Zimmerman Did Not Have a Reasonable Suspicion to Believe Martin had Committed, was Committing, or was about to Commit a Crime

November 11, 2012

Today, I am going to revisit the reasonable-suspicion rule that the SCOTUS established in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Even though George Zimmerman is a private individual and the rule only applies to contacts with people, such as Trayvon Martin, initiated by federal or state law enforcement officials for investigatory purposes, it is a fundamental rule that any student in a criminal justice program, such as George Zimmerman, can reasonably be expected to know.

First, the Rule:

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard of proof in United States law that is less than probable cause, the legal standard for arrests and warrants, but more than an “inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch’ ”; it must be based on “specific and articulable facts”, “taken together with rational inferences from those facts”. Police may briefly detain a person if they have reasonable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity; such a detention is known as a Terry stop. If police additionally have reasonable suspicion that a person so detained may be armed, they may “frisk” the person for weapons, but not for contraband like drugs. Reasonable suspicion is evaluated using the “reasonable person” or “reasonable officer” standard, in which said person in the same circumstances could reasonably believe a person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity; it depends upon the totality of circumstances, and can result from a combination of particular facts, even if each is individually innocuous.

Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22.

Second, why is this rule necessary?

Before the SCOTUS created this rule, police officials could initiate contact with a private individual, but could not lawfully detain that person for any length of time to investigate suspicious conduct, unless they had probable cause to arrest (i.e., reasonable grounds to believe the person had committed a crime). The SCOTUS created the reasonable-suspicion rule to apply to police initiated contacts with private individuals for investigation purposes to determine whether to arrest the person or let them go (i.e., whether, as a result of the contact, the officer developed probable cause to believe the person committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime).

The absence of a rule to cover investigatory stops meant that the person stopped had the right to voluntarily terminate the contact at any time, or sue for false arrest, if the officer refused to allow the person to leave. Also, if the detention turned into an arrest without probable cause and a search incident to that arrest that led to the discovery of incriminating evidence concealed on the person or perhaps an admission by the person that he had committed a crime, the evidence seized and/or the admission would not be admissible in court because it had been obtained in violation of the person’s right to privacy, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This potentially dire consequence, given a suitably egregious suspect like a serial killer, is the result of the exclusionary rule, another SCOTUS created rule to deal with persistent police misconduct that no amount of criticism or warnings by the court appeared to have any effect.

Third, how about an example to clarify the distinction between a reasonable suspicion and probable cause to arrest. Ask and you shall receive. Here are the facts in Terry.

On October 31, 1963, while on a downtown beat which he had been patrolling for many years, Cleveland Police Department detective Martin McFadden, aged 62,[1] saw two men, John W. Terry and Richard Chilton, standing on a street corner at 1276 Euclid Avenue and acting in a way the officer thought was suspicious. Detective McFadden, who was well-known on the Cleveland police force for his skill in apprehending pickpockets,[1] observed the two proceed alternately back and forth along an identical route, pausing to stare in the same store window. Each completion of the route was followed by a conference between the two on a corner. The two men repeated this ritual alternately between five and six times apiece—in all, roughly a dozen trips. After one of these trips, they were joined by a third man (Katz) who left swiftly after a brief conversation. Suspecting the two men of “casing a job, a stick-up”, detective McFadden followed them and saw them rejoin the third man a couple of blocks away in front of a store.

The plainclothes officer approached the three, identified himself as a policeman, and asked their names. The men “mumbled something”, whereupon McFadden spun Terry around, patted down his outside clothing, and felt a pistol in his overcoat pocket. He reached inside the overcoat pocket, but was unable to remove the gun. The officer ordered the three into the store. He removed Terry’s overcoat, took out a revolver, and ordered the three to face the wall with their hands raised. He patted down the outer clothing of Chilton and Katz and seized a revolver from Chilton’s outside overcoat pocket. He did not put his hands under the outer garments of Katz (since he discovered nothing in his pat-down which might have been a weapon), or under Terry’s or Chilton’s outer garments until he felt the guns. The three were taken to the police station. Terry and Chilton were subsequently charged with carrying concealed weapons.

Fourth, why is Terry relevant to the Zimmerman case.

George Zimmerman, who should have been familiar with the Terry rule, characterized Trayvon Martin’s conduct as suspicious; yet, there is nothing suspicious about it, unless one assumes that seeking shelter from a downpour in the mail shed early Sunday evening while young and Black and looking around at home addresses while walking fast in the rain is reasonably suspicious activity.

Remember that the word “reasonable” means an objective test. That is, whether a reasonable person or police officer in the same situation would have concluded that the behavior was suspicious.

Serino realized that Zimmerman profiled Martin and he knew that racial profiling is never reasonable. He was right.

Conclusion:

Even though the reasonable-suspicion rule does not apply technically to Zimmerman since he was not a police officer, he must have known about the rule or reasonably could have been expected to know it, such that his decision to hunt down Martin and prevent him from getting away, just like all of the other Black “assholes” who got away, is utterly indefensible.

Moreover, even if he had not shot him to death, but had “only” assaulted him in an effort to detain him for the police, he still would be guilty of a battery. Depending on whether he injured Martin while committing that battery, he might have been committed a felony.

Finally, if anyone had a right to use force in self-defense, that person was Trayvon Martin.


Zimmerman: Representing Him and the Inevitable Question: My God, What Have I Become?

October 22, 2012

Brown posted this comment Sunday night at 8:31 pm:

“Correct, but what I was trying to convey was that DeeDee might not understand that he would of been justified. Let’s just say that yes TM told DeeDee that he might have to turn around and face this dude and fight him because he felt threaten. DeeDee as a young teen who doesn’t know anything about SYG, might not understand that TM would of been in the right. If you look through her eyes, she only sees TM a kid who doesn’t fight had to fight against a grown white man. Do you see how it might put her in a position of thinking that if she were to say something like that, her thought process might be, OH boy if I say that TM would be in the wrong. She doesn’t understand that the law was on his side as soon as GZ followed him.”

Although Brown’s comment is about Dee Dee, her comment also is applicable to what clients say to their attorneys. For example, I have previously stated that the Fifth Commandment mandates that lawyers should not assume that their clients tell them the truth.

Brown’s comment pinpoints one of the reasons why clients will lie to their lawyers. For example, because the client might not realize that he has a valid self-defense claim in a murder case where there were no eyewitnesses (or he fears that no one will believe him if he tells the truth), the client might tell the lawyer that he was at a family BBQ when the death occurred. This is a false alibi defense that he also might have provided to the police.

Now let us assume that you are the lawyer and your reliable investigator, Paul Drake, has interviewed everyone who was present at the family BBQ and no one recalls your client being there until a couple of hours after the victim was killed. In other words, your client had plenty of time to kill the victim and get to the BBQ before the witnesses saw him.

You decide to confront your client. Lawyers often refer to these confrontations as a “come-to-Jesus moment.”

After telling your client that his alibi defense is not going to work, he tells you what really happened. You realize that he is describing a situation that constitutes self-defense under the SYG law in your jurisdiction.

Let us say this happens mid-trial after the prosecution rests its case and now it’s time for the defense to go forward.

Now what do you do?

In Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157 (1986), the SCOTUS considered a similar fact situation. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant to assistance of counsel is not violated when an attorney refuses to cooperate with the defendant in presenting perjured testimony at his trial.

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Berger, the SCOTUS said:

Page 475 U. S. 160

I
A

Whiteside was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury verdict which was affirmed by the Iowa courts. The killing took place on February 8, 1977, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Whiteside and two others went to one Calvin Love’s apartment late that night, seeking marihuana. Love was in bed when Whiteside and his companions arrived; an argument between Whiteside and Love over the marihuana ensued. At one point, Love directed his girlfriend to get his “piece,” and at another point got up, then returned to his bed. According to Whiteside’s testimony, Love then started to reach under his pillow and moved toward Whiteside. Whiteside stabbed Love in the chest, inflicting a fatal wound.

Whiteside was charged with murder, and when counsel was appointed, he objected to the lawyer initially appointed, claiming that he felt uncomfortable with a lawyer who had formerly been a prosecutor. Gary L. Robinson was then appointed, and immediately began an investigation. Whiteside gave him a statement that he had stabbed Love as the latter “was pulling a pistol from underneath the pillow on the bed.” Upon questioning by Robinson, however, Whiteside indicated that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was convinced that Love had a gun. No pistol was found on the premises; shortly after the police search following the stabbing, which had revealed no weapon, the victim’s family had removed all of the victim’s possessions from the apartment. Robinson interviewed Whiteside’s companions who were present during the stabbing, and none had seen a gun during the incident. Robinson advised Whiteside that the existence of a gun was not necessary to establish the claim of self-defense, and that only a reasonable belief that the victim had a gun nearby was necessary, even though no gun was actually present.
Until shortly before trial, Whiteside consistently stated to Robinson that he had not actually seen a gun, but that he was

Page 475 U. S. 161

convinced that Love had a gun in his hand. About a week before trial, during preparation for direct examination, Whiteside for the first time told Robinson and his associate Donna Paulsen that he had seen something “metallic” in Love’s hand. When asked about this, Whiteside responded:

“[I]n Howard Cook’s case, there was a gun. If I don’t say I saw a gun, I’m dead.”

Robinson told Whiteside that such testimony would be perjury, and repeated that it was not necessary to prove that a gun was available, but only that Whiteside reasonably believed that he was in danger. On Whiteside’s insisting that he would testify that he saw “something metallic,” Robinson told him, according to Robinson’s testimony:

“[W]e could not allow him to [testify falsely], because that would be perjury, and, as officers of the court, we would be suborning perjury if we allowed him to do it; . . . I advised him that, if he did do that, it would be my duty to advise the Court of what he was doing, and that I felt he was committing perjury; also, that I probably would be allowed to attempt to impeach that particular testimony.”
App. to Pet. for Cert. A-85. Robinson also indicated he would seek to withdraw from the representation if Whiteside insisted on committing perjury. [Footnote 2]

Whiteside testified in his own defense at trial, and stated that he “knew” that Love had a gun, and that he believed Love was reaching for a gun, and he had acted swiftly in self-defense. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had not

Page 475 U. S. 162

actually seen a gun in Love’s hand. Robinson presented evidence that Love had been seen with a sawed-off shotgun on other occasions, that the police search of the apartment may have been careless, and that the victim’s family had removed everything from the apartment shortly after the crime. Robinson presented this evidence to show a basis for Whiteside’s asserted fear that Love had a gun.

The jury returned a verdict of second-degree murder, and Whiteside moved for a new trial, claiming that he had been deprived of a fair trial by Robinson’s admonitions not to state that he saw a gun or “something metallic.” The trial court held a hearing, heard testimony by Whiteside and Robinson, and denied the motion. The trial court made specific findings that the facts were as related by Robinson.
The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed respondent’s conviction. State v. Whiteside, 272 N.W.2d 468 (1978). That court held that the right to have counsel present all appropriate defenses does not extend to using perjury, and that an attorney’s duty to a client does not extend to assisting a client in committing perjury. Relying on DR 7-102(A)(4) of the Iowa Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, which expressly prohibits an attorney from using perjured testimony, and Iowa Code § 721.2 (now Iowa Code § 720.3 (1985)), which criminalizes subornation of perjury, the Iowa court concluded that not only were Robinson’s actions permissible, but were required. The court commended “both Mr. Robinson and Ms. Paulsen for the high ethical manner in which this matter was handled.”

B

Whiteside then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. In that petition, Whiteside alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel and of his right to present a defense by Robinson’s refusal to allow him to testify as he had proposed. The District Court denied the writ. Accepting the state trial court’s factual finding that

Page 475 U. S. 163

Whiteside’s intended testimony would have been perjurious, it concluded that there could be no grounds for habeas relief, since there is no constitutional right to present a perjured defense.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and directed that the writ of habeas corpus be granted. Whiteside v. Scurr, 744 F.2d 1323 (1984). The Court of Appeals accepted the findings of the trial judge, affirmed by the Iowa Supreme Court, that trial counsel believed with good cause that Whiteside would testify falsely, and acknowledged that, under Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222 (1971), a criminal defendant’s privilege to testify in his own behalf does not include a right to commit perjury. Nevertheless, the court reasoned that an intent to commit perjury, communicated to counsel, does not alter a defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel, and that Robinson’s admonition to Whiteside that he would inform the court of Whiteside’s perjury constituted a threat to violate the attorney’s duty to preserve client confidences. [Footnote 3] According to the Court of Appeals, this threatened violation of client confidences breached the standards of effective representation set down in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984). The court also concluded that Strickland’s prejudice requirement was satisfied by an implication of prejudice from the conflict between Robinson’s duty of loyalty to his client and his ethical duties. A petition for rehearing en banc was denied, with Judges Gibson, Ross, Fagg, and Bowman dissenting. Whiteside v. Scurr, 750 F.2d 713 (1984). We granted certiorari, 471 U.S. 1014 (1985), and we reverse.

I believe The SCOTUS decision in Nix v. Whiteside can be distinguished from the facts in my hypothetical because of the lack of certainty that the client intended to commit perjury.

This distinction is important as it helps to define the boundary between a lawyer’s duty to provide effective assistance of counsel to his client and his ethical and legal obligation not to assist the client to commit perjury to beat the charge.

Criminal defense attorneys routinely navigate close, but not too close, to the land of perjury.

Many times they do not want to know the truth and you should take that into account when you hear Mark O’Mara or any other criminal defense attorney speak about a case.

This is why I say that a criminal defense attorney should never judge his client. That responsibility is assigned to judges and juries.

But sometimes, you cannot help it and therein lies the rub as well as the doubt and the inevitable question:.

My God, what have I become?


United States Supreme Court Rules That Jails May Strip-Search Misdemeanor Offenders

April 3, 2012

The United States Supreme Court yesterday announced a new rule further eviscerating our disappearing right to privacy. In a 5-4 majority decision written by Justice Kennedy, joined by justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit jails from strip-searching all inmates, including people jailed for minor offenses, if they are to be placed in general population. The ruling applies to visual searches of genital areas by corrections officers without physically touching the inmate.

Such searches are commonly referred to as a “squat and cough” that, in theory, is supposed to dislodge any contraband concealed in the vagina or rectum. In practice, they are used to humiliate inmates and emphasize that they are not in control.

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post reports:

The case was brought by Albert Florence, a New Jersey man who said he was subjected to two invasive inspections in 2005 after being mistakenly arrested for not paying a fine.

A state trooper pulled over Florence’s BMW in 2005 as he and his family were on the way to his mother-in-law’s to celebrate the purchase of their new home. He was handcuffed and arrested in front of his distraught, pregnant wife and young son.

He spent seven days in jail because of a warrant that said, mistakenly, that he was wanted for not paying a court fine. In fact, he had proof that the fine had been paid years earlier; he said he carried it in his glove box because he believed that police were suspicious of black men who drove nice cars.

Florence was jailed in Burlington County and then Essex County before a magistrate ordered him released. At Burlington, he said, he was forced to disrobe in front of an officer and told to lift his genitals. At Essex, he was strip-searched again and, he said, was made to squat and cough in front of others, a maneuver meant to expel anything hidden in a body cavity.

Ten states currently prohibit jails from strip searching new inmates jailed for misdemeanors absent reasonable suspicion to believe they are concealing contraband. The federal Bureau of Prisons has a similar rule. This ruling does not require a change in policy.

Justice Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.


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