Behold President Obama: The Cowardly Assassin-In-Chief

June 7, 2012

Since the New York Times published an article about President Obama’s assassination-by-drone program, several writers, including Glenn Greenwald (here, here, here, here, and here), Tom Engelhardt (here), and Kevin Gosztola (here, here, here, here here and here) have posted articles condemning it.

I am appalled and sickened by Obama’s definition of a “militant” as any male of military age within the strike zone, unless posthumously determined to be innocent. This is a conclusive presumption of guilt and death sentence based on apparent age, gender and presence near an intended target, or in the case of signature strikes, mere association with others who also fit the definition and profile of a militant.

There is no discernible difference between this policy and the Vietnam War policy,

Kill ’em all and let God sort them out.

The decision to target a specific individual depends on the information available about that individual which may come from a variety of sources who are reliable and unreliable. The Attorney General and the President of the United States, who is a former Constitutional Law professor, assure us that the process by which the president decides whom to kill satisfies the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Yet, the president does nothing more than review a Power Point production with a photo of the individual under consideration with a bullet point list of alleged roles and activities in which he has engaged.

I was a criminal defense attorney for 30 years defending people charged with felonies, including death penalty offenses, and a law professor for three years teaching Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Causes of Wrongful Convictions. I can assure y’all that the process by which he makes these decisions is materially indistinguishable from a Star Chamber Proceeding. That is precisely what the Due Process Clause was intended and designed to prevent.

Do not ever forget that the Due Process Clause includes the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the right to present a defense. One cannot have due process without those rights.

Even with those rights, the presumption of innocence and a jury trial, innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. According to the Cardozo Innocence Project, 292 people innocent people have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence.

The seven causes of wrongful convictions are:

1. Mistaken eyewitness testimony;

2. Police Misconduct;

3. Prosecutorial Misconduct;

4. False Confessions;

5. Forensic Fraud;

6. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel; and

7. Jailhouse Informant Testimony

Note that only a small percentage of cases have biological evidence where it is possible to conduct a DNA test that will inculpate or exculpate a defendant. The seven causes of wrongful convictions can cause a wrongful conviction in any case.

The Department of Justice surveyed all public and private DNA labs in the country in the early 90s to determine how often each lab exculpated a prime suspect with a DNA test. The average rate varied little from lab to lab, whether public or private. The average rate was 22.5%

To nevertheless murder people without any meaningful process according to ridiculously overbroad definition of a militant is at best reckless homicide and at worst premeditated murder. Given its continuing use despite a high civilian casualty rate makes it premeditated murder.

To accept and allow this contrived exception to due process to stand is to tolerate an exception that swallows the rule. No American should tolerate it and no American should vote for the man who issues the order to kill. He is a murderer, a war criminal and utterly unfit to serve as President of the United States.

Anyone who votes for him will walk out of the voting booth with innocent blood on their hands.

Innocent blood that will never wash out.

I have another reason that motivated me to write this article.

President Obama obviously authorized the story in the New York Times because there is an election coming up in November and he wanted to portray himself as the candidate with the right stuff, ready, able and willing to make courageous and necessary decisions to keep all Americans safe.

But it does not take courage to order others to kill ’em all and let God sort them out, posthumously. And it does not take courage to look at a set of Power Point slides and, like a Roman emperor, issue a thumbs up or thumbs down sign.

Those are the acts of a murderous coward afraid of losing an election.

EDIT: I added links to a series of excellent articles by Kevin Gosztola that I inadvertently omitted from my original post. Thanks to Elliott at Firedoglake for the reminder.


Does A Seven-Year-Wait Behind Bars Violate The Sixth Amendment Right To A Speedy Trial?

March 9, 2012

What were you doing in March, 2005?

On February 27, the Georgia Supreme Court denied Khanhn Dinh Phan’s request to dismiss the death penalty case pending against him. Such an order under ordinary circumstances would not merit comment, but these are not ordinary circumstances. Khanh Dinh Phan has been locked up in the Gwinnett County Jail in Georgia for seven years without a trial.

In addition to rejecting his argument that the State of Georgia has violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial (See: Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972); Strunk v. U.S., 412 U.S. 434 (1973)), the Court removed his court-appointed counsel and appointed new counsel over his objections, even though his lawyers did not cause the delay in bringing him to trial and did nothing wrong. In fact, they did what they were required to do and what I would have done if I had been representing Mr. Phan in order to provide him with effective assistance of counsel, which is what the Sixth Amendment requires (See Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)).

The Facts

Mr. Phan is charged with intentionally killing Hung Thai and his two-year-old son by shooting them in the head execution-style, allegedly as punishment for Hung Thai’s failure to pay a gambling debt. Mr. Thai’s wife, Hoangganh Ta, was also shot in the head, but she survived and returned to live in Vietnam after emerging from a coma seven months after the shooting. She has identified Mr. Phan as the shooter and she also provided law enforcement with information regarding the alleged motive.

The trial court appointed two lawyers to represent Mr. Phan, which is standard operating procedure in a death penalty case. The two lawyers were Chris Adams, who was the Director of the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office at that time, and Bruce Harvey, a lawyer in private practice.

The Pretrial and Mitigation Investigation

Adams and Harvey did what any qualified and experienced death-penalty lawyers would have done in this case. After establishing a relationship of confidence and trust with their indigent client, they asked the trial court to authorize the expenditure of reasonable funds to travel with an investigator to Vietnam to interview Hoangganh Ta about the homicides and to interview members of Mr. Phan’s family, friends, and others who knew him in Vietnam such as neighbors, teachers, employers, counselors, and doctors who might have provided him with medical treatment. The former is routine pretrial investigation that should be conducted in any case and the latter, which we call mitigation investigation, is required in all capital cases so that no stone is left unturned in the effort to discover evidence about the defendant, or the circumstances of the crime, that might in fairness or mercy potentially cause a juror to vote for a sentence of less than death (See Porter v. McCollum, 130 S.Ct. 447 (2009)).

The mitigation investigation must be conducted prior to trial, which is necessarily before the defendant has been acquitted or convicted, because, if the defendant is convicted, the case would proceed to a sentencing phase immediately after the jury returned the guilty verdict, or within a few days, not allowing sufficient time to conduct the investigation. Clients rarely understand the necessity to pry deeply into their past history and relationships searching for clues to explain seemingly unexplainable homicidal behavior that they are adamantly denying. They regard the investigation as a form of rape and it is very difficult for the lawyers to establish a relationship of trust and confidence when the client wants to hear the lawyer say, “I believe you when you say you are innocent and I will do everything that I possibly can to win this case.”

This tension explains why a death-penalty case is much easier to handle, if the client admits guilt. Most clients, however, deny guilt inevitably generating conflict in the attorney-client relationship over the necessity for and wide ranging scope of the mitigation evidence. From the results of post-conviction DNA testing and reinvestigation, we now know for certain that a significant percentage of death-penalty defendants are innocent (approximately 20%). The attorney-client conflict generated by the mitigation investigation is an additional, but no less valid reason to abolish the death penalty.

In this case, Mr. Phan’s lawyers appear to have navigated successfully through the minefield.

Gwinnett County Cannot Afford To Pay For What The Law Requires

Mr. Phan’s case went off the rails when Gwinnett County could not afford to pay for the trip to Vietnam. Defense counsel could not agree to forego the necessary trip and they could not reasonably or legally be expected to finance the trip themselves.

Contrary to long established United State Supreme Court precedent, Gwinnett County also refused to pay for a defense expert regarding the effect of gunshot injuries to the brain on memory (Cf Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985)).

Since defense counsel could not adequately prepare for trial, the trial could not go forward. And so, Mr. Phan languished and continues to languish in jail waiting for his day in court, a day that may never come.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s Decision

Notwithstanding the passage of seven years without a trial, due to the trial court’s failure to pay for reasonably necessary defense costs to prepare for trial that it is required to compensate (Cf, Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985) and its progeny), the Georgia Supreme Court not only refused to dismiss the case for violation of Mr. Phan’s right to a speedy trial, it aggravated the situation by dismissing his lawyers replacing them with public defenders who will cost less because they are already paid a salary, regardless of how many hours they work, rather than an hourly wage.

Rather than requiring the Gwinnett County Circuit Court to pay the necessary and reasonable expenses for counsel to defend Mr. Phan, an obligation imposed by long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, the Georgia Supreme Court fashioned a ‘solution’ to save money by destroying an existing attorney-client relationship by appointing new lawyers. Presumably, the Court believes that the financial savings can free-up sufficient funds to pay for the reasonably necessary expenses that must be paid for the trial to go forward.

Whether and when that will happen is anybody’s guess.

Conclusion

The prosecuting attorney in Gwinnett County should not be seeking the death penalty in a case when the circuit court cannot afford to pay for the reasonably necessary expenses to defend the case.

Ultimately, of course, it is the State of Georgia’s responsibility to budget and pay for the reasonable and necessary expenses that the county circuit courts must pay to fund indigent defense. Death penalty cases are expensive and, if Georgia wants to kill people, then Georgia must bear the cost of prosecuting, defending, and killing them.

Savaging and scavenging a successful seven-year attorney-client relationship to free-up money to pay for reasonably necessary defense expenses is a willful and intentional destruction of Mr. Phan’s right to counsel and a gross denial of his right to a speedy trial — all of which has been done to fund a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision is little more than a variation of the Ponzi Scheme. That it would employ such a tactic to kill someone speaks volumes as to its regard for the United States Constitution, the Sixth Amendment, and the Rule of Law.

If the right to a speedy trial means anything, it means that no one should be forced to rot in jail for seven years without going to trial. After all this time, he is no closer to trial than he was after he was arrested in 2005.

Shameful and disgusting.

For additional information, see John Rudolph’s article at the Huffington Post.


The Decision From Hell (Part 3)

December 29, 2011

In Part 1 of this series of posts about the decision from hell, as I have come to call it, I criticized the first part of the Kentucky State Court of Appeals decision in Crane Station’s case.

That part affirmed the circuit court’s pretrial and supplementary post trial decision denying her motion to suppress evidence. In so doing, the Court of Appeals ignored binding legal precedent by United States Supreme Court and Kentucky State Supreme Court cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals, in effect, established a new rule that trial courts may consider evidence acquired after an investigatory stop without the requisite reasonable suspicion in determining whether a police officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. In other words, an otherwise unlawful investigatory stop becomes lawful, if the officer discovers evidence of a crime!

In Part 2, I criticized the Court of Appeals decision that, even if the circuit court improperly restricted her from cross examining the arresting officer, the error was harmless and the conviction should be affirmed. I pointed out there is no question that (1) the trial judge improperly restricted the cross examination and (2) the error violated her Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Further, because the error involved a constitutional right, the Court of Appeals had applied the wrong rule in determining whether the error was harmless.

If the Court of Appeals had applied the correct rule in Crane’s case, it should have reversed her conviction. Why? Because the correct rule would have required it to conclude that the error affected the outcome of the trial, unless the prosecution could have satisfied it beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not. I demonstrated how that was an impossible in Crane’s case.

Now, let us proceed to take a look at, believe it or not, the most egregious error committed by the Court of Appeals.

After the prosecution rested its case, the defense asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal on the DUI charge. The trial judge denied the request and the jury subsequently convicted Crane of DUI. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial of her request.

The problem with this decision is that it ignores the results of two scientific tests of Crane’s blood sample by analysts at the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory that conclusively established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

KRS 189A.010, which defines the crime of DUI, required the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Crane operated her motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance or combination of substances which impairs one’s driving ability.

The Court of Appeals said,

The evidence elicited at trial established that Leatherman admitted to Deputy McGuire that she was taking three prescription medications, including Clonazepam, which contains a warning regarding driving while on that medication. Deputy McGuire also testified to his observations of Leatherman’s behavior, including the results of the HGN test showing intoxication.

Furthermore, Mr. Wilkey (the 911 caller) testified at trial that Leatherman and her husband visited him several months after the incident regarding his upcoming testimony. He reported that Leatherman told him that she was unable to remember what they discussed because she was “whacked out.” This evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is of sufficient substance to permit the question of guilt to go to the jury. (citation omitted)

Putting aside for the moment that I was there, she did not say that or anything like it, I told her lawyer that she did not say that, I asked him to call me as a witness, and he failed to call me as a witness,

The simple fact remains that two scientific tests established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

That simple fact also establishes to a reasonable scientific certainty that the deputy and the 911 caller were mistaken or lying when they testified that she appeared to be intoxicated. Further, the HGN test is just a non invasive screening test that indicates possible alcohol or drug impairment that needs to be confirmed by a breath or blood test. Here, the blood test did not confirm impairment and the HGN was not even administered in the proper fashion.

This is a very dangerous precedent, if it is allowed to stand, because it basically says that mistaken and unreliable eyewitness testimony can trump scientific test results that establish innocence to a reasonable scientific certainty.

So much for exculpatory DNA testing . . .

I guess this is the Kentucky Court of Appeals solution to ‘solving’ the alarming, embarrassing, and escalating number of wrongful convictions of innocent people, including many people on death row, as conclusively established by post conviction DNA testing.

Do not attempt to reform the system because that would involve admitting something is wrong. Instead, just disappear wrongful convictions altogether by setting up a false equivalence that a scientific test result is not more accurate and reliable than a lay witness’s opinion and let a jury decide which to believe.

Will the Kentucky State Supreme Court deny Crane’s motion for discretionary review and allow this case to rewrite federal and state constitutional law and ‘solve’ the wrongful conviction problem by ignoring and disappearing it?

Stay tuned.


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