EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Supreme Court of Kentucky Finds the State Does Not Adopt Statements of Facts in Plea Agreements

Similar to its federal counterpart, Kentucky Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(B) excludes from the rule against hearsay a statement offered against a part if it is

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).

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April 28, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (3)

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.

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April 27, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Should Alford Pleas be Inadmissible in Subsequent Civil Trials?

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).

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April 26, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Junk Science?

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.

At trial,

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?

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April 25, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Virgin Islands Adopts Daubert Standard in Trip & Fall Case

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.

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April 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Brief Look at the Justin Wolfe Case

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.

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April 21, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Indiana Case Involves Intersection of Lividity and Brady Doctrine

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.” 

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April 20, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (26)

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.

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April 19, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (3)

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.

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April 18, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, April 15, 2016

California Law Allows For New Trials When Experts Recant Their Testimony

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.

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April 15, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pennsylvania's Seemingly Unwarranted Restriction on the Dying Declarations Exception

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).

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April 14, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Should Defendants Get Access to TrueAllele's Source Code?

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.

That said,

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? 

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April 13, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My New Essay -- Sovereign Impunity: Why Double Jeopardy Should Apply in Puerto Rico

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.


April 12, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (1)

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.

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April 11, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Texas Denies Exoneration Funds to Alfred Dewayne Brown, Subject of Pulitzer Prize Winning Articles

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. 

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April 8, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Wrongful Conviction of Keith Allen Harward & the Wrongheadedness of Bite Mark Evidence


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.


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April 7, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Similarity Between the Brady Violations in the Breakdown/Justin Chapman Case & Adnan's Case

Today, I'm recording an interview with Bill Rankin, the host of the Breakdown Podcast. The interview will be a special episode of Undisclosed that will premiere on April 18th. In the interview, we will cover a variety of topics, including Breakdown, Undisclosed, and the death penalty in Georgia. The second season of Breakdown, covering the Justin Ross Harris case, premiered recently. I think the second episode of the new season is the best episode of the podcast's entire run.

In this post, though, I want to focus upon one of the Brady violations found in the case that Breakdown covered in its first season because it is very similar to the Brady violation being alleged in Adnan's case in that it involved a misleading disclosure of a faxed document.

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April 6, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (26)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"No Basis in Fact": Why Thiru's Closing in the Derrick Toomer Case Required a New Trial

In yesterday's episode of Undisclosed, we talked about the questionable nature of the arguments made by Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah and how similarly questionable arguments he made in the Derrick Toomer case led to Toomer's murder conviction being thrown out. While the Toomer opinion was unpublished, I was able to obtain a copy of it. You can download it here: Download Toomer.

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April 5, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (17)

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Police Influence on the "Come & Get Me" Call & Jenn's January 26th Talk with MacGillivary

Tonight, we will drop the final Undisclosed episode about the reopened PCR proceedings in the Adnan Syed case. Tomorrow, I will do a post about two of the cases we discussed in the episode. After that, though, I will turn my attention to our Season 2 case and return to blogging about other topics until Judge Welch issues his opinion. At that point, I'm sure I'll have a number of posts about the opinion, and we'll be recording new episodes about it as well. 

How do I expect Judge Welch to rule? As I've said during the PCR episodes, my understanding of the reopened PCR proceeding is that the defense presented a very strong case for both the alibi and cell tower claims. That said, it's tough to say anything definitively without being there to see the testimony and exhibits. By way of contrast, once Judge Welch issues his opinion, I will be in exactly the same position as the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland and be able to make a much more conclusive judgment about how that court will rule.

Other than new Undisclosed content related to Judge Welch's ruling, you can expect some new episodes on other criminal justice matters. For instance, later this week, I will be recording an interview with Bill Rankin, the host of the Breakdown Podcast, which just launched its second season. Now, none of this is to say that work isn't still being done on Adnan's case. It is, but none of that work is yet at the stage where it can be presented to the court or the public. In this post, though, I will share two last nuggets.

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April 4, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (29)

Friday, April 1, 2016

What Maryland's New "Fair Likelihood" Test Means for Adnan's Appeal?

In the reopened postconviction proceedings in the Adnan Syed case, Judge Welch is deciding whether there was ineffective assistance of counsel and/or a Brady violation. With an IAC claim, the judge needs to determine whether effective performance by defense counsel would have created the reasonable probability of a different outcome of a new outcome at trial. See, e.g., Denisyuk v. State, 30 A.3d 914 (Md. 2011). Similarly, with a Brady claim, the judge needs to determine whether proper disclosure of exculpatory evidence by the State would have created the reasonable probability of a different outcome at trial. So, what exactly is a "reasonable probability"? Interestingly enough, the Court of Appeals of Maryland just clarified this definition last week.

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April 1, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (26)