The Art of Cross Examination (Part 7) The Killer Cross That Never Happened

December 26, 2011

Author’s Note: This is the final part of the Killer Cross. After the conclusion, I will discuss the real reasons why we believe Chris McNeill refused to use it.

120. Q: Deputy McGuire, I presume you do know the difference between 1 gram and 0.1 grams, don’t you?

A: Yes.

121. Q: When you booked the controlled substance into evidence, you wrote in your report that it weighed 1 gram, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

122. Stricken

123. Q: But the substance weighed by the lab analyst at the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory was only one tenth of a gram, right?

A: Yes.

124. Q: You sent the blood sample to the crime lab for analysis before the preliminary hearing, didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Lab report

125. Q: But you didn’t send the substance that you knew all along was gonna be crack until after the preliminary hearing, right?

A: Yes.

Transcript Preliminary Hearing, page 5, lines 1-5

126. Q: That’s because you knew what it was going to be all along, even though you didn’t know how much it was going to weigh, correct?.

Answer: Yes.

127. Now, I know I’m not your lawyer, so you may want to consult a lawyer, if you don’t already have one and tell her what happened here today. I’m sure she will tell you that the only way to avoid a perjury indictment is to recant your lies and finally tell the truth, but we’ll leave that for another day and another jury.

Author’s Note: I doubt any lawyer would have made the last statement because it is improper. It is not a question and it is argumentative.

What is the significance of the weight difference?

We believe the deputy did not recover a controlled substance from underneath his back seat when he pulled the seat back to search for her watch. Recall that, when they arrived at Lourdes Hospital, she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist during the ride and she asked him to please retrieve it. I find it impossible to imagine that she would have asked him to retrieve her watch, if it had fallen off her wrist while she was attempting to slough a rock of crack behind the back seat. That would be like asking the deputy to retrieve my watch and, while you’re at it, please pickup my dope. That does not make any sense.

A few months after the arrest, the police officer in charge of the McCracken County Evidence Unit was arrested at a flea market in an adjoining county for attempting to sell a handgun that he had removed from the evidence unit without proper authority. The gun was loaded and the person to whom he was trying to sell it accidentally shot himself. The wound was not serious, however, and he survived.

As I recall, the newly elected sheriff, arranged for an inventory to be made of all of the items in the Evidence Unit by an independent auditor. The final report was disquieting to put it mildly. The unit was not secure. In fact, it was not exclusively used to store evidence with access limited to the people who worked in the unit. That is standard procedure for police departments all over the country. I believe the auditor also reported that a room within the unit was used as a lunchroom by civilian employees and police personnel at the Sheriff’s office. In other words, it was basically an open-air pharmacy with guns, drugs, and money available to anyone who worked at the Sheriff’s office at anytime. The auditor found evidence missing as well as evidence stored in lockers that was not even listed as evidence on the inventory sheets and logs maintained by the unit.

One would have expected a thorough investigation of everyone who worked at the Sheriff’s Department and prosecutions of people who stole stuff, but the only person prosecuted was the boss who attempted to sell the loaded gun. He pled guilty to some relatively minor offense and that was it. The story disappeared.

I googled the story today looking for the name of the officer in charge of the evidence unit and verification of what I recall, but could find no reference to the story, which has apparently been scrubbed. I find that troubling.

We believe Deputy McGuire wanted a notch on his gun, figuratively speaking, and he planned to obtain some heroin in the Evidence Unit by raiding a drug exhibit, but he could not find any and had to settle for crack, which would account for the weight discrepancy (0.1 grams versus 1 gram) and for his delay in sending the rock to the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory for analysis.

We believe he formed this plan on the way to the hospital after the roadside searches failed to turn up any drugs, paraphernalia, or drug residue. He likely seized something like a bread crust, perhaps from something he ate earlier in the front seat of his vehicle before the stop, which occurred at approximately 8:20 PM. Or, maybe he found it under the back seat when he retrieved her watch. Wherever he found it and whatever it was, he probably discarded it after he booked her into jail.

He filled out his narrative report and entered 1 gram as the approximate weight of the suspected controlled substance, intending to later obtain a small amount of heroin in the unit and send it on for analysis to the crime lab. We think it significant that he charged her with possession of a controlled substance without ever specifying what he thought it was in the Uniform Citation or his narrative report.

When I called the court the next day after Crane Station’s arrest, I was told by a court official named Kimberley Thornton that Crane was charged with possession of heroin, tampering with evidence, and DUI. Someone must have told her that Crane was charged with possession of heroin because the drug was not mentioned in the deputy’s paperwork.

I went to the preliminary hearing a week later believing Crane was charged with possession of heroin only to discover that she was charged with possession of crack cocaine.

Deputy McGuire testified at the hearing that the substance was still in the Evidence Unit; that he had field tested it for heroin sometime after the arrest and obtained a negative result; and that he had not field tested it for cocaine because he “knew all along it was gonna be crack.”

How did he know that, unless he already knew for certain what it was because he obtained it from the Evidence Unit after he could not find any heroin?

If he did this, he would have done it several months before the scandal broke about the evidence unit. That did not happen until after the new sheriff was elected and he was elected in November 2006. Crane Station was arrested in late June, 2006.

The purpose of the cross examination was to so utterly destroy Deputy McGuire’s credibility that the jury would believe him capable of almost any misdeed, including perjury and planting evidence. Whether I would have made that argument had I represented Crane Station, which I could not do because I was not admitted to the Kentucky Bar, would have depended on some investigation that had not been done, and receipt of additional discovery that had not been requested, despite my recommendation that it be requested. I may have elected to leave out the specific theory and rely on reasonable doubt based on Deputy McGuire’s shredded credibility.

Whether I would have argued that the deputy was a perjurer who planted evidence or a confused young man with an extremely poor memory such that he was incapable of establishing anything beyond a reasonable doubt is unclear, although I would have been sorely tempted to go for the hard approach.

Finally, in the spirit of fairness, I must point out that I neglected to include a series of questions in the cross about the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing when he said the watch and the controlled substance were not in plain view. He testified at the suppression hearing and later aqt the trial that they were in plain view in the seatbelt crack next to where she was sitting. Both statements cannot be true.

I drafted this set of questions by hand over a period of two to three hours and simply forgot to include them, but I do recall telling McNeill that they should be included.

Now, why did Chris McNeill throw the case by refusing to use this devastating cross?

We do not believe he was telling us the truth when he said the jury would get angry if he used the cross examination since Deputy McGuire was young and innocent. We have come up with three possible reasons.

1. He is the regional chief of the public defenders office for a multi-county area in western Kentucky. In order to protect his budget, he has to assist in keeping the railroad running on time. Therefore, he has a strong interest in not ruffling anyone’s feathers and that means not fighting too hard in some cases. This is a built-in conflict of interest and I don’t think any lawyer in his position should be trying cases. Besides, running the office is a full time job.

2. He wanted to be appointed by the governor to replace a retiring circuit court judge, so taking on the corrupt legal system in western Kentucky was the last thing on his agenda. He didn’t get the job, btw. The chief prosecutor did.

3. He doesn’t have the stones to go to war. He is too timid to take on corrupt cops, prosecutors, and judges. He also lacks integrity. He is not a stand-up guy. Anyone who is too timid and dishonest to fight for his client does not have the right stuff to be a criminal defense attorney.

McNeill did not order the preliminary hearing to be a part of the record on appeal and this delayed action by the Court of Appeals for one year. We believe he did that deliberately because that is when Deputy McGuire testified that the watch and the controlled substance were not in plain view and he had to pull back the seat where he found them after she asked him to look under the seat for her watch. We believe he did not want the Court of Appeals to see that transcript, as it would show that he provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of her Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Most people do not realize this, but criminal defense lawyers are our last line of defense and only hope for keeping the system honest. Honest and knowledgeable judges and prosecutors know this to be true and will openly acknowledge it. Corrupt judges and prosecutors hate honest and tough criminal defense attorneys. Ever since Reagan was elected president in 1980 and commenced an undeclared and ever escalating war against them, corruption has been increasing. Now it has reached the point where the criminal justice system is an openly corrupt and stinking sewer in many parts of the country.


The Art of Cross Examination (Part 2): Impeachment By Prior Inconsistent Statement

December 21, 2011

Please watch the attached clip from Witness For The Prosecution (1957), starring the incomparable Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power. Billy Wilder directed the film and wrote the screenplay from a novel by Agatha Christie.

Now back to the real world.

Here is an example of how to effectively impeach a witness with a prior inconsistent statement. This is one of the most effective ways to cross examine a witness. More than once, I have demolished an opponent’s case using this method. It is relative easy to do after you have assembled all of a witnesses’s prior statements, sorted them by topic, and prepared your cross examination. As usual, there is no substitute for hard work and preparation. The end product in court is extremely dramatic, deeply humiliating and disorienting to the dishonest witness, frightening to opposing counsel, and immensely satisfying to the lawyer who pulls it off.

Author’s Note: I never got a witness to say, “Damn you. Damn you,” but I did get a witness to say, “As God is my witness, I am telling the truth,” which is almost as good. She was not as beautiful, elegant, and aristocratic as Marlene Dietrich, but hey, nobody is.

Here, I illustrate the method by using the first question of a lengthy proposed cross examination of Deputy Eddie McGuire of the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department. He arrested Crane-Station and I have previously mentioned him in several posts relative to her case.

I prepared the cross examination for Chris McNeill, the lawyer who represented Crane-Station and I delivered it to him in person the week before the trial. I respectfully asked him to please consider using it.

I said, “I respect you. I am not trying to tell you how to do your job. I love my wife and I am just trying to help out any way that I can. This is one area where I can help because I have a lot of experience in these matters. Please review it and consider using it, or some of it, as you deem appropriate.”

He never used any of it.

He later told me that the deputy was a nice young man and the jury would have been offended, if he used my proposed cross examination. I will leave it for you to decide whether that makes any sense.

Each proposed question is followed by the correct answer with a reference below the answer to the document or transcript in which the deputy made the original statement.

If the deputy gave the wrong answer to any question, the proper way to impeach him would have been to direct his attention to the source document or transcript and confront him with his prior inconsistent statement.

In tomorrow’s post, I will present the entire cross examination that did not happen. It is an engaging and easy-to-follow-story that I believe you will enjoy.

In today’s post, I will present the first question, answer, and reference to the source in order to illustrate how to effectively cross examine a witness by impeaching the witness with a prior inconsistent statement. The procedure is formulaic and would be repeated whenever the deputy gave an answer that was inconsistent with an earlier statement.

Okay, students. With that introduction, let us begin.

Q: Deputy McGuire, whenever you are considering whether to charge a suspect with DUI, you document everything you observe that would be consistent with drug or alcohol impairment, isn’t that correct?

A: Yes.

The proper answer is “yes” because that is the answer that he gave under oath at the suppression hearing. Now, let us suppose that he answered, “No.” This is how you impeach him with his prior inconsistent statement.

May I approach the witness, your Honor?

You may.

You now approach the witness and hand him a copy of the transcript of the suppression hearing that you will use to impeach him and you also hand two copies to the clerk. One is for the court file and the other is a courtesy copy for the judge. On your way back to the podium, you hand the prosecutor a courtesy copy. Resuming your position at the podium, you proceed as follows:

Q: Deputy McGuire, please take a moment to review the document that I just handed to you and let me know when you are ready to answer some questions about it.

A: Okay, I’m ready.

Q: What is the document you are holding, which Madame Clerk has marked as Defendant’s Exhibit 1?

A: It looks like a transcript of the suppression hearing in this case.

Q: Did you testify at that hearing?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Did you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, before you testified?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you tell the truth?

A: Of course I did.

Q: Does that document appear to be a true and correct copy of your testimony at the suppression hearing?

A: Appears to be.

Q: Please answer the question “Yes” or “No.” Take all the time you need.

A: Yes, it’s correct.

Q: Thank you. Your Honor, I move Defendant’s Exhibit 1 into evidence for illustrative purposes.

This is the proper way to identify and authenticate an exhibit prior to moving it into evidence. Judges and lawyers call it “laying the foundation.”

Notice how the lawyer firmly, but respectfully refuses to accept the equivocal answer. This is how a lawyer asserts control over a waffling witness.

Exhibits admitted into evidence for illustrative purposes become a part of the official record of the case. They can be used by counsel to illustrate a point, but they do not go into the jury room with the rest of the exhibits during deliberations.

Should a question come up during deliberations, the foreperson can send out a note asking to see a particular exhibit that was admitted for illustrative purposes. If the judge grants the request after conferring with counsel, court will reconvene with counsel and the defendant present. The jury returns to the box and the Clerk shows the exhibit to the jury. The jury then returns to the jury room to continue deliberations and the judge declares a recess pending further notice from the jury that it has another question, or it has reached a verdict.

No talking is permitted while the jury views the exhibit. If the jurors have any questions about the exhibit after viewing it, the foreman has to submit the question(s) in writing after the jury returns to the jury room.

Judge: Mr. Prosecutor, do you have any objection to admitting the exhibit for illustrative purposes?

Prosecutor: No objection, your Honor.

Judge: Very well. Defendant’s Exhibit 1 is admitted for illustrative purposes.

Q: Deputy McGuire, directing your attention to page 19, lines 2-6 of the transcript of the suppression hearing on November 26, 2006, were you asked the following question by defense counsel and did you give the following answer under oath?

Question by defense counsel:

“So, pretty much it’s your practice, if considering DUI, is to document all of those things that would be consistent with drug or alcohol impairment?”

You answered: “Yes.”

A: Uhm, well, Yes, I guess I did.

Q: You answered “Yes,” didn’t you?

A: Yes.

Q: Thank you.

When faced with an equivocating witness, and cops and experts do like to equivocate at times, I often used the technique, which I illustrated here, of repeating the question until the witness answered it. Defensive prosecutors often rise to the bait and attempt to defend their witness by objecting on the basis that the question was “asked and answered.”

I would respond to the objection by stating, “The witness is being evasive. The question calls for a simple “yes,” or “no,” and I intend to keep asking it until he answers it.”

Usually, the judge would turn to the witness and ask him, if he could answer the question “yes,” or “no.” Every time I used this technique and got the judge to intercede, the witness answered “Yes.” Then the judge overruled the prosecutor’s improper objection and allowed me to continue and cement the answer in the jury’s collective memory accompanied by the impression that the cop or the expert was attempting to hide something and the prosecutor was attempting to assist the witness to do it.

Sharp and experienced trial lawyers can devastate their opponent’s case by impeaching their witnesses with prior inconsistent statements.

Until tomorrow then . . .


Investigatory Stop Or Voluntary Citizen Initiated Contact With Police?

November 11, 2011

An interesting Fourth Amendment issue arises from time to time regarding whether a police officer initiates a contact with a person operating a motor vehicle by pulling it over, or the driver voluntarily initiates the contact by stopping the vehicle and signals for assistance by turning on the vehicle’s blinking hazard lights, as might be the case for example, with a health emergency, a flat tire, or running out of gas.

With few exceptions, the first situation is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, unless the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the motorist has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch because it must be supported by an articulable set of objective facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to suspect that the individual being observed had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. In the standard drunk driving case, for example, an officer would have a reasonable suspicion to believe the operator of a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol if the vehicle was weaving, crossing the center line, exceeding the speed limit, and speeding up and slowing down erratically. The courts apply a flexible totality of the circumstances test in determining whether the officer’s suspicion was reasonable in any given case. The courts will not consider information acquired after a stop because the officer did not know it prior to the stop and could not have relied on information he did not know.

The second situation is not subject to the Fourth Amendment because there is no seizure when a police-citizen contact is initiated voluntarily by the citizen, or the citizen appears to require assistance. This means that an officer does not have to have a reasonable suspicion to contact a citizen who initiates the contact, or otherwise appears to require assistance. This distinction certainly makes sense when one considers, for example, the plight of a motorist who may have suffered a heart attack, turned on the hazard lights, pulled over, and stopped the vehicle before lapsing into unconsciousness. It would not make any sense to require a police officer to have a reasonable suspicion to believe that the apparently unconscious person was committing a crime to justify stopping to check on the person.

Unfortunately, however, the distinction between an investigatory stop that requires a reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment and the voluntary citizen initated contact with a police officer that is not subject to the Fourth Amendment is not always easy to determine. As with the reasonable suspicion test, the courts consider the totality of the circumstances and ask whether a reasonable person in the same set of circumstances faced by the person in the case under review would have believed that he was free to terminate the contact at any time and drive away rather than remain and submit to the authority of the law enforcement officer until released.

This issue was raised by the prosecution in Crane-Station’s case. The trial judge agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff Deputy Eddie McGuire, did not require a reasonable suspicion to pull her over because she had voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact to which the Fourth Amendment did not apply.

Consider the following evidence, apply the legal rules that I have set forth and explained for you, and see if you agree with the trial judge’s conclusion.

At the suppression hearing on November 27, 2006, Deputy McGuire testified that he was dispatched to investigate a 911 call. After he arrived, he checked the neighborhood for a few minutes looking for a dark blue Buick LeSabre with Washington plates that was described the caller. When he did not find it, he cleared the call and headed back toward town on U.S. Highway 60.

(Note: The content of this call has been discussed in a previous article (link). Briefly, the caller told the 911 dispatcher that the driver of the vehicle had mentioned “something about tar heroin and all that stuff” while talking to his neighbor in the neighbor’s yard and writing in her notebook. Since this information, even if true, describes what someone said to another person that may or may not have been witnessed by the caller and it does not describe a crime or an attempt to commit a crime, the call was insufficient to cause a reasonable person to suspect that the person described by the caller had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. To conclude otherwise would be to hold that police officer may lawfully seize and investigate any person who mentions the name of a controlled substance to another person. Such a rule not only would dispense with the requirement that the suspected behavior be criminal in nature, it would violate a person’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.)

As McGuire approached the traffic-light controlled intersection at U.S. Highway 60 and Cairo Road, he suddenly realized that he was passing a vehicle that matched the description provided by the 911 caller. After admitting that he did not know how fast he was driving as he approached and drew alongside her vehicle (Suppression Transcript p. 13), he said,

As I was passing the vehicle she had her left blinker on as if she was going to turn out in the passing lane, but she never did.

And then as I was going to go ahead and go past her, I noticed that the license plate – it was a Washington license plate was the description that was also given at the time of the call. So when I noticed that, I slowed down and let her go back by me, and then when I pulled in behind her, she pulled over.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

The prosecutor asked him when he turned on his emergency lights and he said,

I just pulled in behind her, and she started to pull over. That’s when I lit her up.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

On cross-examination, defense counsel asked McGuire if she “was driving appropriately.” He said,

I was going – yes. She didn’t bring my attention as far as weaving or nothing like that. Speed wasn’t a factor.

(Suppression Transcript p. 13)

Defense counsel focused on the blinking left-turn signal with a few questions.

Q: Okay. And apparently, your testimony is that she had on her turn signal?

A: She had her left-turn signal on as if she was going to come into the left lane. That’s what brought my attention to that vehicle to begin with. And then as I was passing her, I noticed it had Washington tags.

Q: So I guess there’s at least a possibility she was going to move into the left lane and –

A: Right.

Q: — saw your vehicle and elected not to?

A: Correct. That’s possible.

(Suppression Transcript pp. 12-13)

Defense counsel asked him to describe when she activated her right-turn signal. He said,

A: She turned her other turn signal on when she was going into the emergency lane just to stop.

Q: When she was getting ready to pull over?

A: Yes.

(Suppression. Transcript p. 15)

When defense counsel asked him if he activated his lights “even before she came to a complete stop,” McGuire answered, “Correct.” (Suppression Transcript p. 14)

Q: So, technically, you did stop the vehicle?

A: I was going to, anyway, yes. When she started to pull over, I just went ahead and turned my lights on.

Q: When you fell in behind her, she pretty much –

A: She – yeah. I suppose she assumed I was going to stop her, so she went ahead and pulled over anyway.

Q: Safe assumption under those circumstances?

A: Right.

(Suppression Transcript 14-15)

Consider also that Deputy McGuire wrote in his Uniform Citation and Offense Report that he stopped her, which he confirmed in testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing and before the Grand Jury.

In addition, on October 17, 2006, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (now a McCracken County District Court judge) Christopher B. Hollowell prepared and filed the Commonwealth’s Bill of Particulars declaring in pertinent part under penalty of perjury that Deputy McGuire “stopped” her vehicle.

(Note: this is also admissible non-hearsay as a declaration by a party opponent that arguably should be dispositive of the legal issue. See Part 1 of my four-part series on the hearsay rule.)

The critical question then is whether a reasonable person in Crane-Station’s position would have pulled over into the emergency lane and subsequently stopped her vehicle after a police officer, who had pulled alongside her, slowed down, fell in immediately behind her, and activated his emergency lights as she moved over into the emergency lane?

We do not believe the answer to this question is reasonably debatable, especially since the officer who pulled her over wrote in his report and consistently testified under oath at three different pretrial hearings that he “stopped” her. Finally, in the suppression hearing, he testified that he intended to stop her and he conceded that her reaction to his behavior by pulling over and stopping was reasonable under the circumstances.

He was the only witness who testified at the suppression hearing.

We believe that only outcome driven judicial mendacity by the trial judge and the Court of Appeals, aided and abetted by a strong dose of prosecutorial legerdemain in formulating an argument unsupported by the police officer, who was the only witness, could conclude on this set of undisputed facts that Crane-Station voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact.

Author’s disclosure: Crane-Station is my wife. We were married and I was a law professor when this incident intruded into our lives.

Cross posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and at the Smirking Chimp.


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