TSA Highway Searches In Tennessee Are Unconstitutional

October 26, 2011

The Homeland Security News Wire, which claims to be “a leading e-information service, delivering daily digital reports, in-depth analysis, news, and researched background on the day’s developments in homeland security, reports today,

Last week in an effort to improve security on U.S.highways, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)establishedcheckpoints at truck weight stations in Tennessee.

Working with the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security, TSA deployed Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams across the state to inspect vehicles. The teams included surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detention officers, and explosive detection canine teams.

“People generally associate the TSA with airport security, and after 9/11 that was our primary focus, but now we have moved on to other forms of transportation, such as highways, buses, and railways,” said Kevin McCarthy, the TSA federal security director for West Tennessee.

The federal statute upon which this program is based is 6 USC 1112.

According to Larry Godwin, the Deputy Commissioner of the Tennessee Depatment of Homeland Security (TDSHS),

Everything from Wal-Mart merchandise to illegal drugs and illegal immigrants are transported through this area. Current interdiction units are doing a good job, but further coordinated inspections will only strengthen their efforts. If we prepare for the worst, then we are ready for almost anything.

The Channel 5 report concludes:

The random inspections really aren’t any more thorough than normal, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott who says paying attention to details can make a difference. Trott pointed out it was an Oklahoma state trooper who stopped Timothy McVeigh for not having a license plate after the Oklahoma City bombing in the early 1990s.
Tuesday’s statewide “VIPR” operation isn’t in response to any particular threat, according to officials.

Representative Ron Paul released a statement yesterday stating, in part:

“If you thought the ‘Transportation Security Administration’ would limit itself to conducting unconstitutional searches at airports, think again,” Paul said in a statement. “The agency intends to assert jurisdiction over our nation’s highways, waterways, and railroads as well.”
***
“Disarming the highways and filling them full of jack-booted thugs demanding to see our papers is no way to make them safer. Instead, it is a great way to expand government surveillance powers and tighten the noose around our liberties.”

In Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), by a vote of 6-3, the United States Supreme Court held that the use of sobriety checkpoints in which police stop vehicles on the public highways to check for alcohol or drug impaired drivers does not violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court described the procedure as follows:

Under the guidelines, checkpoints would be set up at selected sites along state roads. All vehicles passing through a checkpoint would be stopped and their drivers briefly examined for signs of intoxication. In cases where a checkpoint officer detected signs of intoxication, the motorist would be directed to a location out of the traffic flow where an officer would check the motorist’s driver’s license and car registration and, if warranted, conduct further sobriety tests. Should the field tests and the officer’s observations suggest that the driver was intoxicated, an arrest would be made. All other drivers would be permitted to resume their journey immediately.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the majority concluded that,

In sum, that balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program.

In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), in an opinion by Justice O’Connor, a 6-3 majority held that drug checkpoints set up by the City of Indianapolis violated the Fourth Amendment stating,

The primary purpose of the Indianapolis narcotics checkpoint is in the end to advance “the general interest in crime control.” . . . We decline to suspend the usual requirement of individualized suspicion where the police seek to employ a checkpoint primarily for the ordinary purpose of investigating crimes. We cannot sanction stops justified only by the generalized and ever present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime.

Of course, there are circumstances that may justify a law enforcement checkpoint were the primary purpose would otherwise, but for some emergency, relate to ordinary crime control. For example, as the Court of Appeals noted, the Fourth Amendment would almost certainly permit an appropriately tailored roadblock set up to thwart an imminent terrorist attack or to catch a dangerous criminal who is likely to flee by way of a particular route . . . The exigencies created by these scenarios are far removed from the circumstances under which authorities might simply stop cars as a matter of course to see if there just happens to be a felon leaving the jurisdiction. While we do not limit the purposes that may justify a checkpoint program to any rigid set of categories, we decline to approve a program whose primary purpose is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control.

As Justice O’Connor noted in her majority opinion, the Fourth Amendment requires “individualized suspicion” to justify an investigatory stop. The test, which the Supreme Court established in Terry v. Ohio is whether the law enforcement officer had a reasonable suspicion to believe that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. The test is objective. That is, the suspicion or hunch must be based on an articulable set of facts that would warrant a reasonable person to suspect that a suspect had committed, was committing, or about to commit a crime.

The generalized searches that are being conducted by the TSA clearly are not based on a reasonable suspicion that anyone they stop is engaged in terrorist or any unlawful activity. I also do not see any evidence that the searches are being conducted “to thwart an imminent terrorist attack”, or to make our roads safer, which was the motive for the constitutional DUI checkpoint searches in Sitz. Therefore, I do not see any meaningful difference between the unconstitutional searches being conducted in Edmond and the searches now being conducted by the TSA.

Finally, after the Supreme Court decided Sitz, many state supreme courts relied on provisions in their state constitutions similar to the Fourth Amendment to hold that the DUI checkpoints approved in Sitz were unconstitutional. Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have done so or outlawed them, according to Wikipedia, and Alaska and Montana do not use them.

The TSA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, are out of control and need to be stopped. These searches are outrageous and unnecessary. They appear to be primarily motivated by a desire to control people by conditioning them to accept humiliating intrusions into their privacy and snitch on their fellow citizens.

This is not acceptable.

Cross posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and the Smirking Chimp.


Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) And The Frog Gravy Legal Case

October 25, 2011

In Crane Station’s case, the Court of Appeals said,

In the present case, we hold that Deputy McGuire had probable cause to arrest Leatherman for DUI. Deputy McGuire testified that Leatherman appeared to be under the influence of something, despite his observation that she was not driving erratically or weaving. Furthermore, Leatherman failed the HGN test, which reveals intoxication by alcohol or some other drug, although she later passed the breathalyzer test. Finally, the product information for Klonopin (Clonazepam) attached to Leatherman’s brief states that patients taking that medication “should be cautioned about operating hazardous machinery, including automobiles, until they are reasonably certain the Klonopin therapy does not affect them adversely.” Therefore, the observation of Leatherman’s glassy eyes and odd behavior coupled with her admission that she was taking prescription medication that included a warning about driving was sufficient to provide Deputy McGuire with probable cause to arrest her for DUI. Therefore, Deputy McGuire’s warrantless arrest of Leatherman did not deprive her of her constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

As we shall soon see, this conclusion is unsupported by the evidence and makes no sense.

The Court begins its analysis of the evidence by noting that the deputy

testified that Leatherman appeared to be under the influence of something, despite his observation that she was not driving erratically or weaving.

. So, the Court concedes that there was nothing improper about her driving and it does not say that she was unsteady on her feet, smelled of alcohol, or that she exhibited any mental confusion. In other words, she exhibited no physical or mental impairment.

The Court continued,

Furthermore, Leatherman failed the HGN test, which reveals intoxication by alcohol or some other drug, although she later passed the breathalyzer test.

So, in other words, she passed the breathalyzer test ruling out alcohol intoxication. (Actually it was a portable breath test, or PBT, that the deputy administered to her at the roadside before he handcuffed her and placed her in the back of his patrol vehicle.)

Therefore, with the exception of the HGN test result that I will discuss next, the Court has conceded that the deputy did not see any bad driving or physical evidence of alcohol or drug impairment.

What about the HGN?

HGN is an acronym for horizontal gaze nystagmus. The test was described recently by the Supreme Court of Illinois in People v. McKown, 924 N.E.2d 941 (2010):

Nystagmus is “an involuntary, rapid, rhythmic movement of the eyeball, which may be horizontal, vertical, rotatory, or mixed, i.e., of two varieties.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). The medical dictionary lists 45 types of nystagmus. For example, ataxic nystagmus is unilateral and occurs in individuals with multiple sclerosis. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). Congenital nystagmus “may be caused by or associated with optic atrophy, coloboma, albinism, bilateral macular lesions, congenital cataract, severe astigmatism, and glaucoma.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003). Gaze nystagmus, which is at issue in the present case, is “made apparent by looking to the right or to the left,” as opposed to fixation nystagmus, “which appears only on gazing fixedly at an object,” or latent nystagmus, “which occurs only when one eye is covered.” Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary 1296 (30th ed.2003).

The methodology employed by law enforcement officers for conducting an HGN testing as a part of field-sobriety testing is explained in detail in our earlier opinion. In brief, the officer first questions the subject to determine whether he or she has any medical condition or is taking any medication that might affect the results of the test. If not, the officer performs a preliminary test to determine whether the pupils of the subject’s eyes are of equal size and whether the eyes “track” equally as an object is moved, at eye level, from side to side. If so, the HGN test itself is performed. The officer looks for three “clues,” assessing each eye separately. The three clues are lack of smooth pursuit, distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, and the onset of nystagmus at an angle less than 45 degrees. One point is assigned for each clue that is present in either eye. Thus, the maximum score is six, which would indicate all three clues present in both eyes. A score of four or more is considered “failing” and indicative of alcohol impairment. McKown I, 226 Ill.2d at 249-50.

After reviewing all of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense relative to the HGN Test and whether it is generally accepted as an indicator of alcohol or drug impairment [the Frye test or standard for the admissibility of scientific evidence], the Supreme Court concluded,

1. HGN testing satisfies the Frye standard in Illinois.

2. HGN testing is but one facet of field sobriety testing and is admissible as a factor to be considered by the trier-of-fact on the issue of alcohol or drug impairment.

3. A proper foundation must include that the witness has been adequately trained, has conducted testing and assessment in accordance with the training, and that he administered the particular test in accordance with his training and proper procedures.

4. [Testimony regarding] HGN testing results should be limited to the conclusion that a “failed” test suggests that the subject may have consumed alcohol and may [have] be[en] under the influence. There should be no attempt to correlate the test results with any particular blood-alcohol level or range or level of intoxication.

5. In conjunction with other evidence, HGN may be used as a part of the police officer’s opinion that the subject [was] under the influence and impaired.” (Emphasis in original.)

(Emphasis supplied)

What exactly must a police officer do to properly administer the HGN test? The Illinois Supreme Court details the NHTSA procedure in its earlier decision remanding the McKown case to the trial court with instructions to conduct a Frye hearing. People v. McKown, 875 N.E.2d 1029, 1032 (2007):

Because alcohol consumption can cause nystagmus, police officers have been trained to check a person’s eye movements when attempting to determine if a driver has been driving while impaired by alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association’s (NHTSA) DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual sets forth the procedure for administering an HGN test in the field. First, the officer is required to ask the subject if he or she wears contact lenses or has any medical impairment that would affect the test results or prohibit the subject from taking the test. If the subject claims to wear hard contacts, or have natural nystagmus or any other condition that may affect the test results, the officer should note the condition but still administer the test if possible. NHTSA DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual, ch. VIII, at 6-18 (2002).

After these preliminary questions, the officer asks the subject to focus on an object, such as a pen, held just above eye level, about 12 to 15 inches from the subject’s nose, and to follow the object as the officer gradually moves it from side to side.

While conducting the test, the officer looks for six nystagmus “clues,” three in each eye, that, according to the NHTSA Manual, indicate impairment. If four or more clues are present, the subject is determined to have failed the test and be impaired. The clues are (1) lack of smooth pursuit; (2) distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, meaning any nystagmus exhibited when the eyeball is looking as far to the side as possible; and (3) angle of onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees, meaning any nystagmus that occurs before the object reaches a point that the officer determines to be 45 degrees from the center of the suspect’s face. No measuring apparatus is used in the 45-degree test. The officer is then instructed to have the subject perform the walk-and-turn field-sobriety test and the one-leg-stand field-sobriety test, compile the results of the three tests, and then make the decision whether to arrest the subject. NHTSA DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor Manual, ch. VIII, at 6-18 (2002).

How did Deputy McGuire administer the HGN test? This is how her lawyer described it in the brief she filed in the Court of Appeals:

McGuire should not have administered the test in the first place. McGuire did not testify to any clue Rachel Leatherman gave that she was impaired. She drove in compliance with traffic laws. She produced her license and registration quickly after he asked for them. Her eyes were not watery or bloodshot. Her pupils were not pinpoint or dilated. She was not scratching as some persons who inject drugs might. She did not have a runny nose as is common with some cocaine users. She did not have scabs or needle marks, also common with intravenous drug users. She was not coughing or short of breath; she was not sneezing or sweating. She did not complain of nausea or chest pains. Her face was not flushed. She was alert.

McGuire admitted at the suppression hearing that the HGN result by itself could not provide probable cause. Unfortunately, even assuming arguendo that other indicators had been present, McGuire improperly administered the test.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an administrative agency housed within the United States Department of Transportation. NHTSA oversees and regulates all matter related to traffic safety. Since 1977, NHTSA has studied various field sobriety tests in order to develop a standardized set of field sobriety tests. As a result of those tests, NHTSA warned police officers to position DUI suspects so that they do not face blinking cruiser lights or oncoming traffic because the lights can create a false nystagmus (optokinetic nystagmus). Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The Science and the Law, A Resource Guide for Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement.

The field video shows that McGuire positioned Rachel Leatherman facing the blinking cruiser lights and the oncoming traffic. The test was neither administered properly nor documented [he never documented what he did and any of the angles when nystagmus occurred; he simply testified that “she failed all six clues”].

McGuire testified that Leatherman told him she had a prescription for Metoprolol because she had hypertension. Documentation for Metoprolol shows that a side effect can be nystagmus. Under those circumstances, McGuire finding “all six clues” should be found legally meaningless.

As if the Court had not even bothered to read her brief, it ignored her powerful and outcome dispositive legal argument without comment.

Instead, the Court focused on Clonazepam.

Finally, the product information for Klonopin (Clonazepam) attached to Leatherman’s brief states that patients taking that medication “should be cautioned about operating hazardous machinery, including automobiles, until they are reasonably certain the Klonopin therapy does not affect them adversely.”

Notice that the warning does not say that Clonazepam causes physical or mental impairment and no one who takes it in any dosage should ever operate hazardous machinery, including automobiles.

Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine that is routinely prescribed as an anti-seizure medication and to control anxiety. In other words, it is prescribed to make people feel normal so they can lead a normal life doing normal things like driving motor vehicles. The warning only applies to the initial dosage that can be adjusted if it’s too strong. There was no evidence in this case regarding the dosage or how long she had been taking it.

The Court’s refusal to mention, discuss, or distinguish her argument regarding the legally invalid HGN test and its reliance on a misinterpretation of the warning on the product insert for Clonazepam borders on mendacity.

The Court of Appeals concluded,

Therefore, the observation of Leatherman’s glassy eyes and odd behavior coupled with her admission that she was taking prescription medication that included a warning about driving was sufficient to provide Deputy McGuire with probable cause to arrest her for DUI.

Well, excuse me. Odd behavior. What odd behavior? Deputy McGuire testified at the suppression hearing that he did not witness any odd behavior, or he would have noted it in his report. There was no reference to any odd behavior in his report and he was the only witness at the suppression hearing.

Apparently, operating a motor vehicle in full compliance with all traffic laws without speeding, weaving or swerving, and quickly pulling over and stopping in the emergency lane beside the road when signaled to do so by a police officer in a marked police vehicle constitutes probable cause to arrest in Kentucky.

As we like to say in the blogosphere, the Court of Appeals has some splainin’ to do.

Author’s note: People v. McKown is an Illinois Supreme Court case and not binding legal precedent in Kentucky. I used it because it is well written and it lays out the NHTSA procedure for conducting the HGN that Crane-Station’s lawyer included with her brief, together with the NHTSA publication that explicitly warns law enforcement officers not to position suspects facing police cruiser lights and oncoming traffic. See: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The Science and the Law, A Resource Guide for Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement. Kentucky follows the same rule, but the opinion is not recent and not well written.

Cross posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and the Smirking Chimp.


Conspiracy

October 24, 2011

The crime of conspiracy consists of an agreement between two or more people to commit a specific crime and one of the members of the conspiracy commits an act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

For example, let’s revive the characters in our hearsay hypothetical and say Beauregard, who is still married, has a thing for Amanda that resembles a pickle in his pocket, but she loves Peter Piper. In fact she told Beauregard that she had just moved into Peter Piper’s apartment. They are living together and discussing getting married.

Poor Beauregard! Unrequited love is difficult, but not as difficult as being married to Zelda, who is a trust fund baby and a dominatrix to boot, literally. The money is nice, but he loses access to it, per the prenup, if he leaves her. Talk about golden handcuffs. My oh my!

Over a few beers one night, make that quite a few beers, Beauregard confesses his love lust for Amanda to his friend Igor Ivarson and they agree that Peter Piper needs to die.

Amanda and Peter Piper do not know Igor, so Beauregard and Igor agree that Igor will shoot Peter Piper when Peter and Amanda arrive home from work the next day.

Beauregard tells Igor that he has another friend, Bernie the Zipper, who knows how to keep his mouth shut, and Bernie has a knack for obtaining guns with obliterated serial numbers. So, the deal is Beauregard will acquire an untraceable gun from Bernie and give it to Igor. When Igor commits the murder, Beauregard will be with Zelda doing what comes naturally, to her. Thus, he will have an alibi.

Pleased with themselves and their plan, they have another beer, and drink to better days.

Beauregard calls Bernie the next morning and tells him he wants to buy a gun and Bernie being Bernie, he agrees to sell him one that’s untraceable, but it’s going to take some time to find one. Bernie tells Beauregard that he’ll call him when he’s ready to deliver.

Later in the day after he sobers up, Igor calls Beauregard and tells him that what seemed like a cool idea no longer is a good idea. In fact, he thinks the idea is crazy and he just called the cops and spilled the pickles, er beans. They are on their way to pick him up for questioning.

What, if any, are the legal consequences?

First, ask yourself what are the elements of the crime of conspiracy? Elements, by the way, are what a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.

Elementary, my dear Watson. Eh, what?

The first element is proof of an agreement to commit a specific crime. Check. Beauregard and Igor agreed to participate in a murder with each of them performing specific acts to make it happen.

Is that it?

Nope, you forgot the overt act. Remember the phone call.

Beauregard called Bernie and told him he wanted to buy an untraceable gun. While the call by itself was not illegal, Beauregard called him to facilitate the commission of the crime. Therefore, he committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Now what?

Well, the crime of conspiracy was completed with the overt act.

Does it matter that the object of the conspiracy was not completed, or that it was impossible to complete, given Igor’s decision to withdraw from the conspiracy and call the police?

No. Impossibility is not a defense.

Does it matter that Igor Ivarson did not know that Beauregard had called Bernie the Zipper before he called the police?

No, if it was reasonably foreseeable that Beauregard would call Bernie, which it was because Beauregard told him that he was going to call him.

By calling the police, did Igor withdraw from the conspiracy in timely fashion so that he is not guilty of conspiracy?

Yes, to withdraw from a conspiracy, a member of the conspiracy must contact the police and inform them of the conspiracy and then stop participating in the conspiracy.

Did Bernie join the conspiracy?

No, he did not know why Beauregard wanted the gun and did not agree to provide it so that it could be used to kill someone. He did not know that there was a conspiracy to kill Peter and did not agree to join it.

Since a conspiracy requires at least two people and Igor withdrew from the conspiracy, can Beauregard be convicted of conspiracy when he is the only member?

Yes, because the crime of conspiracy came into being after the agreement to kill Peter when he committed the overt act in furtherance of the agreement by calling Bernie the Zipper.

Does Beauregard have a defense to the charge based on voluntary intoxication or diminished capacity?

No, because his effort the next morning to contact Bernie the Zipper demonstrated that he recalled what he agreed to do and he followed up on what he agreed to do when he was sober.

The crime of conspiracy is easy to prove. Conspiracies typically begin to unravel when a member of the conspiracy is arrested and agrees to inform on his coconspirators in exchange for leniency. In drug cases, the cooperating coconspirator usually introduces an undercover cop to his fellow coconspirators as an interested buyer or seller of drugs. Several deals are negotiated and then the big bust happens during a deal involving sufficient drugs to trigger minimum mandatory sentences.

Under federal law (the United States Sentencing Guidelines), the sentences are based on the total amount of drugs dealt over the course of the conspiracy and each member of the conspiracy is liable for the whole amount even though they may not have known about some of the deals. In this way, wives and girlfriends who relay messages to their husbands and boyfriends from coconspirators generally knowing that the messages relate to drug dealing, find themselves in a hell of a jam when the bust goes down because they are liable for all the drugs dealt by all members of the conspiracy, even though they knew very little about what was going on.

We also have been seeing federal prosecutions for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism where the feds have inserted an undercover informant into a group of malcontents who talk about revolution in order to get them to do what they like to talk about doing. The informant facilitates the offense.

Does that constitute entrapment, which is a defense?

Depends on whether the malcontents were predisposed to commit the offense and the undercover informant merely provided them with an opportunity to do what they already were predisposed to do. If so, entrapment is not a defense.

To keep fear alive so that the government can continue to eliminate our civil rights without a peep in protest, the feds continue to seek out malcontents and infiltrate them with instigators to get their periodic busts and the attendant headlines. They operate as close to the line on entrapment as they can and sooner or later they are going to cross it.

Cross posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and the Smirking Chimp.


The Difference Between Homicide And Murder

October 23, 2011

Although states vary in their definitions, the majority of states define homicide is the unlawful killing of a human being. Killing a person in self-defense is a lawful killing of another person. Therefore, it is not a homicide.

There are four degrees of homicide which vary according to the actor’s state of mind when he or she commits an act that causes the death of another person. The four degrees of homicide are:

1. Murder in the First Degree (premeditated intent to kill another person). Note that premeditation is defined as forming the specific intent to kill before committing the act that causes the death of another person. There is no established minimum amount of time, but the actor must have had an opportunity to reflect on the decision to kill before committing the act that causes death.

2. Murder in the Second Degree (intentional murder). In effect, the actor forms the specific intent to kill another person and acts immediately such that the formation of intent and the act occur simultaneously or so close together that there is no opportunity to reflect on the decision. Murder in the Second Degree typically involves killing another person in the heat of passion.

3. Manslaughter in the First Degree (reckless killing). The actor engages in conduct knowing that there is a substantial risk that the conduct will cause the death of another person. The typical example is playing Russian Roulette with another person. There is no intent to kill, but a death results nevertheless.

4. Manslaughter in the Second Degree (criminally negligent killing). The actor causes the death of another person while committing an act that he should have known would likely cause the death of another person and his failure to know that constitutes a gross deviation from the standard to act with due care to avoid injuring others.

Depending on whether a state has the death penalty, there is another category called Aggravated Murder, which is a premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances.

Aggravating circumstances are defined by statute and typically include the premeditated killing of another person to conceal the commission of another crime. For example, a rapist kills the victim to prevent her from reporting the crime and identifying him. Other examples include the premeditated murder of a cop or a judge. In each case the aggravating circumstance is the purpose behind the premeditated intent to kill.

The death penalty is not automatically imposed upon conviction of aggravated murder, no matter how heinous or depraved. Instead, a sentencing hearing is held after the jury convicts the defendant of aggravated murder in which the same jury that convicted him considers evidence submitted by the prosecution in aggravation of the offense and evidence offered by the defense in mitigation of the offense.

Evidence in aggravation includes the evidence the jury already heard about the offense in the guilt phase, a statement from a friend of the victim or member of the victim’s family who testifies regarding the impact of the victim’s death on the witness or family, and evidence of the defendant’s prior record of criminal convictions, if any exists.

Evidence in mitigation is evidence about the defendant, such as organic brain disorder, limited intellectual functioning, mental illness, victim of childhood sexual abuse or assault, or the defendant’s role in committing the murder (e.g., an accomplice who assisted another person to commit the murder but who did not commit the murder and may not have even been present when it occurred) that in fairness or mercy warrants a sentence of life without possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.

In Washington State where I handled all of my death penalty cases, the final instruction given to the jury after both sides rest in the penalty phase is as follows:

Having in mind the crime of which the defendant has been convicted, are you convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that there are not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit a sentence of less than death?

The jury also is instructed that the law presumes that the appropriate sentence is life without possibility of parole unless the prosecution overcomes that presumption with proof beyond a reasonable doubt that there are not sufficient mitigating circumstances to merit the life without parole sentence.

The jury must be unanimous to impose the death sentence.


Hearsay Rule (Part 4)

October 23, 2011

Welcome back, class.

First, here’s a clip showing the best opening statement that I have ever seen.

Before we review the remaining exceptions to the hearsay rule, I want to emphasize the difference between the present-sense-impression exception, which is a statement by the declarant reacting to an event as it happens or shortly thereafter, and the excited utterance exception, which is a statement reacting to an event while under the influence of the emotional response caused by the event. For example, let’s return to our cozy couple, Amy and Beauregard, lost as they are in each other’s eyes to the eternal frustration of the waiter and owner of the restaurant, who want to lock-up and go home. Let’s also move the dinner to a month after the accident.

Beauregard nudges the bill aside and reaches for Amy’s hands saying, “I’m so sorry, honey. Tears and mascara are strolling hand in hand down her lustrous apple cheeks and falling on the white linen tablecloth, staining it. “You liked Peter, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Even though he was my boss and kind of nerdy. I’ll never forget his screams. I never heard someone scream like that. It was awful, Beau.”

“How did it happen?”

“Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit him in the crosswalk and he bled to death right in front of me.” She sobbed and squeezed more tears from her baby blues.

Okay, is her statement admissible under the present-sense-impression exception?

No, because her statement describes an event that occurred a month earlier.

Is her statement admissible as an excited utterance?

Yes, because she was under the emotional influence of the event.

Note that this exception has been used to introduce the statements of sexual assault crime victims, particularly children under the age of 5, even though they were being questioned by adults, social workers, or police using leading questions, and even though the child never testified at the defendant’s trial. This is an especially difficult situation for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, not to mention the children and the defendants. Young children are particularly susceptible to forming false memories regarding incidents that never happened when authority figures question them with leading questions, e.g., “Is that when your daddy touched you in your private place?”

Now, beginning with the third exception, since we already have discussed the first two, let’s move on to the other hearsay exceptions in which the availability of the declarant is immaterial:

3. Statement about a then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition;

4. Statements to medical personnel for purposes of medical diagnosis (Yes, what you tell your doctor about a preexisting medical condition is admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule in a legal proceeding between you and your insurance company to determine whether coverage was properly denied);

5. Statements that were recorded to preserve recollection at a time when the declarant had knowledge of the event described, but has now forgotten (this exception happens more and more now, given how many years can pass between an incident and when a legal proceeding regarding that incident finally happens);

6. Records of regularly conducted business activity that were prepared as part of the business, as opposed to generated for purposes of litigation;

7. Absence of an entry in records kept in (6);

8. Public records and reports;

9. Records of vital statistics;

10. Absence of public record or entry;

11. Records of religious organizations;

12. Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates;

13. Family records;

14. Records of documents affecting an interest in property;

15. Statements in documents affecting an interest in property;

16. Statements in ancient documents;

17. Market reports and commercial publications;

18. Learned treatises;

19. Reputation concerning personal or family history;

20. Reputation concerning boundaries or general history;

21. Reputation as to character;

22. Judgment as to previous conviction; and

23. Judgment as to personal, family, or general history or boundaries.

There are an additional 5 exceptions to the hearsay rule when the declarant is unavailable to testify and be questioned about the statement:

1. Former testimony, if the party, or predecessor in legal interest, against whom the statement is being offered had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination;

2. Statement under belief of impending death concerning the cause of circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death (e.g., the so-called dying declaration);

3. Statement against interest (i.e., a statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. By the way, regarding the Troy Davis legal case: a statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement);

4. Statement of personal or family history; and

5. Forfeiture by wrongdoing (i.e., a statement offered against a party that has engaged in or acquiesced in wrongdoing that was intended to, and did, procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness).

Y’all can look up these rules on line for further information. Once again, the rules are FRE 801 defining hearsay, FRE 802 which says hearsay is not admissible except under these rules, FRE 803 which list 23 exceptions where hearsay is admissible regardless if the declarant is available to testify, and FRE 804, which lists 5 exceptions where hearsay is admissible, if the declarant is not available to testify.

Again, the states apply substantially the same rules in state courts and they follow the same numbering system, which makes it easy to find the corresponding state rule and compare the two.

Finally, never forget that a statement by a declarant that is NOT offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement is NOT hearsay!

Cross posted at my website and at the Smirking Chimp.


Who Says? Hear Says! Exceptions, That Is

October 23, 2011

Philosophical thought for the day: A rule is not a rule without exceptions, and there are no exceptions, damnit!

Good afternoon class.

Welcome to Hearsay 103.

There are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that one might almost say the exceptions have swallowed the rule. I will discuss several of them in some detail and merely list the others because they do not come up all that often and they are not difficult to understand. For future reference, you can find them listed in rules 803 and 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are cited as FRE 803 and FRE 804. By the way, most of the states have adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence with minor changes and they use the same numbering system. Most of the minor changes are due to a state modifying the federal rule in order to retain the rule or a favored part of the rule that the state used to follow. For your information, the rules of evidence were promulgated by the various supreme courts pursuant to their rule making authority under the state constitutions. For the most part, judges and lawyers in all state and federal courts play with the same set of evidentiary rules and that is a good thing.

As I pointed out in our first class regarding the hearsay rule, the rule is designed to exclude unreliable evidence. Why bother? you might ask. The answer is that all of the rules are designed to filter the evidence that jurors get to hear so that they will not place undue emphasis or reliance on evidence that has little weight or importance. Put another way, judges and lawyers do not trust jurors, so they want to censor what they get to consider. The hearsay rule is a good example.

Recall our example in the first class involving the hapless Peter Piper who will never get to pick his fabled peck of pickled peppers due to Igor Ivarson’s storming rampage through the red light slamming Mr. Piper’s immortal soul through the uprights of heaven leaving his fractured mortal coil bereft and alone in a puddle of blood in the crosswalk of life. Ah, yes. T’was a pity, indeed.

So, we had B, let’s give him a name and call him Beauregard, shall we? Okay, and let’s also give A a name and call her Amanda. So, Beauregard is on the witness stand and the prosecutor asks him,

“What if anything did Amanda say to you at dinner about something that happened at the intersection?”

But for the hearsay objection by defense counsel that any reasonably conscious and sentient judge would have sustained because the answer is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, Amanda would have answered,

“Igor Ivarson ran right through the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

You see, judges and lawyers fear that, if jurors heard the answer, they might place undue emphasis on the un-cross-examined statement of a witness who never actually testified. How can they reasonably and reliably assess Amanda’s credibility by listening to Beauregard drone on about dinner with Amanda?

Enough said.

Now, let’s tweak our fact pattern so that we remove Amanda and Beauregard from their cozy repast at their intimate restaurant and place them together at the intersection with Beauregard talking to his wife on his cell phone while staring at the sky when Igor Ivarson hits the unfortunate Peter Piper. He does not see the accident, but Amanda does. She utters a scream and says, “Oh my God. Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

Flash forward to trial again with Beauregard on the stand and the prosecutor now asks,

“When you were standing on the corner of the intersection talking on your cell phone, what, if anything, did you hear Amanda say?”

Assume you are defense counsel and you stand up and say, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay.”

What happens?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens.

The judge says: “Objection overruled. You may close your mouth and sit down, counsel.”

Saying, “But Judge. Professor Masoninblue says that’s hearsay because its offered to prove the truth of the matter and besides, we all know that we don’t trust juries, right Judge?” will not help you.

Welcome to the first two and likely most often used exceptions to the hearsay rule: Present Sense Impression and Excited Utterance.

FRE 803(1) defines a Present Sense Impression as follows:

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event, or condition, or immediately thereafter.

FRE 803(2) defines an Excited Utterance as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.

Amanda’s statement is admissible hearsay under both the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Why make an exception for these two types of statements and not the statement during the conversation at dinner?

Because the declarant, Amanda, was “describing or explaining an event or condition while [she] was perceiving the event”, and she was “under the stress of excitement caused by the event.” Her statement was an immediate reaction to the accident. She did not have an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and possibly change or even forget her statement. For that reason, her statement is regarded as sufficiently accurate and reliable to be admitted into evidence, even if she does not testify and is not subject to cross examination.

In fact the availability of the declarant to testify at a hearing or trial is immaterial to all of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule that are listed in FRE 803.

I see that we are at 1000 words, so we have reached the end of today’s class and we’ll have to continue our study of the exceptions to the hearsay rule tomorrow.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.


Hearsay, Part Deaux: Frog Gravy Legal Case

October 23, 2011

Good afternoon, class.

Now that you are experts regarding what constitutes hearsay, let’s take a look at an interesting issue in Crane-Station’s case.

The arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie McGuire testified at her Preliminary Hearing that, after she was thoroughly searched at the roadside by a female officer who did not find any contraband or paraphernalia, he arrested her for DUI, handcuffed her with her hands behind her back, placed her in the backseat of his patrol vehicle, and transported her to Lourdes Hospital in Paducah for a blood draw. As he was assisting her to get out of the backseat at the hospital, she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist during the ride and it slipped beyond her reach behind the seat. She asked him to please retrieve it, which he agreed to do.

When the returned to his vehicle after the blood draw, he unlocked the back door, pulled the seat forward, and reached beneath it to grab the watch. When he handed her the watch, he also showed her a small crumb-like object and said, “Sure looks like heroin to me.”

He also testified that he field tested the substance after he took her to jail and it tested negative for the presence of heroin. He said he did not field test it for cocaine because “We knew all along it would be crack.”

In the trial judge’s chambers before jury selection on the first day of the trial, the prosecutor asked the trial judge to prohibit the defense from mentioning during jury selection and opening statement her statement about her watch and her request to retrieve it on the ground that the statements were inadmissible hearsay unless he offered them into evidence as an admission by a party opponent, which he did not intend to do. He also asked the judge to prohibit the defense from attempting to introduce her statements into evidence during the trial or to mention them in closing argument.

The trial judge agreed despite defense counsel’s objection.

To make matters more bizarre, Deputy McGuire changed his testimony regarding how he retrieved the watch. Without mentioning her statements, of course, he said he saw her watch and the rock together in the seatbelt crack in plain view on the seat beside her before he helped her to get out of the backseat after they arrived at the hospital.

When her attorney attempted to confront him on cross examination with the deputy’s prior inconsistent testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing, the prosecutor objected and the trial judge sustained the objection.

In closing argument, the prosecutor argued that she had not explained why her watch was in plain view next to the rock of crack in the seatbelt crack right beside her. Not surprisingly, the jury convicted her of possessing the rock of crack and tampering with evidence (i.e., attempting to conceal it in the seatbelt crack).

Now, let’s analyze her statements. To determine if they were hearsay, we begin by asking if the defense would have offered them to prove the truth of the matters asserted in her statements.

Answer: No, because they would have been offered to show that in response to something she said, he pulled the seat forward to look for her watch and that is when he found it, handed it to her, and produced the crumb-like substance that by his own admission he “knew all along was going to be crack.”

Notice that phrased this way, it is clear that what she actually said was not important. The point is she said something and whatever it was, it prompted him to pull the seat forward and look under it where he found her watch and the crumb-like object. That is, they were not in plain view and we know that because he testified at the Preliminary Hearing under oath that that is how he found the watch and the rock.

Whenever the actual words in a statement do not matter, as is the case here, the statement necessarily is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Make a note of this and remember it because it is very important.

Not only were her statements admissible, the deputy’s previous testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing was admissible to impeach his testimony about finding her watch and the rock together in plain view beside her.

The prosecutor’s incredibly sleazy closing argument commenting on her failure to explain why her watch and the rock were together in plain view, when he persuaded the trial judge to prohibit her from providing that explanation, was an atrocious improper comment on her court ordered silence.

Finally, the trial judge’s evidentiary rulings prevented her from putting on a defense in violation of her Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights.

Namaste

Cross posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

Author’s Note: Due to the length of this essay, I have decided to discuss the rest of the hearsay rule in Part 3 tomorrow.


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