2014 was a record year for post-trial exonerations

January 29, 2015

Criminal justice is an oxymoron, but sometimes the legal system gets it right. Unfortunately, getting it right often does not happen until after the case is over.

In the better-late-than-never category, Mother Jones is reporting,

In 2014, 125 people across the United States who had been convicted of crimes were exonerated—the highest number ever recorded,according to a new report from the National Regestry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School. The 2014 number included 48 who had been convicted of homicide, 6 of whom were on death row awaiting execution. Ricky Jackson of Ohio spent 39 years behind bars, the longest known prison term for an exoneree, according to the NRE. Jackson was sentenced to death in 1975 after false testimony implicated him in a robbery-murder he did not commit. Texas led the nation with 39 exonerations; it is followed by New York (17), Illinois (7), and Michigan (7). The federal government exonerated eight people.

Most of these post trial exonerations were obtained by so-called conviction integrity units (CIUs) created and staffed by prosecutors. There are 15 now in existence with more to come.

The Harris County CIU, which encompasses Houston, is responsible for 33 of last year’s exonerations. In early 2014, it reviewed drug cases it had prosecuted after learning that many people who had pled guilty to possession had not, in fact, possessed actual drugs. The Harris CIU’s findings reflected another trend: 58 exonerations this year, nearly half of the total, were so-called “no-crime exonerations,” which means, according to the NRE, “an accident or a suicide was mistaken for a crime, or…the exoneree was accused of a fabricated crime that never happened.”

Channel 5 News in Cleveland reports,

In Baltimore, the State’s Attorney’s office helped vacate the conviction of a man 46 years after he was convicted of murder. In Cleveland, three men convicted of a 1975 murder they didn’t commit were cleared, setting a new record of time behind bars for an exoneree: 39 years, 3 months 9 days. In Tulsa, DNA testing showed a mother hadn’t killed her 15-month-old baby, leading prosecutors to dismiss charges after nearly 20 years. And in Detroit, a man was released after police got a tip that the wrong person had been convicted in a 2006 murder.

Now we need to improve on getting it right the first time.

But if you’re black, you better not count on it because, if you call 911 seeking help, you are apt to get killed.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Developing Dilemma

January 22, 2015

A fascinating issue is emerging during jury selection in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial.* The vast majority of the prospective jurors who have been questioned believe he is guilty. A few have expressed doubt regarding his role and responsibility, but not about his participation in the bombing. Under ordinary circumstances that would be terrible news for the defense and good news for the government.

Nevertheless, the government has a problem.

Very few of the prospective jurors believe in the death penalty.

That’s good news for the defense and bad news for the government because only the defendant can move for a change of venue. He is not likely to do that because opposition to the death penalty is highest in the Boston area.

The Sixth Amendment provides in pertinent part,

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . .

Since Tsarnaev has a right to be tried in the Eastern District of Massachusetts, the government lacks standing to move for a change of venue and the Court has no authority to order it.

Quite the dilemma. Boston is the last place on the planet where the defense would like to try the guilt/innocence phase of this case, but Boston probably is the first place where they would want to conduct the penalty phase.

I’ll bet they will stay in Boston and not renew their motion for a change of venue.

Crane-Station adds:

Some of the thoughtful and interesting answers given summarized in this article:

Here’s How Possible Boston Bombing Jurors Feel About The Death Penalty

Juror 9:
Asked twice if he could impose the death penalty, he said, “I’m committed against it.”

Juror 10:
“There is no way in modern America today that I’m going to vote for the death penalty. I will not.”

Juror 19:
“This whole process made me more religious. I just can’t agree with the death penalty.”
“I just think killing another man is wrong. And I would be one of the members doing it. I just can’t kill another person.”

Juror 23:
“I would rather do the life imprisonment. I’m against the death penalty. It would have to be as personal as my child. I could not pass on the death penalty.”

Juror 27:
“I would leave myself open to persuasion, but I would be disinclined.”

Juror 35:
He said the death penalty is “cruel and unusual.”

Juror 42:
“Here’s the thing. This was a horrendous crime — hundreds, thousands affected. The magnitude was significant. At the same time, I do have reservations about the death penalty as a policy.”
“The age of the defendant has some weight in my mind. The defendant was 19 when the crime was committed. I look at that as a mitigating circumstance.”
“I would have a difficult time [voting for the death penalty]. Let’s put it this way: It would go against my judgment that the death penalty is a good idea for society. My personal belief is that the death penalty serves no constructive purpose.”
On could he vote for the death penalty, “If there were societal risks, I would say…possibly? It would have to be pretty compelling.”

Juror 43:
“I think it’s something I would struggle with. I’m not sure I have the personal constitution to participate in someone’s death.”

Juror 49:
Asked if she could conceive a situation “so disturbing or morally repugnant” enough to impose the death penalty, she said, “Pretty sure. No.”

Juror 51:
“I don’t object to the death penalty itself. But I could never decide somebody’s fate like that.”
“I don’t feel that it’s up to me to make that decision to take somebody’s life.”

Juror 54:
“It is not a logical punishment for any crime. It costs the state more. It carries the burden of being irreversible if the person is found not guilty afterwards. It’s proved not to be a deterrent.”
When asked if he could conscientiously vote to impose death: “I think it would be difficult for me, but honestly I think I could.”

Juror 57:
“I’m completely opposed to it.”
Asked if she could conceive of any case that would be so shocking that it would change your mind, she said, “No.”

Juror 60:
“Theoretically, I believe in the death penalty. It becomes very different when you’re looking at you making the decision.”

Juror 65:
“I think more often than not I am opposed to the death penalty … I’d have more difficulty voting for it, but I believe I could do it.”

Juror 67:
“I don’t believe in an eye for eye justice.”
“Government shouldn’t impose the ultimate penalty.”
“When someone does a heinous crime, you don’t do the same thing back.”

Juror 84:
“Upon reflection, I strongly oppose the death penalty. I think my answer would be he should not receive the death penalty.”

Juror 102:
“I have no view either way. I am really in the middle. I would have to hear everything and make an educated decision.”
“I was surprised that the death penalty was on the table.”

*I have been following Jim Armstrong on Twitter. He is covering jury selection for WBZ in Boston.


Never. Give. Up.

January 20, 2015

Never. Give. Up.

Today we celebrate the Reverend Martin Luther King’s birthday. He never gave up, no matter the odds, the threats, the assaults, the murders. Although his voice was silenced by a coward’s bullet, his spirit lives on and in the end,

We Shall Overcome.

No matter what it takes. No matter how long it takes.

Yesterday, I witnessed what can happen when people refuse to quit.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times describes what spirit and heart can accomplish.

For this one, injured Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman had to play the closing minutes with one arm.

For this one, punter Jon Ryan had to throw a touchdown pass to backup tackle Garry Gilliam, and Chris Matthews, a practice-squad player for most of the season, had to recover an onside kick.

For this one, to win the most trying game in a most trying season, the Seahawks defense had to counteract five turnovers, and Marshawn Lynch had to make CenturyLink Field tremble again, and Luke Willson had to catch Russell Wilson’s rainbow miracle of a two-point conversion.

And at the end, for the Seahawks to return to the Super Bowl, Wilson had to throw deep to Jermaine Kearse — a futile connection on this day — ignoring that all four of his interceptions occurred while targeting Kearse, including two picks that went through the wide receiver’s hands.

Kearse caught it. Later, Kearse wept. Wilson did, too. In an NFC Championship Game that felt like a replay of the Seahawks’ entire, strenuous season, Seattle had staged an amazing comeback that embodies the redemptive charm of this team.

The Seahawks outlasted Green Bay in a 28-22 overtime thriller, overcoming a game opponent as well as their own mistakes. It was an ideal Super Bowl encore for this team, an accomplishment that defines its toughness and determination.

The Seahawks were down 16-0 at halftime. The deficit was still 12 with less than three minutes remaining. And then the miracles started happening. Or rather, the Seahawks were rewarded for refusing to quit.

“No matter what you do to us, no matter how hard the pressure gets, no matter what you throw at us — no matter what happens — we bend, but we don’t break,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said.

Take heart. If they can do it, we can do it.

Remember these words.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning: “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California.
But not only that.
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Never. Give. Up.


Tsarnaev Voir Dire: This is my friend Dzhokhar

January 16, 2015

Voir dire (to question) is underway. The video is an interview of Ted Wayman, a former WBZ News anchor in Boston who was summoned for jury duty in the Tsarnaev case and excused because of his substantial job related contacts with Judge O’Toole, federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers who will be testifying at the trial. The interview was conducted by Adam Reilly, a reporter for Greater Boston.

Q: What did you make of his demeanor, when he came in? Were you watching him closely?

A: Everybody, all eyes, once he came in, were on him, like almost gasped within the courtroom. Oh my gosh! That’s the defendant. Uhm, unresponsive. Really uninterested in the whole process. Had very little contact with his defense team. He was sitting in the middle of them. Uhm, really didn’t look at the jury pool. Didn’t look at the media that was there. Didn’t look at the judge when he addressed the defendant. He was uninterested in the whole process.

This is a terrible way for the defense to start jury selection. First impressions matter, a lot, and if I were a member of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team, I would be extremely concerned about the ability of the rest of the 200 or so prospective jurors, who witnessed that not-so-grand entry, to be fair and impartial jurors.

Another tell is Wayman’s reference to Dzhokhar as ‘the defendant.’ He’s not thinking of him as a person; he’s thinking of him as a thing. That means he has already decided that Dzhokhar is guilty. Fortunately for the defense, they will not have to use a peremptory challenge to get rid of him.

I always made a point of humanizing my client throughout the trial by referring to him by his first name, touching him, and conversing with him in an effort to provoke a smile. At almost every moment of a trial, at least one juror will be watching the client. Trials are a form of theater. Nonverbal conduct is a form of testimony. Most jurors can detect insincerity. Therefore, the lawyer must avoid scripting the client’s behavior and instead provoke the desired genuine response with the right word or gesture at the right time. This skill is not taught in law school and cannot be found in a book. Yet, if performed at the right time in the right way, it can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal or a life sentence and a death sentence.

The defense team apparently discovered the problem because reporters observing voir dire today have tweeted that Dzhokhar appears relaxed, engaged with the process and communicating with his attorneys. For example,

O’Ryan Johnson ‏@crimeboston 3h3 hours ago

Dzhokhar shares a laugh at the defense table with Def. Lawyer Miriam Conrad. Tsarnaev wearing open collar shirt, blazer. He’s relaxed,chatty

Jim Armstrong ✔ @JimArmstrongWBZ

I am a pool reporter* for this session of #Tsarnaev jury selection. He just re-entered from lunch, says hello to lawyers by name.

*Today is the second day of voir dire. The reporters were segregated yesterday in a room watching a live feed video of voir dire. Technical difficulties resulted in a change in procedure. Two reporters are now permitted in the courtroom to report on the proceedings. They share their work product with the other reporters outside the courtroom and are replaced by another two reporters and so on per each session.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Opening Statements

January 15, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Good morning:

I write today about the purpose of an opening statement in a jury trial in a criminal case and distinguish it from a closing argument, which I regard to be considerably less important. Generally speaking, if a defendant’s lawyer has failed to persuade jurors that a reasonable doubt exists before closing arguments, nothing the lawyer says during closing argument is going to prevent a guilty verdict.

After a jury has been selected and sworn, the lawyers have an opportunity to preview their respective cases for the jury. We call this opportunity the opening statements of counsel. Notice that I use the word ‘statement,’ rather than the word ‘argument.’ A statement is a description of the evidence that will be introduced during the trial. An argument is an interpretation of the significance of that evidence. When lawyers give their final arguments, after the evidence has been admitted and both sides have rested, they are summarizing their respective cases and attempting to persuade the jury to either return a verdict of guilty (prosecutor) or not guilty (defense).

Most lawyers believe closing arguments are the most important part of a trial. I disagree because, in my experience, jurors have already formed an opinion about the guilt or innocence of the accused before closing arguments. If a lawyer fails to take care of business during the evidentiary part of the case, they are not going to be able to change juror’s opinions no matter how persuasive they believe they can be.

As I’ve said many times, jury selection is the most important part of the trial because lawyers are selecting the people who will decide the case. Select the wrong people and there will be little to no chance of winning. Opening statements come in a close second because that is the first time that a lawyer can tell the jury about his case.

Since prosecutors have the burden of proof, they go first. Opening statements by prosecutors are like road maps with many sentences that begin with this phrase, ‘We expect the evidence will show that this defendant (fill in the blank). You will hear from witnesses who were present when he did it and they will tell you what he did. If done properly, everyone in the jury box will think the defendant is guilty.

Although the defense is not required to give an opening statement, only an incompetent fool would reserve or waive it. Particularly in a lengthy and complex case like the Boston Marathon Bombing case, the prosecution may take several months to put on their case. Defense has to say something to persuade jurors to reserve judgment until the case is over. This requires focusing their attention on weaknesses in the case.

We will get a much better idea about the strength of the government’s case when they give their opening statement. We will also be able to tell what the defense will be.

Opening statements should happen sometime during the first two weeks of February.

FYI: Judge O’Toole denied a new defense motion for a continuance of the trial based on the extensive publicity about the Paris terrorist attacks, which they claimed might adversely influence prospective jurors against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.


Tsarnaev: To testify or not to testify, that is the question

January 13, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Good morning:

The Fifth Amendment provides in pertinent part,

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

This means that a defendant in a criminal case has a right to remain silent and not testify during his trial. The prosecution cannot call him as a witness or comment on his silence during closing argument, if he decides not to testify. See Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965). Since the defendant is presumed innocent and the burden is on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the court also will instruct the jury that it cannot assume the defendant is guilty, if he exercises his right to remain silent. Silence is insoluble because there may be any number of reasons why a defendant may decide not to testify.

Unless my client’s testimony was necessary to win a case, I always recommended he remain silent. Terrible things can happen when a skilled prosecutor cross examines an innocent defendant. Chief among them is the evaporation of the presumption of innocence. Juror focus changes from examining weaknesses in the government’s case to looking for and speculating about inconsistencies in the defendant’s testimony.

Generally, the defendant’s testimony is going to be necessary when the government can prove he committed the acts charged in the indictment, but he can provide an innocent explanation for why he committed those acts. For example, he may have delivered five kilos of cocaine to an undercover cop, but he did it because the source of the drugs kidnapped his daughter and threatened to kill her, if he did not deliver the drugs (duress) or he may have believed he was performing a favor for a friend who asked him to deliver a large wrapped package containing rice for a wedding (lack of knowledge). Entrapment by government agents is another example (to show inducement by the government and absence of predisposition to commit the crime). A defendant claiming self-defense in a murder case usually has to testify in order to explain why he believed he was in imminent danger of death or serious injury such that it was reasonably necessary to use deadly force. Defendants claiming consent in a rape case usually have to testify as does a defendant who wants to deny that he confessed to committing the crime charged or testify that police coerced or beat him into making a false confession.

Since the defendant has a constitutional right to remain silent or testify, he must make the choice. If you have watched a criminal trial, you probably have seen the judge advise the defendant outside the presence of the jury regarding his right to remain silent or testify. This colloquy creates a record for appeal that the defendant’s decision was knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made after fully discussing the matter with his lawyer.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will not have to decide whether to testify until after the government rests its case-in-chief.* That might not happen until after Memorial Day. That distant day will not dawn until after his attorneys have extracted as much beneficial evidence as possible, which usually comes in the form of testimony by defense witnesses, if any, and admissions on cross examination by prosecution witnesses to bias, prejudice, lack of knowledge, uncertainty, or testimony inconsistent with prior statements. Only then will his lawyers be able to offer him sound evidence-based advice.

They also will have to consider whether the government will be able to impeach him with evidence that he admitted committing the crimes charged when the FBI interrogated him in the hospital after his arrest. Although he apparently was not Mirandized (advised that he had a right to remain silent and a right to counsel), statements obtained in violation of Miranda are admissible as impeachment if they were voluntary and conflict with his testimony.

Because this is a death penalty case, he and his lawyers also will have to consider what effect his testimony might have on the jury, if he testifies and they reject what he says, catapulting the case into a penalty phase. Denial of responsibility and absence of remorse are unlikely to evoke mercy.

He can testify in the penalty phase, even if he does not testify in the guilt/innocence phase. He also has the right to allocution, which is to make a statement to the jury after both sides have rested that is not subject to cross examination.

Finally, because the rules of evidence strictly limit the scope of what may be presented at trial to evidence that is probative of the elements of the crimes charged and any defenses asserted by a defendant, trials are poor vehicles to implement social change. What the FBI did in other cases probably isn’t going to be relevant in the Tsarnaev trial.

As I’ve said before, I believe attempting to prove the existence of an FBI conspiracy to entrap an innocent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is likely to evoke anger, scorn, disbelief and a death sentence, unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Gerry Spence did that with case-specific facts while representing his client, Randy Weaver, in the case involving the government siege at Ruby Ridge.

A more appropriate comparison might be to Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber whose complaint about government misconduct in the siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, TX did not evoke much sympathy.

Assume for the sake of argument that you are representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Imagine that his life is now in your hands. Would you recommend that he testify or not in the guilt/innocence phase and why?

*I see no possibility of resolving this case with a plea bargain because I believe the government has rejected Tsarnaev’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for an LWOP sentence. That ship has sailed and jury selection is underway. The government obviously believes it has an ironclad case or it wouldn’t have rejected the offer. Only a significant and unanticipated development altering that perception would bring the government back to the bargaining table.

Other Resources:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Coconspirator and Accomplice Liability

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Death Penalty Trial Started Today


Using Colorado Method of Jury Selection in Tsarnaev Death Penalty Trial

Plea Bargaining in Capital Cases
Tsarnaev: Death penalty cases are won or lost during jury selection


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Coconspirator and Accomplice Liability

January 9, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2014

Good afternoon:

The first 1200 people summoned for jury service in the Boston Marathon Bombing Case have completed the 28 page juror questionnaire. Prosecution and defense counsel will be busy this weekend reviewing the questionnaires in preparation for voir dire that will start Monday. I believe we can reasonably expect Judge O’Toole will excuse about half of the group for financial hardship due to the length of the trial that is expected to extend into June. Students, teachers, self-employed business owners, single parents with young children and people with prepaid vacations are typically excused.

Several people have asked me to explain coconspirator and accomplice liability under federal law. State prosecutors rarely charge people with conspiracy, so most people don’t know much about it.

A conspiracy is an agreement by two or more people to commit a specific crime and the commission of an overt act by one of them in furtherance of the conspiracy. Often, the overt act is a crime, but it does not have to be. For example, purchasing fireworks is not a crime if you are old enough, but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to build a bomb using the gunpowder in the fireworks. Indeed, overt act 19 alleges that Tamerlan Tsarnaev traveled to Phantom Fireworks in Seabrook, New Hampshire on or about February 6, 2013, where he purchased 48 mortars containing about 8 pounds of low grade gunpowder for use in furtherance of the conspiracy charged in Count 1 (conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death).

A member of a conspiracy is responsible for all crimes committed by other members of the conspiracy, even if he did not know that the person who committed the crime was a member of the conspiracy or that he was going to commit that crime, so long as it was reasonably foreseeable that some member of the conspiracy would commit that crime.

Mere knowledge of the existence of a conspiracy, or presence at a location where a crime is committed by a member of the conspiracy, is not sufficient to establish guilt and there is no affirmative duty to inform police about the conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors typically structure indictments by charging a conspiracy to commit a specific crime in count 1 and allege any number of overt acts committed in furtherance of the conspiracy alleged in that count. Every member of the alleged conspiracy is accused of committing at least one of the overt acts. Overt acts that constitute crimes are added as separate counts in the indictment.

For example, in Overt Act 31 of Count I, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of killing MIT Police Officer Sean Collier by shooting him in the head at close range with a Ruger 9mm P95 semiautomatic handgun and attempting to steal his service weapon.

In Count 16 he is charged with possessing and using a firearm during the course of the conspiracy to murder Officer Sean Collier.

The government’s theory regarding the purpose for this shooting is that the Tsarnaev brothers only had one gun (Tamerlan’s Ruger 9mm P95 semiautomatic) and they wanted to obtain a second gun for Dzhokhar, so they sneaked up on him while he was sitting in his patrol vehicle and Tamerlan executed him with a single shot to the head. However, they were unable to get the gun out of the holster.

The government will argue that Dzhokhar is legally responsible for that shooting, even though he did not shoot the officer, because he was a member of the conspiracy and the shooting was an overt act committed by Tamerlan in furtherance of the conspiracy.

The government has a second argument to hold Dzhokhar accountable for the murder based 18 USC 2(a), which provides in pertinent part:

Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

This is the federal accomplice liability statute by which someone who assists another to commit a crime is as responsible as the person who committed the crime.

I hope this explanation helps readers to understand coconspirator and accomplice liability under federal law.

If we assume for the sake of argument that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted on all counts on the basis of his own acts and on the basis of coconspirator and accomplice liability for acts committed by Tamerlan, that does not mean that his arguably lesser role would not result in an LWOP sentence instead of death. A lesser role is a mitigation factor as are his youth and subservient relationship to his brother.

I believe this case probably will boil down to whether one or more members of the jury decide that the evidence in support of those three factors merits an LWOP sentence. That is why I have stated that this case is not about winning or losing. It’s about living or dying.


Bar Complaint Filed Against Prosecuting Attorney McCulloch and Two Assistant Prosecutors

January 7, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Good afternoon:

A bar complaint has been filed against St.Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and two assistant prosecuting attorneys, Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley. The complaint was filed by James R. Dowd (an attorney and former judge), Robert Ramsey (an attorney), Christi Griffin (a former attorney who is the founder and president of the Ethics Project), and seven citizens of the State of Missouri. They allege that the three prosecutors committed multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct during the grand jury investigation of the Michael Brown shooting.

You can read the 11-page complaint here.

Some of the allegations are:

– Presenting witnesses to the grand jury – including Darren Wilson – who McCulloch, Alizadeh and Whirley knew or should have known would make false statements.

– Presenting the grand jury with a legal instruction ruled unconstitutional for decades.

– Mislabeling and misplacing evidence related to key witness Dorian Johnson.

– Failing to provide specific charges to the jury after “dumping” thousands of pages of interviews and evidence on them.

CBS reports,

Christi Griffin has said initial reports from the Ferguson police chief that Darren Wilson did not know Michael Brown was suspected in an earlier convenience store robbery were changed in testimony before the grand jury, and she believes that represents perjury.

“He is the one that is allowing that perjured testimony to be presented to the grand jury, and that is a direct violation of the Code of Professional Ethics,” she said.

McCulloch also admitted that he knew Witness 40 had lied to the grand jury, but she testified anyway and the prosecutors did not inform the members of the grand jury that they knew she lied. She was an important witness because she was the only witness who backed Darren Wilson’s version of the shooting, specifically the ‘bull rush’ description of Brown charging at Wilson. Turns out she was not there and did not witness the shooting.

The bar complaint follows on the heels of a complaint filed in the St.Louis County Circuit Court by the ACLU on behalf of a member of the grand jury, which did not indict Wilson, seeking relief from the lifetime statutory prohibition that bars grand jury members from talking about their service. The grand juror wants to disclose how messed up the process was regarding the Michael Brown shooting compared to other cases that were presented to the grand jury. The ACLU is framing this argument as the grand juror’s right to free speech and the public’s right to know what its elected officials are doing. Go here to read an article in Think Progress about the lawsuit.

I would also argue, if I were them, that McCulloch opened the door by publicizing the proceedings and commenting falsely about them.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund added to McCulloch’s difficulties by writing an open letter to the chief judge of the St.Louis County Circuit Court accusing McCulloch and his 2 assistants of improper conduct and asking her to appoint a special prosecutor and convene a new grand jury to investigate the Michael Brown shooting.

I suspect McCulloch is wishing that he’d kept his mouth shut. Time to lawyer up.

(Special thanks to Nef05 for keeping us posted on these encouraging developments)


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Death Penalty Trial Started Today

January 5, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev goes on trial for his life today in federal court in the so-called Boston Marathon Bomber case. First up will be jury selection, which is expected to take about three to four weeks with the trial expected to last until late May or June. The Court will be attempting to seat a jury of twelve, plus six alternates, who can devote the next six months of their lives to fairly and impartially listening to the evidence and deciding the case. Given extensive pretrial publicity and a consuming regional interest in the case, the Court may discover that it cannot find 18 people who have not prejudged the case. If that happens, the Court will have to move the trial to another district in the United States.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting today that the government rejected a defense offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life without parole.

The Court has summoned over 1200 people to report over the course of the next three days at a rate of 250 people per half-day session. At each session, the prospective jurors will be given a questionnaire in which they will be directed to write down what, if anything, they recall and disclose if they have formed any opinions about the bombing and Tsarnaev’s guilt or innocence. They will also be asked to state their views about the death penalty. Copies of the completed questionnaires will be provided to counsel. Voir dire probably will begin next week after counsel have reviewed the questionnaires.

The jury selection process will take much longer than usual because the prospective jurors must be death qualified. That has to happen before the trial starts because, if the defendant is convicted, the same jury will have to decide whether to sentence the defendant to death or life without possibility of parole. By death qualification, I mean eliminating all prospective jurors who would automatically sentence the defendant to death or to life without possibility of parole without weighing the evidence admitted in mitigation against the evidence admitted in aggravation as required by the jury instructions. Opposition to the death penalty in the United States is highest in the Boston area. Therefore, do not be surprised if half or more of the prospective jurors are excused for cause because of their opposition to the death penalty. Since those prospective jurors tend to be better than others on reasonable doubt, you can reasonably expect the jury to be conviction prone.

For more information about the importance of death-qualifying a jury and how the defense will do it, please read:

Death Penalty Cases are Won or Lost During Jury Selection

Using the Colorado Method of Jury Selection in Tsarnaev Death Penalty Trial

Let’s take a brief look at the government’s case.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of conspiring with his brother Tamerlan to assemble, place and detonate two IED’s (improvised explosive devices) near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. The indictment alleges that the two explosions killed a child and two adults and injured scores of other people. They also are accused of ambushing and shooting to death an MIT campus police officer four days later in a failed attempt to steal his gun and with carjacking a Mercedes sedan and kidnapping the driver who escaped on foot when they stopped for gas. The driver called 911 and provided information that enabled the police to find the Mercedes and the brothers in Watertown via GPS. A dramatic shootout ensued that ended with Dzhokhar running over his brother with the Mercedes and escaping into the night. The indictment alleges that he abandoned vehicle a few blocks away and hid in a trailered boat parked in a backyard. The owner of the boat discovered him there and called 911. Police responded quickly and, after shooting up the boat, they arrested him.

If the jury finds Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty, the biggest obstacle I see to an LWOP sentence is the death of the 8-year-old child because the jury probably decided that he intentionally placed the backpack containing the IED close to the child. If so, that act is absolutely chilling and the most difficult act to forgive. To make matters worse, his sister lost a leg.

It’s difficult to imagine the emotional impact of witnessing a child’s violent death. I still suffer PTSD from looking at crime scene and autopsy photos of dead children. This jury will get to see the boy die and it will be difficult for them to be merciful, especially if they believe in the death penalty.

Dzhokhar scrawled this note on a wall inside the boat,

The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians; I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished; We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all; Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam…. stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.

Judy Clarke and David Bruck have their work cut out for them.

For more information about the lawyers who make up the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, go here.


Using Colorado Method of Jury Selection in Tsarnaev Death Penalty Trial

January 2, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

Good afternoon:

Jury selection in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death penalty trial is scheduled to start in federal court in Boston on Monday morning. Today I want to introduce readers to the Colorado Method of jury selection in a capital case. Many lawyers have used it to save lives, including myself, and I am reasonably certain that Tsarnaev’s defense team will use it.

18 USC 3593(e)(3) provides in pertinent part,

[T]he jury . . . shall consider whether all the aggravating factor or factors found to exist sufficiently outweigh all the mitigating factor or factors found to exist to justify a sentence of death, or, in the absence of a mitigating factor, whether the aggravating factor or factors alone are sufficient to justify a sentence of death. Based upon this consideration, the jury by unanimous vote . . . shall recommend whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, to life imprisonment without possibility of release or some other lesser sentence.

This statute requires the jury to decide whether the evidence in aggravation (evidence about the crime committed and its impact on the victims) outweighs the evidence in mitigation (evidence about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s youth and immaturity and how he was influenced by his dominant older brother and coconspirator Tamerlan Tsarnaev) and unanimously recommend “whether the defendant should be sentenced to death, to life imprisonment without possibility of release or some other lesser sentence.”

The key word is ‘unanimously.’

What happens if the jury is not unanimous?

18 USC 3594 provides,

Upon a recommendation under section 3593 (e) that the defendant should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release, the court shall sentence the defendant accordingly. Otherwise, the court shall impose any lesser sentence that is authorized by law. Notwithstanding any other law, if the maximum term of imprisonment for the offense is life imprisonment, the court may impose a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of release.

In other words, it only takes one juror to vote for LWOP instead of death to avoid a death sentence.

The Colorado Method was designed to maximize the probability of persuading at least one juror to vote against the death penalty. Michael Rubenstein describes the method this way:

The Colorado Method of capital voir dire is a structured approach to capital jury selection that is being used successfully in state and federal jurisdictions across the United States. Colorado Method capital voir dire follows several simple principles: (1) jurors are selected based on their life and death views only; (2) prodeath jurors (jurors who will vote for a death sentence) are removed utilizing cause challenges, and attempts are made to retain potential life-giving jurors; (3) pro-death jurors are questioned about their ability to respect the decisions of the other jurors, and potential life-giving jurors are questioned about their ability to bring a life result out of the jury room; and (4) peremptory challenges are prioritized based on the prospective jurors’ views on punishment.

Readers who have served on a jury in a non-death penalty case may recall that they were instructed to attempt to reach a unanimous verdict. That instruction cannot be given in the penalty phase of a capital case. Instead, jurors are instructed to vote their conscience after fully and fairly considering all of the evidence.

Therefore, the Colorado Method involves conditioning each juror to,

(1) realize that their decision will determine if the defendant lives or dies;

(2) accept full responsibility for their decision

(3) vote their conscience; and

(4) respect the rights of others to make up their own minds.

As in most death penalty trials, the outcome of the Tsarnaev trial likely will be determined in jury selection before the first witness testifies for the prosecution.


%d bloggers like this: