EvidenceProf Blog

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

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)