Monday, May 9, 2016
A few weeks ago, I did a post about the Supreme Court of Minnesota finding that an Alford Plea was inadmissible in a subsequent civil trial. In its recent opinion in Eberle v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 2016 WL 2609311 (Ky.App. 2016), the Court of Appeals of Kentucky reached the opposite conclusion.
Friday, May 6, 2016
The opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in State v. Crockett, 2016 WL 769890 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2016), contains a pretty straightforward application of the dying declaration exception to the rule against hearsay. The case, however, also noted two important recent additions to the exception and one remaining question.
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Court of Appeals of Maryland Throws Out Sexual Abuse Convictions Based on Failure to Satisfy Corpus Delicti Rule
The Latin term “corpus delicti” translates into the “body of the crime” and refers to “[t]he fact of a transgression; ACTUS REUS.”... The corpus delicti for the crime of sexual abuse of a minor, pursuant to § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article, is evidence of sexual molestation or exploitation of a minor. The “corpus delicti rule” is a “doctrine that in order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must establish the corpus delicti with corroborating evidence.  The doctrine prohibits the prosecution from proving the corpus delicti based solely on a defendant’s extrajudicial statements.”
This quote comes from today's opinion by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Grimm v. State. Because the State failed to satisfy the corpus delicti rule, the Court reversed Grimm's conviction. Do you agree?
Monday, May 2, 2016
Colorado Court Finds Prosecutor Erred By Speaking to Jury in 1st Person As If He Were Victim During Opening
For a substantial part of his opening statement, the prosecutor assumed the identity of the victim. He began by saying, “My name is [the victim]. I was 55 years old when I was ambushed, murdered and set up by Traci Adams and Mark Manyik, the Defendant.”
The prosecutor then described the victim's relationship with Adams, the end of the relationship, and the events leading up to the shooting, all in the voice of the victim. Regarding the shooting, he said, “I see Mark raise a shotgun, this 12–gauge shotgun. I look at Mark. I'm scared. I say to him, ‘Mark, please don't shoot.’ I didn't stop him. He fired one single 12–gauge round directly into my belly. I fall backwards....”
The prosecutor went on to narrate, as the victim, Manyik's and Adams' actions after the shooting, including speaking with the 911 operator and taking the victim's cell phone. In the same way, the prosecutor described the police arriving and the victim's death:
I can hear sirens arriving.... I'm still barely alive, but not really conscious.... [The] [d]eputy eventually comes up to my near lifeless body.... He calls Flight for Life.... A few minutes later the helicopter lands and the medical staff and the police get me into the helicopter, take me to the hospital. Somewhere between that flight from the Manyik residence to the hospital I die.
The prosecutor then switched to his own voice and point of view, which he used for the remainder of his opening. At no point did Manyik object to the opening statement.
This language comes from the recent opinion of the Colorado Court of Appeals in People v. Manyik, 2016 WL 1165332 (Colo.App. 2016). So, were the prosecutor's actions objectionable? And should the defendant have been given a new trial even in the absence of an objection?
Thursday, April 28, 2016
A statement of which the party has manifested an adoption or belief in its truth
Imagine, for instance, that Dan, Carl, and Ed are having a conversation, with Ed saying to Carl, "Dan just shot Vince," and Dan responding, "He had it coming." Under Rule 801(d)(2)(B), a court would conclude that Dan adopted Carl's statement, meaning that it would be admissible against him at his subsequent trial for murdering Vince.
But what if multiple people are alleged to have participated in a crime? For instance, imagine that the State believes that Dan and Carl killed Vince together and reaches a plea deal with Carl that contains a statement of facts. By subsequently presenting that deal to the judge, has the State manifested an adoption or belief in the truth of Carl's statement of facts, meaning that Dan could introduce that statement if it helps him in his subsequent murder trial? That was the question addressed by the Supreme Court of Kentucky in its recent opinion in Lewis v. Commonwealth, 475 S.W.3d 26 (Ky. 2015).
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland Affirms Woodlawn Murder Conviction Despite Detective Misstating His Cell Tower Ping Expert Experience
Today, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland issued its opinion in Brown v. State, which involved a murder that took place in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Baltimore County. The case also involved cell tower pings, and a detective misstating his experience as an expert witness on the topic.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
I've done several prior posts on Alford pleas (see, e.g. here). An Alford plea is a guilty plea in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the State has sufficient evidence that could lead to a jury finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As you can see from this video clip, an Alford plea is very similar to a "guilty" plea, with the defendant simply pleading guilty "pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford." But is an Alford plea dissimilar from a guilty plea in at least one key regard? And should it be? That was the question the Supreme Court of Minnesota answered in its recent opinion in Doe 136 v. Liebsch, 872 N.W.2d 875 (Min. 2015).
Monday, April 25, 2016
The case of Trudy Muñoz Rueda is a tragic one, no matter how you slice it. Munoz ran a daycare in Fairfax, Virginia. "At a widely watched trial, 45-year-old Trudy Muñoz Rueda was accused of violently shaking a 5-month-old in her home day care in 2009, causing serious brain injuries." The
doctors who examined the child found three things: blood under his skin, bleeding inside the eyes and swelling of the brain. Those symptoms have – for years – prompted a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.
Defense attorneys had argued that Trudy E. Munoz Rueda had not shaken the baby and that the concept of "shaken baby syndrome" was "junk science" that has not been proven by scientific evidence. The lawyers on both sides of the courtroom launched a battle of national experts on the issue, with the jury taking only five hours to side with those who say it is certainly possible to severely injure an infant merely by shaking the child.
But are those experts right?
Friday, April 22, 2016
The Daubert test for determining the reliability/admissibility of expert evidence is the standard applied under the Federal Rules of Evidence and at least 30 state evidentiary codes. Based upon the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands in Antilles School, Inc. v. Lembach, 2016 WL 948969 (V.I. 2016), we can now also add the U.S. Virgin Islands to Daubert the column.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
In a comment to yesterday's post, "Gavin" asked me to touch upon the Justin Wolfe case. Serial listeners might recall that this case was mentioned in Episode 7 of Season 1. Specifically, Adnan mentioned the Wolfe case to Sarah Koenig, "kind of in passing," prompting Koenig to track down Deirdre Enright, who had worked on his appeal.
It's tough to distill the Justin Wolfe case into a single post, factually or legally speaking. Therefore, I will just focus on one particular aspect.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
A case out of Indiana shows how lividity and the Brady doctrine can intersect in a given case. In Prewitt v. State, 819 N.E.2d 393 (Ind.App. 2004), Nancy Prewitt was convicted of the murder of her husband, William Davies. The State's theory of the case was that Prewitt fatally shot Davies inside their home. However,
just prior to trial, Rodney Cullison went to Trooper Eslinger's house, where he told Trooper Eslinger that he had heard that [Prewitt's son Matthew] Hunter and a friend had moved Davies's body from the outside to the inside of the residence on the night of the death. Detective Hoskins then apparently told Trooper Eslinger that such evidence was inconsequential because Davies “died inside the house, was shot inside the house.”
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas Sets Aside Murder Conviction After Medical Examiner Changes Cause of Death
On Friday, I posted an entry about a 2014 California law that allows defendants to receive new trials when expert witnesses recant their testimony. As the recent opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas in Ex Parte Robbins, 478 S.W.3d 678 (Ct.Crim.App.Tx. 2016), makes clear, the Lone Star state enacted a similar law in 2013.
Monday, April 18, 2016
Court of Appeals of Texas Distinguishes Between Failure to Call & Failure to Contact Alibi Witnesses
In its recent opinion in Russi v. State, 2016 WL 1444040 (Tex.App. 2016), the Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston did a nice job of distinguishing between when behavior connected with a potential alibi witnesses is and is not unreasonable for purposes of establishing a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Friday, April 15, 2016
In 2014, California enacted a law that I think should serve as a model for legislation in the other 49 states.
“Previously, [California] law allowed a judge to reconsider a conviction if a key eyewitness recanted his or her testimony, but the same standard did not apply to expert witnesses who depend on new and emerging technologies to make their conclusions,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This law clarifies that false evidence provided by such an expert witness may be considered when proving a person’s innocence.”
Unsurprisingly, the law came about due to a case with bad bite mark evidence.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 804(b)(2) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for
A statement that the declarant, while believing the declarant’s death to be imminent, made about its cause or circumstances.
As the language of this exception makes clear, a "dying declaration" is only admissible if it relates to the cause or circumstances of what the declarant believes to be his imminent death. But is the exception even more limited than that? This seems to be the suggestion of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in its recent opinion in Commonwealth v. Washington, 2016 WL 1276012 (Pa.Super. 2016).
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
A few days ago, the Huffington Post published a piece on the TrueAllele Casework system. According to the piece,
Cybergenetics, developer of computer automated systems and technology research data analysis, claims its TrueAllele Casework system prevents wrongful convictions by accurately matching the DNA of the perpetrator to the DNA evidence. TrueAllele’s computerized DNA interpretation system excels in situations where human forensics fail—when evidence contains a mix of three or more DNA samples. However, Cybergenetics’ refusal to share the source code behind the software proves problematic in courts. This source code, or programming code, is the key to software function. If Cybergenetics releases the code, its competitors could replicate it. But without the programming code, defense attorneys are unable to challenge the accuracy of TrueAllele. Likewise, prosecutors can’t authenticate it.
For $60,000, crime labs can buy TrueAllele software. According to Cybergenetics’ TrueAllele Process Overview Video, an analyst first assays the DNA evidence following a typical procedure such as PCR, a DNA amplification process. This DNA evidence can range from bodily fluids to skin cells. After the evidence is scanned, the computer fitted with the TrueAllele software finds the length and quantity of every data peak. Through complex, undisclosed codes and algorithms, the computer separates DNA mixtures into genotypes, solves kinship and paternity, and calculates match statistics.
Apparently, "[t]his groundbreaking technology helped convict criminals in over 500 cases in the past five years, with the majority of those convictions occurring last year." But is it reliable?
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Today, I posted my new essay, Sovereign Impunity: Why Double Jeopardy Should Apply in Puerto Rico, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
On January 13th, the United States heard oral arguments in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle. The question that the Court must decide is whether the federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are separate sovereigns for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause. This essay argues that the Supreme Court cannot answer this question in the affirmative without overturning precedent holding that the U.S. government can unilaterally impose the Federal Death Penalty Act in Puerto Rico. In other words, the Court cannot deprive Puerto Rican citizens of the protection of the Double Jeopardy Clause unless it adopts the concept of popular sovereignty.
Monday, April 11, 2016
Connecticut Bill Would Give Brady Victims 50% of Exoneration Funds Available to Actually Innocent Defendants
On Friday, I posted an entry about Texas denying exoneration funds to a defendant who had proven a Brady violation but (arguably) failed to prove actual innocence. This led me to revisit the dichotomy that exists in many states, with (1) actually innocent defendants receiving exoneration funds despite the fact that their convictions were by-the-books; but (2) defendants being denied exoneration funds because they can prove government misconduct but can't (quite) prove actual innocence.
Interestingly, Connecticut now has a proposed bill that would create a middle ground.
Friday, April 8, 2016
A piece in the Houston Chronicle touches upon an issue that I discussed in the Labor Day Minisode of the Undisclosed Podcast. In many jurisdictions, exoneration funds are only available to defendants who have proven their actual innocence. This means that, understandably, an actually innocent defendant is entitled to compensation even if he was convicted after a by-the-book prosecution. Conversely, there could be a case in which a defendant is convicted after all sorts of misconduct by the police and the prosecution and yet not entitled to compensation because he can't quite prove his actual innocence (perhaps in part because of evidence that was withheld at the time of his initial prosecution). Such is currently the case for Alfred Dewayne Brown.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) on Wednesday asked the state supreme court to declare a former sailor [Keith Allen Harward] innocent in the 1982 rape of a Newport News woman and murder of her husband, saying DNA evidence proved he wasn’t the perpetrator.
Specifically, DNA testing was done of numerous pieces of evidence found at the crime scene, including cigarette butts and a towel the victim wrapped herself in after the attack.
The results exonerated Harward but identified another sailor from the area, Jerry L. Crotty, as the likely perpetrator, according to the attorney general’s brief to the state supreme court. Crotty died in 2006 in an Ohio prison where he was serving time for a 2002 abduction, Herring said in the brief. The chances that the DNA profile belonged to someone other than Crotty were “greater than the world population,” he said.
While good forensic will likely lead to Harward's release 33 years after he was incarcerated, it was likely bad forensics that led to his conviction.