EvidenceProf Blog

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Judge Culbertson Denies Jamar Huggins's Motion for a New Trial

We finally got Judge Culbertson's order in the Jamar Huggins case, and Judge Culbertson has denied him Jamar's motion for a new trial (Download Huggins Order). This was not unexpected based upon oral arguments. The question was whether Deaungela Montgomery's post-trial statement identifying someone else as the true perpetrator of the home invasion was "new evidence," and Judge Culbertson seemed pretty skeptical of this claim. And now, in his order, Judge Culbertson clearly concludes that this information could have been obtained before trial or during trial with due diligence.

That's bad for the motion for a new trial, but it seems to strongly support a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. But, before we get to that appeal, there will be an appeal of the Judge Culbertson's order. So, it could take a while, but I'm still confident that justice will ultimately be served.


October 6, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Court of Special Appeals Applies Curtis v. State to Find No Waiver of Ineffective Assistance Claim

Maybe the biggest current legal question in the Adnan Syed case is the question of whether Adnan has waived his claim that trial counsel was ineffective based upon her failure to use the AT&T disclaimer to cross-examine the State's cell tower expert. In his opinion granting Adnan a new trial on this ground, Judge Welch found that (1) claims of ineffective assistance of counsel require knowing and intelligent waiver pursuant to Curtis v. State; and (2) Adnan had not knowingly and intelligently waived his cell tower claim. Thereafter, in its appeal to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, the State claimed that (1) the "knowing and intelligent" waiver standard from Curtis has not been applied in another ineffective assistance of counsel case in the thirty-nine years since it was decided; and (2) Maryland courts should accordingly no longer apply this standard to ineffective assistance claims.

This takes us to the recent opinion of the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland in Thomas v. State, 2017 WL 4073754 (Md.App. 2016).

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October 6, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Indiana Case Sets the Standard for Admitting Testimony Obtained Via Facilitated Communication

"Facilitated communication is defined as follows: a method of helping an individual produce typewritten material on a keyboard or communication device with the intention of compensating for difficulties in motor control."...“The technique was developed by Rosemary Crossley in Australia in the 1970's and introduced to the United States by Dr. Douglas Biklin in 1989."...When facilitated communication is initially being used, the communicator typically is supported above or below the wrist by the facilitator....The goal is for the facilitator, over time, to move the support further back on the arm or shoulder so that there is less direct contact until there is no contact....That technique is known as "fading."...The facilitator applies backward pressure and centers the communicator after each letter is typed to prevent the communicator from repeatedly striking the same key, one of the manifestations of behavior also known as perseveration....Because facilitated communication is a joint activity, however, there is potential for what is known as "cuing," where the facilitator may knowingly or unknowingly anticipate or in another way assist the communicator in selecting certain letters.

Given the above, should testimony obtained by facilitated communication be admissible? That is the issue of first impression addressed by the Court of Appeals of Indiana in its recent opinion in Hope Source v. B.T. by Troutman, 2017 WL 4159715 (Ind.App. 2017). 

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October 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Court of Appeals of Minnesota Finds That Subsequent Convictions Are Admissible to Impeach Defendants

Minnesota Rules of Evidence 609(a) and (b) state the following:

(a) General rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime shall be admitted only if the crime (1) was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year under the law under which the witness was convicted, and the court determines that the probative value of admitting this evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect, or (2) involved dishonesty or false statement, regardless of the punishment.

(b) Time limit. Evidence of a conviction under this rule is not admissible if a period of more than ten years has elapsed since the date of the conviction or of the release of the witness from the confinement imposed for that conviction, whichever is the later date, unless the court determines, in the interests of justice, that the probative value of the conviction supported by specific facts and circumstances substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect. However, evidence of a conviction more than ten years old as calculated herein, is not admissible unless the proponent gives to the adverse party sufficient advance written notice of intent to use such evidence to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to contest the use of such evidence.

So, imagine three scenarios: 

(1) A defendant is charged with vandalism. 10+ years before this crime, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Clearly, the conviction is governed by subsection (b);

(2) A defendant is charged with vandalism. 10 years or less before the crime, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Clearly, the conviction is governed by subsection (a);

(3) A defendant is charged with vandalism. After this crime but before her trial, the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Does Rule 609 apply at all? 

This last question was the question of first impression addressed by the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Souder, 2017 WL 4228698 (Minn.App. 2017).


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September 27, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Was The Nisha Call Nisha Calling Adnan Back After an Unanswered or Dropped Call?

As we all know, Nisha was a key witness in the Adnan Syed case. She testified that on some unknown date she received a call from Adnan, who told her that his friend Jay had invited him to his job at an adult video store. Adnan told Nisha that he was arriving at the video store during the call and handed the phone to Jay talk to Nisha upon his arrival (the only time she spoke to Jay). The prosecution claims that this call took place at 3:32 P.M. on January 13, 1999. Others, including me, have countered that this call couldn't have taken place until the end of January, when Jay started his job at the adult video store. In turn, this had led to consideration of which outgoing call from Adnan's cell phone to Nisha could have been the adult video store call.

But what if there's no record of this call because it was either unanswered and dropped and then perhaps followed by a call from Nisha to Adnan? 

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September 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (25)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

When is a Witness Unavailable to Testify at Trial Due to Mental Illness?

Similar to its federal counterpartIdaho Rule of Evidence 804(b) contains hearsay exceptions that apply if the declarant is "unavailable." In turn, Idaho Rule of Evidence 804(a)(4) states that a declarant is unavailable when she "is unable to be present or to testify at the hearing because of death or then existing physical or mental illness or infirmity." Usually, courts apply Rule 804(a)(4) in situations where declarants are unavailable due to death or serious physical illness. But when is a declarant "unavailable" due to mental illness? This was the question of first impression addressed by the Supreme Court of Idaho in its recent opinion in State v. Anderson, 2017 WL 4016692 (Idaho 2017).

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September 14, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My New Essay: "Reciprocal Immunity"

Today, I posted the draft of my new essay, "Reciprocal Immunity," on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

A defendant is charged with using extortionate means to collect a loan. Two brothers give statements to the FBI. One brother’s statement tends to incriminate the defendant. The other brother’s statement tends to exonerate the defendant. Both brothers indicate that they will invoke the privilege against self-incrimination if called to testify at trial. The prosecutor gives immunity to the brother whose statement incriminates but doesn’t give immunity to the brother whose statement exonerates. The jury only hears from the first brother and returns a guilty verdict.

These are the truncated facts of United States v. Davis, a recent Seventh Circuit opinion that has led to a cert petition to the Supreme Court. The same result, however, could have occurred in nearly any court, with cases across the country standing for the proposition that a grant of immunity to a witness for the prosecution doesn’t require reciprocal immunity for a directly contradictory defense witness.  

This essay advances a reciprocal rights theory. It argues that the Constitution precludes statutes and rules from providing nonreciprocal benefits to the State when the lack of reciprocity interferes with the defendant’s ability to secure a fair trial, unless reciprocity would implicate a significant state interest. Therefore, unless a significant State interest is involved, a grant of immunity to a prosecution witness should trigger reciprocal immunity to a directly contradictory defense witness.

Any feedback would be appreciated.


September 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Supreme Court of Utah Finds Preliminary Hearing Testimony Inadmissible Under Former Testimony Hearsay Exception

Like its federal counterpart, Utah Rule of Evidence 804(b)(1) provides a hearsay exception for former testimony that

(A) was given as a witness at a trial, hearing, or lawful deposition, whether given during the current proceeding or a different one; and

(B)   is now offered against a party who had — or, in a civil case, whose predecessor in interest had — an opportunity and similar motive to develop it by direct, cross-, or redirect examination.

In State v. Goins, 2017 WL 3909332 (Utah 2017), the Supreme Court of Utah addressed a question of first impression in the Beehive State that has led to disparate results across the country: Is testimony from a preliminary hearing admissible under the former testimony exception? 

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September 8, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Further Support For the Claim That Adnan Was On Time For Track Practice On January 13th

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an entry about Jay's narrative of events from 3:21 P.M. through 4:30 P.M. only making sense if Adnan was late to track practice, regardless of whether track practice started at 3:30 P.M. or 4:00 P.M. This was based upon (1) Jay repeatedly claiming that he was with Adnan for the 3:59 P.M. call to Patrick/Patrice before they headed to the Forest Park Golf Course; and (2) Jay repeatedly claiming that Adnan took the (three minute long) 4:27 P.M. call before heading to track practice.

This could be problematic for the State given that track coach Michael Sye remembered Adnan arriving and leaving on time for track practice on a day that only could have been January 13th:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 6.55.51 AM

Given that Coach Sye didn't take written attendance, though, it is questionable whether he actually knew that Adnan arrived on time for practice. But a new comment to my prior post made me look back at the notes from Coach Sye's statement to detectives, and I think those notes provide pretty good circumstantial evidence that Adnan was on time or at least not 30+ minutes late for practice.

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August 31, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Supreme Court of Wyoming Finds Self-Defense Isn't a Defense to a Felony Murder Charge

A defendant meets with a victim and arranges to purchase an "eight ball” of methamphetamine." The defendant gives the victim some money for the purchase and waits to hear from him. Later that evening, the defendant goes to the victim's home to acquire the methamphetamine. A surveillance camera recording reveals that the defendant approached the victim's truck and began searching the vehicle. The victim then appeared in front of his home holding a hatchet and discovered the defendant inside his truck. The victim approached the driver's side door and attempted to open it, but it was locked. The defendant opened the passenger door and exited the vehicle. The victim went around the back of the truck and approached the defendant at the passenger door, holding the hatchet. The defendant then jumped back into the truck, picked up a knife, and fatally stabbed the victim in the ensuing scuffle. 

The defendant is charged with felony aggravated burglary and felony murder. Can the defendant claim self-defense? This was the question of first impression addressed by the Supreme Court of Wyoming in Schnitker v. State, 2017 WL 3614047 (Wyo. 2017).

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August 29, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Supreme Court of Minnesota Finds Rules of Evidence Apply to Restitution Hearings

Do the rules of evidence apply at restitution hearings? According to the Respondent's Brief in State v. Willis, 2016 WL 9115484 (Minn. 2016), many states answer this question in the affirmative:

See, e.g., People v. Matzke, 842 N.W.2d 557, 559-60 (Mich. Ct. App. 2013); In re Delric H., 819 A.2d 1117, 1125 (Md. Ct. App. 2003) (noting that many states, including Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin either complete dispense with, or relax, the rules of evidence in restitution hearings).

The Supreme Court of Minnesota, however, decided to go in a different direction.

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August 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Florida Murder Trial Reveals Different Test For Impeaching Witnesses With Remote Convictions

Federal Rule of Evidence 609(b) provides as follows:

(b) Limit on Using the Evidence After 10 Years. This subdivision (b) applies if more than 10 years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if:

(1) its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and

(2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

As the recent opinion of the District Court of Appeals of Florida, First District, in Nehring v. State, 2017 WL 3361068 (Fla.App. 2017), makes clear, however, Florida has a very different rule.

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August 19, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

If Track Practice Started at 4:00 P.M., Does it Matter Whether Adnan Was on Time for Practice?

Recently, an Undisclosed listener asked me an interesting question: If track practice started at 4:00 P.M., does it matter whether Adnan was on time for practice? This question, of course, relates to the notes from the police interview of track coach Michael Sye. Those notes indicate that Sye remembered a day toward the end of Ramdan when Adnan arrived on time for track practice that was held outside because it was the rare January day when the temperature was in the 50's. As Susan Simpson has noted, this day only could have been January 13, 1999, the day that Hae disappeared.

Of course, if track practice started at 3:30 P.M., Adnan arriving on time would be huge because it would mean that, inter alia, (1) he couldn't have made the 3:32 P.M. Nisha call; and (2) there's a very short window during which Adnan could have committed the murder and gotten back to school in time to be at track practice. But does Adnan's timely arrival at practice matter if practice started at 4:00 P.M.? I think the answer is "yes" for a few reasons. 

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August 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Should a Sequestration Order Prevent a Victim-Witness From Conferring With a Victim-Witness Specialist?

Federal Rule of Evidence 615 provides that

At a party’s request, the court must order witnesses excluded so that they cannot hear other witnesses’ testimony. Or the court may do so on its own. But this rule does not authorize excluding:

(a) a party who is a natural person;

(b) an officer or employee of a party that is not a natural person, after being designated as the party’s representative by its attorney;

(c) a person whose presence a party shows to be essential to presenting the party’s claim or defense; or

(d) a person authorized by statute to be present.

Facially, then, Rule 615 is a rule of courtroom sequestration. If Elaine and Felicia are eyewitnesses to a murder and witnesses against the defendant at trial, defense counsel can move to have Elaine excluded from the courtroom when Felicia testifies and vice versa. The concern here is that a later witness might hear the testimony of an earlier witness and, consciously or unconsciously, tailor her testimony to the testimony of the earlier witness (e.g., Felicia might plan on saying that the day of the murder was a sunny day before hearing Elaine testify that it was a cloudy day).

Judges often expand the scope of sequestration under Rule 615. For instance, in United States v. Smith, 2017 WL 3393934 (6th Cir. 2017), the judge issed a "courtroom procedures and decorum" order under Rule 615, which stated that

[i]f witnesses are sequestered, counsel must assure that each witness called...understands that (s)he may not discuss the testimony (s)he expects to give or has given in the matter before the court...[and] should anyone attempt to discuss the testimony (s)he has given or expects to give...(s)he may not engage in such discussion.

So, what happens when a witness violates such an order by speaking to a victim-witness specialist?

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August 10, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nevada Case Makes Clear That Rules of Evidence Aren't Rules of DIscovery

The recent opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada in Caballero v. Bodega Latino Corporation d/b/a El Super, 2017 WL 3174931 (D. Nevada 2017), is the latest illustration that the rules of evidence are not rules of discovery.*

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July 29, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Supreme Court of Oregon Uses Constitutional Contract Analysis to Create Default Rule for Plea Deals

Recently, I posted the draft my new article, Plea Agreements as Constitutional Contracts, on SSRN. About a week later, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in State v. King, 2017 WL 2982135 (Or. 2017). In that opinion, Oregon's highest court might have given the clearest articulation yet of the theory of plea agreements as constitutional contracts.

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July 20, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Should a Defendant Be Allowed to Submit a Vocal Exemplar Without Subjecting Himself to Cross-Examination?

Today, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, issued an interesting opinion in State v. Watt, 2017 WL 3026766 (Mo.App.W.D. 2017). In Watt,  Pharis Watt was convicted of driving while intoxicated. At trial, the prosecution introduced videotape evidence of Watt's conduct after being pulled over on the night in question. In response,

Watt's counsel sought to present demonstrative evidence in the form of a voice exemplar by having Watt read aloud to the jury one of his own statements from the videotape evidence, introduced during the State's case-in-chief, for the purpose of allowing the jury to assess whether Watt's speech pattern presented on the videotape should be considered as evidence of intoxication as opposed to simply his normal speaking style. Watt specifically sought a ruling that he be allowed to do so without cross-examination, claiming that the evidence would be demonstrative, rather than testimonial.

The court, however, precluded the admission of this evidence, and Watt was eventually convicted.

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July 18, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Are Juvenile Nonhomicide Sentences That Exceed Life Expectancy Cruel and Unusual?

In Graham v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the Eighth Amendment does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime. Prior to Tuesday, seventeen state supreme courts have addressed a related issue: Does the Eighth Amendment permit a juvenile offender in a nonhomicide case to be sentenced to multiple fixed-term periods that, in the aggregate, total more than his life expectancy. In Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Missouri became the eighteenth state supreme court to address the issue. How did it rule?

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July 14, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

When is a Declarant "Unavailable" for Hearsay Purposes Due to Mental Illness?

Like its federal counterpart, Idaho Rule of Evidence 804(b)(1) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for former testimony by an "unavailable" declarant. And, like its federal counterpart, Idaho Rule of Evidence 804(a)(4) states that a declarant is "unavailable" if he "is unable to be present or to testify at the hearing because of death or then existing physical or mental illness or infirmity." Obviously, if a declarant is deceased, he is unavailable. And, obviously, if the declarant has a severe ailment such as the flu that is expected to exceed the duration of the trial, he is "unavailable." But when is a declarant "unavailable" due to mental illness? That was the question of first impression addressed by the Supreme Court of Idaho in its recent opinion in State v. Anderson, 2017 WL 2952458 (Idaho 2017).

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July 13, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

5th Circuit Finds No Ground for Relief Against Bite Mark Experts Who Testified at Trials of Men Who Were Later Exonerated

Bite mark comparison/analysis is a largely discredited forensic science field. In its report, Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology noted that "studies reported in 2009 and 2010 on bitemark evidence...found that current procedures for comparing bitemarks are unable to reliably exclude or include a suspect as a potential biter." Does that mean that exonerates should be able to bring civil lawsuits against bite mark experts who testified against them at trial? According to the recent opinion of the Fifth Circuit in Brewer v. Hayne, 2017 WL 2784155 (5th Cir. 2017), the answer is (usually) "no."

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July 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)