained pretty quickly with a series of hypotheticals:
Friday, April 21, 2017
Court of Appeals of Minnesota Rejects Use of Jury Instruction on Problems w/Cross-Racial Identifications
Bearing out the underlying findings of these studies, cross-racial misidentifications have surfaced in a large number of wrongful convictions. The single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States is eyewitness misidentification. In a 2000 study, Innocence Project founders Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, along with columnist Jim Dwyer, found that 82% of wrongful convictions included mistaken eyewitness identifications. Of those mistaken identifications, 44% were Caucasian individuals erroneously identifying an innocent African-American defendant as the perpetrator.
Cross-racial misidentifications that lead to wrongful convictions can occur because people find it difficult to recognize physical traits with which they are unfamiliar. Valena Beety, What the Brain Saw: The Case of Trayvon Martin and the Need for Eyewitness Identification Reform, 90 Denv. U. L. Rev. 331, 342 (2012).
In response to the finding that mistaken cross-racial misidentifications are a leading cause of wrongful convictions, courts have done three things: (1) allowed expert testimony on the problems with cross-racial identifications; (2) given jury instructions on the problems with cross-racial identifications; or (3) nothing. With its recent opinion in State v. Thomas, 890 N.W.2d 413 (Minn.App. 2017), the Court of Appeals of Minnesota chose option #3. But that might change if and when the case reaches the Supreme Court of Minnesota.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part — or any other writing or recorded statement — that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time.
There's a debate across the country over whether the rule of completeness is just a rule of timing or also a rule of admissibility. In its recent opinion in State v. Sanchez, 380 P.3d 375 (Utah App. 2016), the Court of Appeals of Utah addressed this debate for the first time.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
According to an article in BuzzFeed News,
Maryland rape victims no longer need to prove they physically fought back against their attackers, according to a new bill signed today by Gov. Larry Hogan that changes the state's legal definition of rape.
Under the new law, "Establishing that evidence of physical resistance by a victim is not required to prove that a sexual crime was committed." Goldberg v. State, 395 A.2d 1213 (Md.App. 1979), provides a good example of the type of case that will be prosecuted differently under the new law.
Note: The content that follows is graphic.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama Finds Wife's Statement Accusing Husband of Murder Was Not a Statement Against Interest
A statement which was at the time of its making so contrary to the declarant's pecuniary or proprietary interest that a reasonable person in the declarant's position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true.
Usually, this "statement against interest" exception is used for statements that are clearly against the speaker's pecuniary or proprietary interest. For example, if Will said, "I owe Paul $500," that would clearly be a statement against pecuniary interest. Similarly, if Wanda said, "Paula has an easement across my property," that would clearly be a statement against proprietary interest. But what if Wanda said, "My husband killed Vince?" This was the question addressed by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama in its recent opinion in Sheffield v. State, 2017 WL 1034568 (Ala.Crim.App. 2017).
Monday, April 17, 2017
Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee Finds Belief in Imminent Death Can be Inferred for Dying Declaration Exception
In a prosecution for homicide or in a civil action or proceeding, [for] a statement made by a declarant while believing that the declarant's death was imminent and concerning the cause or circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death.
And, as the recent opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in State v. Thompson, 2017 WL 943372 (Ct. Crim. App. Tenn. 2017), makes clear, the declarant's belief of imminent death can be "inferred from the circumstances."
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Would the Court of Special Appeals Excuse Any Possible Waiver of the Cell Tower Issue in the Adnan Syed Appeal?
I think that the most unpredictable issue on appeal in the Adnan Syed case is the issue of waiver. Quite honestly, I have no idea whether the Court of Special Appeals will find that Adnan did or did not waive his cell tower claim. The court could find that:
(2) Adnan did not intelligently and knowingly waive the claim pursuant to the test established in Curtis v. State;
(3) Adnan intelligently and knowingly waived the claim pursuant to the test established in Curtis v. State;
(5) the intelligent and knowing waiver test doesn't apply to Adnan's case based upon one of the arguments made by the State in its Brief of Appellant (e.g., "Curtis was decided when an unlimited number of post-conviction petitions could be filed....").
In this post, though, I want to look more closely at the possibility of the Court of Special Appeals finding waiver, but excusing that waiver.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
In the Adnan Syed case, the State technically has three ways to win its appeal of Judge Welch's ineffective assistance/cell tower ruling: (1) establish that the ineffective assistance/cell tower issue was beyond the scope of the remand order; (2) establish that Adnan has waived this issue; or (3) establish that Adnan did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel in connection with the cell tower evidence.* I'm going to reserve my judgment on which side will win most of the issues in this appeal until after the State submits its final brief or maybe even until after oral arguments. But, at this point, I feel confident predicting that the State won't win on scope as a standalone issue.