#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.

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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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Fred


Probable cause in arrests, initial appearances, informations, and grand jury indictments

April 27, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I write today to clear up some confusion that I may have caused regarding the purpose of an initial appearance in a federal criminal case. I think I caused the problem by failing to mention that all federal court felony prosecutions must be by grand jury indictment. I cover a lot of basic material that most people do not know about our criminal justice system. This information will help you understand why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s initial appearance happened on Monday. I also provide basic information about grand juries, including when and why they were created. Finally, you will have a more thorough understanding of probable cause and its role in our criminal justice system.

In tomorrow’s post I will look ahead to Tuesday’s hearing in the Zimmerman case and express some choice words to describe the new low in sleaziness achieved by Mark O’Mara.

Do not confuse an initial appearance with an arraignment. An initial appearance is a judicial review of a complaint and affidavit for probable cause to determine whether the affidavit actually establishes probable cause or reasonable grounds to believe the defendant committed the crime(s) charged in the complaint. The defendant does not enter a plea at the initial appearance for the simple reason that he cannot be arraigned unless he has been indicted by a grand jury.

The Fifth Amendment provides in pertinent part:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;

Many states, including Florida, permit prosecution by information. The Zimmerman case is a good example. Florida permits felony prosecution by information except in capital cases, which must be prosecuted by grand jury indictment. Therefore, State Attorney Angela Corey could have prosecuted the defendant for second degree murder by grand jury indictment or by information. She opted to charge Zimmerman by information thereby avoiding the cumbersome and time consuming effort required to persuade a grand jury to indict him.

Prosecution by grand jury indictment originated in England in order to prevent the king from initiating bogus criminal prosecutions against political enemies for political reasons. Transferring the power to charge people with crimes from the king to a group of citizens was a remarkable accomplishment at the time and a very important step in the long evolutionary process from governance by an unchecked monarchy to governance by elected officials.

We live in a different world where grand juries have become little more than rubber stamps signing off on indictments proposed by prosecutors. This is not surprising since grand juries meet in secret without a judge to supervise the proceedings. Hearsay is permitted because the rules of evidence do not apply and the targets of their investigations are not present. The absence of judicial oversight and the exclusion of suspects and their lawyers from participation in the process permits prosecutors to rig the outcome.

A suspect cannot be arrested or charged with a crime unless there is probable cause (i.e., reasonable grounds) to believe he committed the crime.

In the case of an arrest, the police decide whether they have probable cause. However, police are not lawyers. They can and do make mistakes even when they are acting in good faith. Although prosecution by information transfers the power to charge a suspect with a crime from the police who arrested the suspect to a prosecutor, the test remains the same. The prosecutor must have probable cause to believe the suspect committed the crime. The same is true when the prosecution is by grand jury indictment only now the grand jury is making the decision instead of the prosecutor. Finally, in our legal system we have judicial review of police decisions to arrest and prosecutor’s decisions to charge suspects with crimes. The test is still probable cause but now a judge is making the decision.

Judges also review the issue of detention after police have arrested a suspect and booked him into a jail pending a decision to charge or release a suspect by a prosecutor or the grand jury. Judicial review of probable cause and detention in federal court takes place at the initial appearance.

An arraignment is a judicial hearing that occurs after a person has been charged, whether by information or grand jury indictment. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally notify the defendant that he has been charged with a crime(s) and to record his plea. In both federal and state courts, defendants are required to plead “not guilty.”

There is a good reason for this requirement. Arraignment calendars in state and federal courts are busy affairs. Judges cannot accept a guilty plea unless they are satisfied that the defendant knows what rights he is forfeiting by pleading guilty. The defendant also must provide a statement under oath regarding what he did that is legally sufficient to support the plea. Guilty pleas can take up to 15 or even 30 minutes to complete. Therefore, they are scheduled for a different time.

Magistrate judges in each federal district conduct the initial appearances and arraignments in federal court. Initial appearances are typically scheduled in the afternoon to allow sufficient lead time for federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to prepare the formal charging document, which we call the complaint, and the supporting affidavit (i.e., sworn statement) for probable cause. The complaint and affidavit are filed in the clerk’s office at the United States Courthouse. In turn the clerk’s office notifies the federal public defender regarding the new arrest and that office assigns the case to a lawyer in the office.

The Pretrial Supervision section of the United States Probation Office also is notified about the new case and they assign it to one of their officers. Their job is to prepare a report for the magistrate judge regarding the defendant and to recommend whether he should be released pending the outcome of the case. They also recommend the conditions of the release.

The United States Marshal’s Office is responsible for transporting the person to court for the hearing.

If this process works smoothly, the defense attorney receives his copy of the complaint and affidavit for probable cause with sufficient time to review and discuss it with the defendant in the lockup at the courthouse before the hearing.

At the beginning of the hearing, counsel for the government and the defendant identify themselves for the record and the magistrate judge informs the defendant of the charge(s) against him in the complaint and the maximum sentence that could be imposed, if convicted. He also advises the defendant of the following rights:

1. Right to remain silent

2. Anything he says can be used against him

3. Right to be represented by the lawyer he chooses, if he can afford the fee and the lawyer files a notice of appearance confirming representation

4. Right to have the court appoint counsel to be paid at public expense, if he cannot afford counsel.

5. Right to be presumed innocent.

6. Right to a jury trial

Most defendants cannot afford counsel and for that reason the clerk’s office routinely assigns the case to the Federal Defender, unless retained counsel contacts the clerk’s office and confirms that he will represent the defendant.

In a multiple defendant case, each defendant is entitled to his own lawyer because acting in the best interests of one client often is not in the best interest of the other client. Assume, for example, that you are representing both defendants. Also assume that the prosecutor contacts you and offers a benefit to one client in exchange for a guilty plea and his agreement to testify against the other client. Congratulations! You now have a conflict of interest and have to withdraw from the case, if it would be in the best interests of the first client to advise him to accept the offer because you cannot advise him to do that without violating your duty to act in the best interests of your other client.

Since your conflict of interest would extend to your law partners, the law firm that employs you, or every other lawyer employed by the Federal Public Defender if you work for them, the district courts maintain a list of experienced and qualified lawyers in private practice who have agreed to accept appointments with financial compensation at the rates set by the court. This list is called the Criminal Justice Administration Panel or CJA Panel.

In multiple defendant cases, the clerk’s office appoints the Federal Public Defender to represent the first defendant. Additional defendants in the same case are each assigned to a CJA Panel attorney. I was a CJA Panel attorney in Seattle for 20 years, so I am familiar with the process.

The process I have described is the same in every federal district in the United States.

This process would have been followed in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Since the Federal Public Defender Office would have known that it would be formally appointed to represent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday, I am reasonably certain that they assembled a team over the weekend to work on the case. The team would have included at least one or two lawyers, an investigator, and possibly a mitigation specialist.

Subsequent news reports have confirmed that a defense team was assembled over the weekend.

I imagine the lawyer or lawyers attempted to meet with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the hospital over the weekend, but were denied access. Law enforcement officials can do that absent a request from the suspect in custody to meet with counsel. I doubt he made that request, if he were intubated, unconscious and unable to speak.

The Magistrate Judge also would have known that she would have to conduct an initial appearance for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Monday, assuming he survived until then.

I am relatively certain that arrangements were made on Monday morning to conduct the hearing in the hospital at the patient’s bedside with notification to all parties concerned.

I doubt defense counsel were permitted to meet with their client before the FBI’s interrogation team completed its work.

The Fifth Amendment issue is whether the defendant’s statements will be admissible against him, since he provided them during a custodial interrogation without advice and waiver of his rights per Miranda. The government will argue that the public emergency exception exempted it from having to Mirandize the defendant. The defense will argue that the exception has not been judicially approved and did not apply.

A closely related issue is whether the defendant’s statements were voluntary or coerced, given his medical and mental condition. Was he competent to answer questions?

The Sixth Amendment issue is whether he requested a lawyer at any time before or during the interrogation. We know he could not speak and the interrogation team would have known that. Was he denied pencil and paper at the team’s request before the interrogation? Did he scribble out a request that was ignored?

The remedy for a failure to Mirandize the defendant prior to a custodial interrogation is to exclude his statements from being admitted into evidence.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be Mirandized

April 21, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I write today to defend a fellow citizen’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during a custodial interrogation and his Sixth Amendment right to consult with counsel and have counsel present during a custodial interrogation. He has not been questioned yet due to his medical condition.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a naturalized United States citizen in custody for his suspected participation in a scheme that detonated two bombs killing 3 people and injuring many more along the Boston Marathon race course on April 15, 2013. He is also a suspect in the murder of a law enforcement officer on the campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after the bombing.

He is not an enemy combatant who attacked United States military personnel on foreign soil.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be advised that he has those rights before law enforcement agents attempt to question him and no interrogation should take place, unless he voluntarily waives those rights and agrees to answer questions. No less is required by the SCOTUS decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966).

If an interrogation proceeds without the advice of rights and voluntary waiver of those rights required by Miranda, then anything he says should be suppressed and cannot be used against him in a court of law.

He has the right to be charged and prosecuted in the United States criminal justice system, rather than before a military tribunal, and accorded all of the rights that would be accorded to any other defendant charged with a crime.

The United States Department of Justice has announced that he will be prosecuted in the civilian criminal justice system and that is a proper decision.

However, despite an acknowledged lack of any evidence or reason to believe that Tsarnaev is part of a larger plot with plans to commit other terrorist acts, the Justice Department has announced that it intends to interrogate him without Mirandizing him.

This decision is an intentional violation of Miranda that not only violates the suspect’s rights, it potentially jeopardizes the prosecution.

There is no reason ever to sacrifice due process of law and this casecertainly provides no compelling reason to consider making an exception.

For more information, read this informative article by Josh Gerstein at Politico.

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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. If you like this site, please consider making a secure donation via Paypal by clicking the yellow donation button in the upper right corner just below the search box.

Thank you,

Fred


Featuring: Willis Newton regarding Zimmerman and the good-cop good-cop interview technique

March 25, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Willis Newton posted an excellent comment at 11:37 pm last night on the open thread regarding the defendant and the good-cop good-cop interview technique.

The only correction that I feel a need to point out is that a criminal defense lawyer would have advised the defendant to shut his mouth. There are no exceptions to that rule.

This full-of-himself intellectually challenged defendant caused irreparable damage to his case when he decided that he could talk his way out of being charged with killing Trayvon Martin. Once he got going, he could not stop and the pièce de résistance was the Shawn Hannity interview.

State’s Attorney Angela Corey and Assistant State’s Attorney Bernie de la Rionda did the right thing when they declined to talk to the defendant as they are ethically prohibited from talking to a defendant represented by counsel, even if the defendant initiates the contact.

George was handled by Serino and Singleton of the SPD in a manner I’d call “good cop/ good cop.” Both tried to be amicable and played to his vanity and let him think they were his “buddies.” This was not because they believed him, it was because this attitude kept George “cooperating” by continuing to make multiple statements without a lawyer present, after being advised of his right to refuse to answer any questions without a lawyer present.

Let me just say this now – anyone, ESPECIALLY innocent people, but anyone, anyone is a fool if you let the cops question you without a lawyer present. They are NOT your friends, no matter how many times they let you go to the bathroom or buy you a cola from a vending machine. They are doing their job, which is to get you to talk yourself into a criminal conviction.

George bought the routine hook line and sinker. He was a fool for giving so many statements, as it became very cleat quickly that he was pushing a false narrative and telling a story that was fraught with inconsistencies, critical omissions and clear contradictions.

One thing he was tricked with was the “voice stress test,” which is a useless and pointless exercise that proves NOTHING and is never admissible in a court of law. George agreed to the test because he thought the cops were believing his lies, and his ego told him that he could and should “talk his way out of this one” since the cops were seemingly sympathetic to his plight. The real and true purpose of the voice stress test was to get George to run through his whole (false) narrative one more time with as little interruption as possible. The “test taker” was simply a new interrogator, but one whose job it was to feign disinterest as he asked George “on background” to relate his tale so the test taker could “set up the voice stress machine.”

Notice that “as they waited for the tester” the cops also let GZ sit around for a long quiet period with detective Singleton. This too is a deliberate session of evidence-gathering that detectives use on a regular basis – put the guy at ease but do anything to keep him from calling a lawyer -just keep him making statements.

She’s being mostly quiet so that he will KEEP talking to fill the uncomfortable silence. It’s here that he made the telling remarks about how “suspects” need to respond to “authority” but that he thinks Singleton “doesn’t have to worry” about that since she has such a commanding presence, or whatever it is that he says exactly. I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but it was a telling moment and I predict will be shown to the jury as part of the overall portrait the prosecution is going to paint to color him as a wanna-be authority figure who had no legal right to profile and pursue a teen to the point where the child fled in terror, and then for GZ to leave his vehicle with a loaded weapon and continue on foot after him into the proverbial “dark alley.”

Whatever the reason the police let him go home that first night, Serino made certain that GZ was going to “keep cooperating.” Letting him go home was a gamble, but one that paid off well since the next day GZ cooperated AGAIN without having a lawyer present and did a “re-eneactment” for the detectives that was less than credible, and again made for several very telling moments that could be presented to a jury to show his lack of credibility at the least. George told provable lies about where he pulled over his car and how his car ended up near the cut thru when he got out of it and started following the teen. Then he massively contradicted his many earlier accounts when he suddenly added the “I must have stumbled” portion of the account of the “first punch” that may or may not have even happened. Each time he’d previously spoke of this alleged blow to his face, he described things like falling backwards, and how he was knocked IMMEDIATELY to the ground before “Trayvon mounted him” as George alleges the teen did. Suddenly George has to insert a 40 foot “stumble” right in the middle of where he wished he could again claim he was knocked to the ground where he stood.

Keep in mind if George had waited for his lawyer to be present, the lawyer would likely advise him to make ONE statement that was carefully crafted and then to refuse to cooperate any further. I’m not certain about this but imagine if GZ had called a lawyer and kept his mouth mostly shut. He may have spent a few nights in jail, but it would be more difficult to impeach his credibility, a key component of his upcoming murder trial. He may have even avoided a trial altogether. His own words are what is going to sink his ship.

After the “re-enactment” the detectives confronted him about his inconsistencies in the harshest session of questioning, but as you listen to the recording keep in mind they are careful to frame their disbelief and harsh questions by mentioning the need for George to “keep his story straight for later” essentially as if what was happening contemporaneously was his “cop buddies” leading him down the path to freedom and insider treatment. They don’t QUITE pull off the whole ruse of buddy-buddy, partially because his lies are too difficult to swallow but also because George is so suspicious and guarded in his words. But the detectives still act as though “this is all just so we can set the record straight” and that George is “gonna be fine probably” etc.

Never do the SPD detectives posture that they are “holding him for questioning.” It’s always that they are “allowing him to make a statement,” or some such polite way of putting things, as though his cooperation is helping them seal the fate of the dead “suspect” who “attacked” him. This is how “good cop/ good cop” works.

Someone in the SPD made the call that George “should be handled with kid gloves” and also let go to sleep in his own bed. It was a pragmatic decision since at the beginning the detectives saw they lacked a good witness to the events from start to finish and that GZ killed the only other person who they thought heard the start of the fight. Keep in mind they had yet to learn that TM was on the phone at the time the fight started.

The fact that George kept in touch with Serino while he was out and not facing a grand jury or criminal charges is a sign that Serino had gained some measure of his trust. Before GZ called Angela Corey he also had been speaking with Serino. I am guessing its likely GZ asked Serino something obsequious like “do you think it might be a good idea if I were to call the state’s attorney and let them know (what a good boy I am) etc?” Serino knew he was pretty much off the case by then but tried to keep the “good cop” ruse going.

Recall the two clown lawyers who weren’t really his lawyers? I also am guessing one of both of them, idiots that they were, knew enough to try to advise George of the folly of trying to consider Angela Corey his new buddy. Whatever the timing and whomever was advising George, he didn’t get his chance to cozy up to the special prosecutor because the state wisely refused to see him at all until he retained a lawyer. He called Corey but she wouldn’t take that call IIRC.

So in answer to the question, “what was he thinking when he tried to see Corey?” I’d say the guess is probably right that he still felt like he could talk his way out the jam he was in. (SO far, so good, he felt.) He’d killed the only real witness to his car-to-pedestrian chase and was fairly sure no one saw how the physical altercation began. Somehow he’d gotten the lucky break of having someone, Shellie probably, move his car away before it could be searched or its location noted. (which way was it facing? He could be lying about that but we don’t know, and we may never know.)

His arrogance is staggering, but his gullibility is as well. IMO Serino did a good job of “handling” George. He may have made other mistakes but in this regard his strategy was a wise one. And the special prosecutor made the wise call that despite George possibly being willing to come make more “statements” that he’s been given enough rope to hang himself with already. They knew the statements he’d given the SPD and they felt they had enough already to paint him as the two-bit liar that he is.

If Serino ever gets a book deal, I’ll buy his book. He’d got things to answer for, but keep in mind he looked into GZ’s eyes and read his body language, heard his story, walked the grounds with him and then looked again into his eyes as George was confronted with the NEN call recording and several of his contradictory statements. If anyone in the world knows whether or not to believe GZ it’s detective Chris Serino, who wanted to charge him with murder and was willing to settle for manslaughter but NEVER felt GZ was in the clear.


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