#Ferguson: Darren Wilson’s prearrest silence may be admissible

August 23, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Good afternoon:

BettyKath asked the following question in the comments to yesterday’s post, Grand Jury should indict Darren Wilson because his claim of self-defense is contradicted by autopsy results and all eyewitnesses.

Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that maintaining silence before the Miranda warning, i.e. before being arrested, can be interpreted as a sign of guilt?

This is an excellent question regarding the admissibility of prearrest silence and my answer is the subject of today’s blog.

Yes, prearrest silence can be interpreted as evidence of guilt unless the suspect/defendant specifically invokes his fifth amendment right to remain silent. In Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980), the defendant did not report the killing to the police until he turned himself in to police two weeks later. He told them that he stabbed the victim to death in self-defense. At trial, the prosecutor cross examined him regarding his failure to report the killing and to claim self-defense when it happened. He also commented on his silence in closing argument claiming that it was evidence of guilt.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) affirmed his conviction rejecting his argument that the comments on his prearrest silence violated his fifth amendment right to remain silent. The Court held that his silence was admissible because a defendant must expressly claim his right to remain silent for it to apply.

See also Salinas v. Texas, 133 S. Ct. 2174 (2013).

Pursuant to Jenkins and Salinas, Wilson’s failure to fill out the incident report (i.e., his silence) will be admissible against him at trial unless he expressly refused to do so citing his fifth amendment right to remain silent.

Apparently, he did not do that because the cover sheet is filled out, but the section where his narrative report should be is blank.

If he orally invoked his right to remain silent when he turned in his blank incident report, his prearrest silence will not be admissible.

In any event, the prosecutor doesn’t have to comment on Wilson’s silence to get an indictment because, as I stated yesterday, he can obtain it by merely calling the eyewitnesses and presenting the autopsy report.

Although Wilson’s prearrest silence will not be admissible at trial, assuming he expressly invoked his right to remain silent, we also have to consider whether his oral statements to others that he shot in self-defense will be admissible.

No, they are not admissible because they constitute inadmissible self-serving hearsay.

That leaves Darren Wilson between a rock and a hard place.

He must testify in order to get his ‘bum-rush’ defense into evidence and a self-defense instruction. However, if he testifies, none of the eyewitnesses saw a ‘bum rush’ and if he tells a different story, he can be confronted with his ‘bum rush’ story.

Not an enviable situation to be in even with $225,000 in donations for his defense.

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation.

Thank you,

Fred


Grand Jury should indict Darren Wilson because his claim of self-defense is contradicted by autopsy results and all eyewitnesses

August 22, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Good afternoon:

The St. Louis County grand jury should indict Darren Wilson because the results of the independent autopsy and all of the eyewitnesses contradict his reported claim of self-defense and he has asserted his fifth amendment right to remain silent by refusing to fill out an incident report regarding the shooting.

Game within the Game

Darren Wilson has obviously been discussing his legal predicament with an attorney. As a result of that discussion, he decided not to fill out an incident report on the ground that his statement might tend to incriminate him.

That was a smart but risky move.

Smart because he has a fifth amendment right to remain silent and the members of the grand jury cannot assume that his silence is an admission of guilt.

Risky because he is the only witness who would testify that he shot Mike Brown in self-defense. All of the eyewitnesses have described a murder, not a justifiable homicide in self-defense. Therefore, if he does not testify, the grand jury will have little choice except to indict him for murder.

He could go for the brass ring by agreeing to testify before the grand jury, but he would lock himself into a story by doing so and could still be indicted for murder because his story is contradicted by all of the eyewitnesses.

Recall that the grand jury need only find that there is probable cause to believe that he was not in imminent danger of death or serious injury when he shot an unarmed Mike Brown multiple times, including twice in the head, killing him.

Yee olde bum-rush defense ain’t got no legs since none of the eyewitnesses saw Mike Brown rush the officer and his body was found right where he stopped and turned around to face the officer, 35 feet from the police vehicle.

Looks like he has decided to forgo testifying before the grand jury, in essence conceding that he will be indicted.

He’s in a very difficult situation, but I think he made the right choice.

Don’t forget that his lawyer could not be present, if he testified before the grand jury. There’s danger in them thar hills.

Meanwhile, he can derive comfort from the news today that people have contributed more than $225,000 for his defense at his beg-site.

Meanwhile, the racist right-wing-hate-machine marches on engaging in non-stop victim character assassination by lie and constant media repetition of the racist yee olde bum-rush defense in the court of public opinion until everybody forgets that Mike Brown was executed for jaywalking.

Welcome to Zimmerman II.


Michael Dunn’s sentencing must be continued to avoid constitutional error

March 11, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good morning:

Judge Russell Healey said yesterday that he will announce his decision on Friday, regarding the defense motion to continue Michael Dunn’s sentencing until after the retrial of the murder charge.

For the following reasons, I believe he must grant the motion to avoid constitutional error.

Briefly in review, the jury convicted Dunn of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of shooting into a vehicle. It hung 9-3 in favor of convicting him for shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn was represented at yesterday’s hearing by his trial counsel, Cory Strolla, who is withdrawing because Dunn is out of money. He will be replaced by a public defender.

He argued that the sentencing must be continued because anything Dunn says at his sentencing can be used against him at the retrial.

The prosecution has objected to the continuance on the ground that Dunn has waived his right to remain silent by testifying at trial.

Although the answer is relatively simple, Judge Healey appears to be struggling a bit with this motion.

Let’s break it down :

The Fifth Amendment states in pertinent part,

No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.

First, as long as Dunn remains in legal jeopardy of conviction on the murder charge, he can assert his right to remain silent, even if he has previously testified.

Second, Dunn also has a right to allocution, which means he has a right to be heard before the court imposes the sentence.

Third, if he exercises his right to allocution, he sacrifices his right to remain silent. He cannot be compelled to make that choice and that is the precise problem he faces.

Therefore, Judge Healey should grant the defense motion.

I am surprised that the prosecution has failed to see this issue.

My question for Angela Corey is why build constitutional error into the record at this point? Dunn is not going anywhere.

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This is our 928th post and donations are lagging. We work hard to keep you informed by filling in the blanks between the lines. After 30 years in the trenches, I am familiar with all of the rules and strategies prosecutors and defense counsel utilize. Experience counts and most of my predictions have been accurate.

Adjusting and fine tuning to dial in the white fear and racist corruption frequencies in the Florida courts took some doing, but I am on track now.

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation.

We cannot pay our bills without your support.

Fred


Police officers go on trial for killing Kelly Thomas two years ago

December 2, 2013

Monday, December 3, 2013

Good evening:

The trial of two City of Fullerton police officers charged with killing Kelly Thomas, 37, more than two years ago finally got underway today with opening statements. Fullerton is located in conservative Orange County, CA, approximately 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and this is the first time in the history of the county that a police officer will stand trial for murder.

Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Jay Cicinelli, 42, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. A third officer, who is also charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force, will be tried after this trial concludes because his case was severed from the other two defendants.

Some of you may remember this case, especially if you live in California, because of substantial and continuing community outrage about Thomas’s death and the failure of the police department and the district attorney’s office to arrest and prosecute any of the police officers involved. Months of protests finally led to the resignation of the police chief and a recall election.

Let’s take a look at this tragic case because there is much we can learn from it.

Kelly Thomas was mentally disabled by schizophrenia, homeless and unemployable. CBS News reported today,

Thomas, who some called “Crazy Kelly,” was known around town for his disheveled red beard and erratic behavior and was already familiar to police. Ramos himself had been called on seven previous occasions to remove him from private property and Thomas had been written up for trespassing, urinating in a fountain and vandalism, among other things.

The altercation that led to his death started in much the same way, with Ramos rolling up to a police call about a man who was trying to open car doors at Fullerton’s busy transit center. This time, however, things escalated – and much of it was captured on the surveillance tape that promises to be the trial’s centerpiece.

The body microphones that the officers attach to their uniforms were also working.

The district attorney has provided a preview of the State’s case.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas hassaid investigators overlaid recordings from the officers’ body microphones with the tape, allowing prosecutors to provide a blow-by-blow narrative of an “impending beating by an angry police officer” and verbatim quotes from the officers and Thomas as the scene unfolded.

Initially, Ramos chides Thomas for his evasive answers: “It seems like every day, we have to talk to you about somethin’ … Do you enjoy it?” Ramos asks Thomas, according to a prosecution transcript.

Within minutes, Ramos grows angry as Thomas refuses to cooperate. He snaps on latex gloves, holds his fists in front of Thomas’ face and says, “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to (expletive) you up.”

Thomas stood up and pulled away, prosecutors said, and Ramos chased him down, tackled him and punched him in the ribs as he pinned him down.

Cicinelli, who arrived moments later, is accused of kneeing Thomas twice in the head and using a Taser on him four times before hitting him in the face with the blunt end of the stun gun eight times. The coroner listed the cause of death as mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen.

Kelly Thomas called out to his father for help 30 times during the 10-minute beating.

The defense will be asserting the crazy-meth defense, despite an absence of physical resistance to police authority and no meth metabolites, or any other drugs in Kelly’s blood. They will argue that he was not schizophrenic. Instead, they will claim that his psychotic delusions were caused by a long-term addiction to meth. They are going to engage in as much character assassination as the trial court will permit in an effort to portray Kelly Thomas as an unpredictable, dangerous and violent person.

CBS reports,

Defense attorneys, however, portray a very different encounter and are seeking to introduce evidence that Thomas had a history of violence and suffered from psychotic episodes due to prolonged methamphetamine abuse.

The surveillance video doesn’t begin until 25 seconds into the confrontation and doesn’t show, for example, how Thomas reached repeatedly for Cicinelli’s weapon as they struggled, according to defense motions.

In the audio recordings, Cicinelli can be heard telling others that Thomas must be “on something” because it took three officers to get him in handcuffs. Ramos adds that Thomas tried to bite him through his pants.

The judge will allow defense attorneys to tell the jury about Thomas’ prior conviction for assaulting his grandfather with a fireplace poker and about a restraining order that his mother sought against him after he held her by the throat during an argument.

The defense team also plans to present its own expert who will testify that Thomas had an enlarged heart due to chronic methamphetamine abuse, providing an alternate cause of death.

We have discussed schizophrenia and the plight of the mentally ill in this country beginning with Jarrod Loughner and continuing with James Holmes, Aaron Alexis and the woman who was chased and shot to death by police in Washington, D.C. after she collided with a barrier blocking access to a driveway leading to the White House and sped away in the direction of the Capitol ignoring orders to pull over and stop. Little treatment or services are available for the mentally ill in our country. Federal and state governments basically expect them to stay out of sight and fend for themselves. When police encounter them sleeping on park benches or in alleys behind dumpsters or clusters of garbage cans, they roust and order them to move on. If police arrest them for committing crimes, they take them to jail where they will remain until their cases are processed and they finish serving their sentences. The Los Angeles County Jail houses and treats more of the mentally ill than any mental hospital in the nation. Disgraceful is the best word that I can think of to describe how our nation treats the mentally ill.

Not surprisingly, Kelly Thomas had prior contacts with the police.

Finally, the most likely reason that the trial court severed the third defendant from this trial is that the prosecution will be introducing statements by one or both of the two officers that inculpate the third officer. Assuming they decide not to testify, the third defendant would not be able to cross examine them about those statements. That would violate Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers.

By severing him out of this case and trying him after it’s over, he would be able to call them during the defense case and cross examine them as hostile witnesses, if necessary, since a guilty or not guilty verdict would have ended their legal jeopardy terminating their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

I sincerely hope that this case, together with the others I have mentioned, will focus national attention and discussion about the plight of the mentally ill.

We need to create and fund a comprehensive national mental health treatment plan.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

This is our 780th post.


Will the defendant testify or not testify?

July 6, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Good afternoon:

I write regarding whether the defendant should testify.

I advised my clients not to testify, unless there was some specific reason why I believed they had to testify. That reason typically would involve testifying about something that the jury would not otherwise know unless the client testifies. This is a common occurrence is self-defense cases and why most lawyers will say that a client must testify in such a case.

As Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei said yesterday, the use of deadly force in self-defense is unlawful unless the defendant reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering serious injury when he used deadly force. The reasonableness requirement means that the defendant’s conduct must be evaluated objectively by comparing his conduct to the conduct of a reasonable person in the same situation.

The jury of 6 women, 5 of whom are mothers, will decide whether the defendant acted reasonably.

The defendant is the only person who can tell them whether he believed he was in such danger when he shot Trayvon Martin. According to various witnesses who have testified, he described a situation to them that, if true, probably would objectively constitute such a danger. For the past year, his lawyer, Mark O’Mara has been aggressively selling the defendant’s story on national television and waiving the two bloody cell phone photographs of the back of the defendant’s head and his face as proof that the defendant acted reasonably. I think the national media has uncritically accepted O’Mara’s sales job and shamelessly promoted it.

The critical question, however, is whether the 6 women, 5 of whom are mothers, believe what the defendant told others. They are not required to believe anything he said. I doubt they will believe him, given his many contradictory statements, implausible claims, and the forensic evidence, particularly the DNA evidence, which proves that Trayvon Martin did not hit him 20-30 times in the face, grab his head and repeatedly slam it into a concrete sidewalk, or attempt to smother him by placing his hands over the defendant’s nose and mouth.

I believe the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant provoked the encounter with Trayvon Martin by following him in a vehicle and then on foot after Trayvon attempted to elude him. He hunted him down and attempted to restrain him contrary to a request by the police dispatcher not to follow him and he never identified himself or explained why he was restraining him. Under these circumstances, Trayvon Martin was entitled to use reasonable force to defend himself, escalating to deadly force when the defendant pulled out his gun. Therefore, Trayvon Martin used lawful force to defend himself and the defendant’s use of force was unlawful.

If he were my client, I would tell him that this is my assessment.

If he responded with, “What about my mother identifying me as the person who screamed?” I would say she did not do so unequivocally. Sybrina Fulton did and she was credible.

I would tell him that he gets to make the call regarding whether to testify. Given my assessment that the jury is going to convict him, I would also tell him that his only chance to avoid conviction would be to testify and persuade those 6 women, 5 of them mothers, that they should not convict him.

I would explain the following information.

The burden of proof in all criminal cases in this country is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime charged. The defendant is presumed innocent throughout the trial and the jury must find him “not guilty” unless the prosecution overcomes the presumption of innocence by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The term “beyond a reasonable doubt” is generally defined as such a doubt as would exist in the mind of a reasonable person after fully and fairly considering all of the evidence or lack of evidence. The prosecution is not required to prove guilt beyond all doubt, just beyond a reasonable doubt. Generally, a reasonable doubt is a doubt for which a reason exists, as opposed to a speculative doubt or a mere suspicion. The Florida instruction states that a person is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt if they have an abiding belief in the truth of the charge. An abiding belief is a long lasting belief. The idea is that a juror is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt if they are sure that they will not change their mind sometime in the future due to some doubt they have about the strength of the evidence.

The definition of reasonable doubt is circular, which frustrates jurors who expect and want reasonable doubt quantified. For example, preponderance of the evidence, which is the burden of proof in a civil case, is defined as proving that a proposition is more likely so than not so or supported by more than 50% of the evidence. There is no equivalent percentage of certainty used to define reasonable doubt. I believe most trial lawyers and judges would agree that it’s possible that different juries hearing the same case could reach different conclusions. This is why attorney voir dire during jury selection and the use of cause and peremptory challenges to select a jury are so critically important.

Our legal system guards and protects the sanctity of the jury room and juror deliberations. A jury is never required to explain or justify its verdict. As a result, a jury actually gets to decide what constitutes reasonable doubt, even though they are never told that they have this power. The jury is a reflection of the community and it acts as the conscience of the community when it decides whether the prosecution has proved the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I would tell him that if he can express his humanity and touch their hearts, he has a chance at manslaughter.

I would also tell him that he must tell the truth without any bullshit like he uttered on the Hannity Show.

He must admit when he lied, to whom he lied, and why he lied.

He must convince them that he acted out of fright, not anger.

I think he’s going to testify for all the wrong reasons because he has always been able to lie his way out of trouble.

Ain’t going to work this time.

I have one final reason for believing he will testify. His lawyers did not voir dire the prospective jurors on his right to remain silent and not testify. I always did that in my cases to make sure the jurors understood that they could not use his silence against him by presuming he had something to hide.


What does Shellie Zimmerman have to say about the shooting

June 2, 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Good afternoon:

I have a short article today to serve as food for thought.

Many of you may have missed it at the beginning of the May 28th hearing, but Judge Nelson ruled that Shellie Zimmerman will have to submit to a deposition by the prosecution in her husband’s case. Shellie Zimmerman is charged with perjury for lying under oath about her husband’s assets at his bond hearing.

In support of his request BDLR told Judge Nelson that she had appeared for her deposition with her attorney, Kelly Sims, and she cooperated for the first 20 minutes or so when defense counsel, O’Mara and West, interrupted the deposition to confer with her attorney outside the room. Following a short meeting, her lawyer advised that she was going to assert her 5th Amendment right to refuse to answer any other questions. That ended the deposition.

She will still be able to assert her 5th Amendment right to remain silent in response to any question asked. BDLR will then have the option to certify the transcript of any questions to which she pleads the 5th and ask Judge Nelson to review her claim and order her to answer, if she determines that she cannot claim the Fifth.

In support of the State’s motion to compel Shellie Zimmerman to submit to deposition, BDLR said:

She has information germane to this case in that she was present when the defendant made statements, not just to her — there’s no husband wife privilege — he made statements to other people when she was present, and she is also germane to what happened after the shooting itself.

Intriguing situation that suggests to me that the State may have promised her use immunity. That would be a promise not to use anything she says against her, so long as she answers the questions truthfully.

Such a promise would have no impact on the perjury case, even if she is questioned about it, so long as BDLR can show that the State did not use any of her answers to prosecute her. In other words, the prosecution would have to show that they relied exclusively on evidence that they already had before the deposition.

I do not believe they will have any trouble doing that and probably have already segregated the evidence they have against her for perjury in a separate file.

Now what do you suppose this “cooperative witness” has to say?

FYI: Here is a link to the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. The rule on depositions is 3.220 (h), at page 149.

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Fred


Zimmerman: The immunity hearing should not be combined with the trial

April 30, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Good evening:

The immunity hearing should not be combined with the trial for the following reasons:

A defendant has a 5th Amendment right to remain silent throughout the trial. If the Court were to combine the trial with an immunity hearing, that would put pressure on the defendant to testify during the defense case.

Depending on how well the prosecution’s case-in-chief might have gone, the defense might be tempted after the prosecution rests to rest and not put on a defense. However, because the burden of proof in the immunity hearing is on the defense, the defendant would have to testify. This is a classic example of compelling a defendant to testify and possibly incriminate himself by doing so. The 5th Amendment expressly prohibits compelling a defendant to incriminate himself.

That would not be the case if the immunity hearing were held before trial. The defendant could testify in the immunity hearing without waiving his right to remain silent at the trial.

Another reason not to combine the two is that the order of presentation differs. The State goes first at trial, but the defense goes first in an immunity hearing. Strategy can change dramatically depending on whether a party has the burden of proof. Whether a party goes first or second will affect the evidence it will present, its choice of witnesses, and the order in which the witnesses will be called.

Finally, the purpose of an immunity hearing is to identify strong self-defense cases early on and to immunize those defendants from criminal and civil liability so that they do not have to endure the psychological and emotional wear and tear of living a life in limbo while possibly in custody for a year or more before trial. Saves the expense too for all concerned. Combining the immunity hearing with the trial cancels out all those advantages.

Finally, just because a defendant has a fundamental right to an immunity hearing does not mean that he cannot waive that right as the defendant did today.

500 people are going to be summoned to court for jury service in this case and it makes no sense to go to the time, trouble and expense to do that just because the defendant wants to wait and see how jury selection and the prosecution’s presentation of its case is going before he decides whether to seek immunity.

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Writing articles every day and maintaining the integrity and safety of this site from people who would like nothing better than to silence us forever is a tough job requiring many hours of work.

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Thank you,

Fred


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