Can Shellie Zimmerman testify against her husband in his murder trial

April 20, 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Good morning:

Today’s topic will be the husband-wife marital privilege. What is it? What does it cover? How does it apply to Shellie and George Zimmerman?

The husband-wife marital privilege is an evidentiary rule that protects confidential communications between spouses from disclosure to third parties. The purpose of the rule is to encourage open communication between spouses without fear that one spouse may be forced under penalty of law to disclose what the other said.

The privilege does not apply to all communications; it only applies to communications that were intended to be kept confidential.

Not all confidential communications are protected. For example, in Florida there is no privilege:

(a) In a proceeding brought by or on behalf of one spouse against the other spouse.

(b) In a criminal proceeding in which one spouse is charged with a crime committed at any time against the person or property of the other spouse, or the person or property of a child of either.

(c) In a criminal proceeding in which the communication is offered in evidence by a defendant-spouse who is one of the spouses between whom the communication was made.

See: FL Stat. 90.504(3)

Open communications between spouses in the presence of other people are not confidential. For example, anything the defendant may have stated to his wife in the presence of another person, such as Mark or Sondra Osterman or Frank Taaffe, regarding his encounter with Trayvon Martin before or after the shooting would not be privileged.

Communications between spouses during recorded jailhouse telephone calls are not privileged when the parties are warned at the beginning of the call that it will be recorded.

I believe an interesting argument can be made, pursuant to FL Stat. 90.504(3)(c), that Shellie Zimmerman can testify about disclosures by her husband regarding the alleged murder since she is a “defendant-spouse.” Even though she is a defendant in a different case, the two are related matters.

Certainly the argument is more powerful regarding the admissibility of any statements that her husband may have made to her about her alleged perjury because it occurred at the defendant’s bond hearing in an effort to conceal substantial assets exceeding $100,000 from the court, including a second passport that the defendant may have been planning to use to flee the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution.

Flight to avoid prosecution is admissible to show consciousness of guilt and, as Judge Lester noted in his order setting bail, the evidence supported an inference that only the fortuitous attachment of an ankle bracelet with a GPS device prior to the defendant’s release from jail may have prevented him from fleeing the United States with a valid passport and more than $100,000 of other people’s money.

Should the fortuitous circumstance that related criminal cases are pending against a husband and a wife under different cause numbers, instead of a single cause number, exclude application of section (3)(c)?

What do you think?

(H/T to Searching Mind for spotlighting this issue in comments this morning)

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Thank you,

Fred


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

December 20, 2011

Every good trial lawyer knows how to effectively cross-examine a witness. Unfortunately, very few law schools teach students how to do it, so lawyers usually learn the basics on the job slugging it out in the trenches. That and watching the masters at work is how I learned the craft.

You have to know your case thoroughly and you have to strategize. Sometimes the most effective cross-examination is to rise and say, “I do not have any questions for this witness, your Honor.”

Let us say, for example, that the witness is a nervous and frightened old lady who did not say anything that hurt your client. You might be able to figuratively smack her around on some minor point, but toward what end? The jury would hate you for showing off at her expense. The last thing in the world that you want to do during a jury trial is piss off the jury.

When you decide to cross-examine a witness, you must know exactly what you want to accomplish before you ask a question, and to the maximum extent possible, you must always ask leading questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Never ask open-ended questions that permit a witness to ramble on retelling their story. The jury is more likely to remember what the witness said, if you provide the witness with an opportunity to retell their story.

You cannot get anywhere arguing with or shouting down a witness and calling him a liar. You must always be polite and respectful. Unless the witness is a child, always address the witness formally as Mr., Ms. or Mrs., Dr., Sergeant, Officer, etc. Never address the witness by their first name and always pronounce the person’s name correctly. Remember that you are an officer of the court and comport yourself correctly.

Never ever ask a question, if you do not know what the answer will be. I recall trying a case with a lawyer friend who shall remain nameless. Our respective clients were L.A. gang members (Bloods) indicted in federal court in Tacoma, WA with participating in a multi-state drug conspiracy distributing massive amounts of crack cocaine. In all there were 10 defendants, including our clients.

The government’s case against his client was very weak. Although federal agents arrested his client in the gang’s drug house in Tacoma at the same time they busted the other defendants, the government did not have a witness who could tie him to the gang or implicate him in any drug dealing. They did have a photograph, however, which they seized during a search of the house, in which my friend’s client was flashing gang signs over a pile of money on a table in a kitchen.

The government’s last witness was an FBI agent whom the government called to testify about serving the search warrant and what they found in the residence after they arrested the defendants and searched it. The photograph was one of the last items in a laundry list of evidence that the agents seized. The agent identified it as a photograph of the defendant that he found in the defendant’s backpack. The Assistant U.S. Attorney moved the photograph into evidence and the judge admitted it.

After the Assistant U.S. Attorney concluded the direct examination of the FBI agent without further reference to my friend’s client, I figured his client was home free because the kitchen depicted in the background of the photograph differed significantly from the kitchen depicted in other photographs of the kitchen in the drug house taken by the agents when they raided and searched it. “Not Guilty,” the two sweetest words in the English language, as we defense attorneys used to say, appeared to be the almost certain outcome for my friend’s client, since notwithstanding the gang signs and the pile of money, the government had not presented any evidence regarding when or where the photograph was taken and no witness had ever seen him in the drug house or associating with the defendants who were arrested there.

But it was not to be.

My friend walked over to the lectern, whereupon the following exchange took place,

“Good afternoon, Special Agent Jones.”

“Good afternoon, Counsel.”

“Madame Clerk, would you please hand the witness Government’s Exhibit 1023 A. Thank you.”

Now, Special Agent Jones. I believe you testified on direct that you seized this photograph from my client’s backpack after you arrested him, is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir. Yes, I did.”

“Now, you spent several hours in the house where my client was arrested searching, seizing, and inventorying the evidence that you seized, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir. I actually spent 3.3 hours there.”

“So you had plenty of time to familiarize yourself with every room in the house, including the kitchen, is that correct?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And the kitchen depicted in the background of Government’s Exhibit 1023 A is not the same kitchen, is it?”

“Uhm, you’re right. It isn’t the same kitchen.”

“You’re certain about that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“In fact, you don’t know when or where that photograph was taken, do you?”

“Well, Counselor. As a matter of fact, I do.”

May the record reflect that for the next five minutes the back of my friend’s neck turned an ever intensifying red hue as the smiling Special Agent identified the kitchen as a kitchen in the same gang’s drug house that he had searched pursuant to a search warrant in Los Angeles the day before his client was arrested.

Part 2 tomorrow: Cross-examination by prior inconsistent statement.


Criminal Law: Admissibility of Uncharged Misconduct Evidence

December 18, 2011

Two what?

Author’s note: I refer to the Federal Rules of Evidence for the sake of convenience because most states have adopted them verbatim, or with only slight changes. They have even retained the same numbering system for ease of reference.

In criminal trials, prosecutors often seek to introduce evidence that a defendant has committed misconduct other than that charged in the information or indictment.

Why?

Answer: Since prosecutors are required to overcome the presumption of innocence by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they fear they will not be able to convict a defendant without relying on uncharged misconduct evidence, especially in weak cases.

Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE 401) provides:

Relevant evidence means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

FRE 402 provides:

All relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of the United States, by Act of Congress, by these rules, or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court pursuant to statutory authority. Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible.

No one disputes that, under some circumstances, such evidence is relevant, for example, to show a defendant’s state of mind where his state of mind is an issue in a case.

Let us say that a 31-year-old defendant is charged with statutory rape in a hypothetical jurisdiction where the crime prohibits a person over the age of 25 having sex with a person under the age of 16. He claims that he did not know and had no reason to know that she was underage because she told him she was 19 and she appeared to be that old. Thus, the issue is whether the defendant knew she was under the age of 16 .

Let us further say that the prosecutor can prove that the alleged victim met the defendant when she approached him in a parking lot outside a convenience store and asked him to buy her a pack of cigarettes because she was not old enough to buy them. He agreed, and after he gave her the cigarettes, they spent some time together that ended several hours later when her father discovered them in flagrante delicto while parked outside the family house. A person must be 16 in this jurisdiction to buy cigarettes legally and it is a misdemeanor to purchase cigarettes for a person under the age of 16.

Should the prosecutor be permitted to introduce evidence about the cigarette purchase?

Answer: Yes, the incident is relevant under FRE 402 because it establishes that he knew she was under the age of 16, and relevant evidence is admissible under FRE 401.

What about other instances of uncharged misconduct? Are there other rules that apply?

Answer: Yes, FRE 403 and 404.

FRE 403 provides:

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

Would the cigarette purchase evidence be inadmissible under FRE 403?

Answer: No, because the probative value of the evidence to prove that he knew she was under the age of 16 is high and the danger of unfair prejudice is low. There is little danger that the evidence will confuse the issues, mislead the jury, or waste time.

Note that any analysis under FRE 403 requires a weighing of probative value versus prejudicial effect.

FRE 404 provides:

(a.) Character evidence generally.

Evidence of a person’s character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion, except:

(1.) Character of accused – In a criminal case, evidence of a pertinent trait of character offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or if evidence of a trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime is offered by an accused and admitted under Rule 404 (a)(2), evidence of the same trait of character of the accused offered by the prosecution.

(2.) Character of alleged victim – In a criminal case, and subject to the limitations imposed by Rule 412, evidence of a pertinent trait of character of the alleged victim of the crime offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the alleged victim offered by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the alleged victim was the first aggressor.

(3.) Character of witness – Evidence of the character of a witness, as provided in rules 607, 608, and 609.

(b.) Other crimes, wrongs, or acts.

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident, provided that upon request by the accused, the prosecution in a criminal case shall provide reasonable notice in advance of trial, or during trial if the court excuses pretrial notice on good cause shown, of the general nature of any such evidence it intends to introduce at trial.

(emphasis supplied)

FRE 404(a) states the general rule, which prohibits the use of character evidence (e.g., the defendant is a liar) to prove that the defendant lied on a particular occasion relevant to the case. I believe this rule makes sense because no one lies all the time with the possible exception of the obamanable one, of course. Such evidence would invite the jury to basically presume the defendant lied at the time in question, rather than basing its decision on the evidence, and that would violate the presumption of innocence.

FRE 404(b) begins with a general prohibition against the use of uncharged misconduct. The second sentence sets forth the exceptions.

Uncharged misconduct is admissible to prove:

1. motive,

2. opportunity,

3. intent,

4. preparation,

5. plan

6. knowledge,

7. identity, or

8. absence of mistake or accident.

In our hypothetical, the defendant’s uncharged misconduct (i.e., purchasing cigarettes for the underage girl) would be admissible to show knowledge (i.e., that he knew she was less than 16-years-old) and absence of mistake (i.e., that he did not mistake her to be 16-years-old, or older).

As before, the judge would have to balance the probative value of the evidence against its potential prejudicial effect pursuant to FRE 403, but we all know how that will turn out.

Whether any one or more of these factors will be present in any given case depends on what the prosecution must prove to convict a defendant and whether the prosecutor knows about and can prove prior uncharged misconduct.

Note: FRE 404 applies when a prosecutor seeks to introduce uncharged misconduct evidence during its case-in-chief (i.e., when the prosecution is presenting its case). FRE 609, which governs the admissibility of a defendant’s prior conviction, applies during the defense case after the prosecution rests, if the defendant testifies (i.e., if the defendant testifies, the prosecution gets to introduce the prior conviction to impeach or undermine the defendant’s credibility. The prosecution cannot introduce the prior conviction, if the defendant does not testify). Prior felony convictions are admissible, if less than 10-years-old, subject to the judge weighing the probative value versus the potential prejudice to the defendant, unless the crime involves dishonesty or false statement. Even misdemeanors that involve dishonesty or false statement are admissible under this rule.

Some examples:

1. Prior drug use should be excluded in a drug case since it merely shows propensity to use drugs, which has low probative value and high prejudicial value and it does not fall into any of the 8 exceptions listed in FRE 404(b).

2. A prior felony drug conviction should not be admissible as impeachment, if the defendant testifies, because its potential prejudicial value outweigh its probative value, However, some jurisdictions permit it on the ground that a drug conviction involves dishonesty or false statement.

3. So-called signature crimes are admissible under FRE 404(b) to prove identity of the perpetrator.

Conclusion: The admissibility of uncharged misconduct evidence is one of the most complicated and litigious issues in criminal law. This essay is a brief overview of the subject to explain what it is about in laymen’s terms. Should you or someone you know be involved in a case in which this issue comes up, educate yourself with this article and use it to intelligently discuss the issue with your lawyer. As always, rely on your lawyer. If you do not trust your lawyer, hire another one.


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.


Who Says? Hear Says! Exceptions, That Is

October 23, 2011

Philosophical thought for the day: A rule is not a rule without exceptions, and there are no exceptions, damnit!

Good afternoon class.

Welcome to Hearsay 103.

There are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that one might almost say the exceptions have swallowed the rule. I will discuss several of them in some detail and merely list the others because they do not come up all that often and they are not difficult to understand. For future reference, you can find them listed in rules 803 and 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are cited as FRE 803 and FRE 804. By the way, most of the states have adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence with minor changes and they use the same numbering system. Most of the minor changes are due to a state modifying the federal rule in order to retain the rule or a favored part of the rule that the state used to follow. For your information, the rules of evidence were promulgated by the various supreme courts pursuant to their rule making authority under the state constitutions. For the most part, judges and lawyers in all state and federal courts play with the same set of evidentiary rules and that is a good thing.

As I pointed out in our first class regarding the hearsay rule, the rule is designed to exclude unreliable evidence. Why bother? you might ask. The answer is that all of the rules are designed to filter the evidence that jurors get to hear so that they will not place undue emphasis or reliance on evidence that has little weight or importance. Put another way, judges and lawyers do not trust jurors, so they want to censor what they get to consider. The hearsay rule is a good example.

Recall our example in the first class involving the hapless Peter Piper who will never get to pick his fabled peck of pickled peppers due to Igor Ivarson’s storming rampage through the red light slamming Mr. Piper’s immortal soul through the uprights of heaven leaving his fractured mortal coil bereft and alone in a puddle of blood in the crosswalk of life. Ah, yes. T’was a pity, indeed.

So, we had B, let’s give him a name and call him Beauregard, shall we? Okay, and let’s also give A a name and call her Amanda. So, Beauregard is on the witness stand and the prosecutor asks him,

“What if anything did Amanda say to you at dinner about something that happened at the intersection?”

But for the hearsay objection by defense counsel that any reasonably conscious and sentient judge would have sustained because the answer is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, Amanda would have answered,

“Igor Ivarson ran right through the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

You see, judges and lawyers fear that, if jurors heard the answer, they might place undue emphasis on the un-cross-examined statement of a witness who never actually testified. How can they reasonably and reliably assess Amanda’s credibility by listening to Beauregard drone on about dinner with Amanda?

Enough said.

Now, let’s tweak our fact pattern so that we remove Amanda and Beauregard from their cozy repast at their intimate restaurant and place them together at the intersection with Beauregard talking to his wife on his cell phone while staring at the sky when Igor Ivarson hits the unfortunate Peter Piper. He does not see the accident, but Amanda does. She utters a scream and says, “Oh my God. Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

Flash forward to trial again with Beauregard on the stand and the prosecutor now asks,

“When you were standing on the corner of the intersection talking on your cell phone, what, if anything, did you hear Amanda say?”

Assume you are defense counsel and you stand up and say, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay.”

What happens?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens.

The judge says: “Objection overruled. You may close your mouth and sit down, counsel.”

Saying, “But Judge. Professor Masoninblue says that’s hearsay because its offered to prove the truth of the matter and besides, we all know that we don’t trust juries, right Judge?” will not help you.

Welcome to the first two and likely most often used exceptions to the hearsay rule: Present Sense Impression and Excited Utterance.

FRE 803(1) defines a Present Sense Impression as follows:

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event, or condition, or immediately thereafter.

FRE 803(2) defines an Excited Utterance as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.

Amanda’s statement is admissible hearsay under both the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Why make an exception for these two types of statements and not the statement during the conversation at dinner?

Because the declarant, Amanda, was “describing or explaining an event or condition while [she] was perceiving the event”, and she was “under the stress of excitement caused by the event.” Her statement was an immediate reaction to the accident. She did not have an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and possibly change or even forget her statement. For that reason, her statement is regarded as sufficiently accurate and reliable to be admitted into evidence, even if she does not testify and is not subject to cross examination.

In fact the availability of the declarant to testify at a hearing or trial is immaterial to all of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule that are listed in FRE 803.

I see that we are at 1000 words, so we have reached the end of today’s class and we’ll have to continue our study of the exceptions to the hearsay rule tomorrow.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.


Hearsay, Part Deaux: Frog Gravy Legal Case

October 23, 2011

Good afternoon, class.

Now that you are experts regarding what constitutes hearsay, let’s take a look at an interesting issue in Crane-Station’s case.

The arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie McGuire testified at her Preliminary Hearing that, after she was thoroughly searched at the roadside by a female officer who did not find any contraband or paraphernalia, he arrested her for DUI, handcuffed her with her hands behind her back, placed her in the backseat of his patrol vehicle, and transported her to Lourdes Hospital in Paducah for a blood draw. As he was assisting her to get out of the backseat at the hospital, she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist during the ride and it slipped beyond her reach behind the seat. She asked him to please retrieve it, which he agreed to do.

When the returned to his vehicle after the blood draw, he unlocked the back door, pulled the seat forward, and reached beneath it to grab the watch. When he handed her the watch, he also showed her a small crumb-like object and said, “Sure looks like heroin to me.”

He also testified that he field tested the substance after he took her to jail and it tested negative for the presence of heroin. He said he did not field test it for cocaine because “We knew all along it would be crack.”

In the trial judge’s chambers before jury selection on the first day of the trial, the prosecutor asked the trial judge to prohibit the defense from mentioning during jury selection and opening statement her statement about her watch and her request to retrieve it on the ground that the statements were inadmissible hearsay unless he offered them into evidence as an admission by a party opponent, which he did not intend to do. He also asked the judge to prohibit the defense from attempting to introduce her statements into evidence during the trial or to mention them in closing argument.

The trial judge agreed despite defense counsel’s objection.

To make matters more bizarre, Deputy McGuire changed his testimony regarding how he retrieved the watch. Without mentioning her statements, of course, he said he saw her watch and the rock together in the seatbelt crack in plain view on the seat beside her before he helped her to get out of the backseat after they arrived at the hospital.

When her attorney attempted to confront him on cross examination with the deputy’s prior inconsistent testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing, the prosecutor objected and the trial judge sustained the objection.

In closing argument, the prosecutor argued that she had not explained why her watch was in plain view next to the rock of crack in the seatbelt crack right beside her. Not surprisingly, the jury convicted her of possessing the rock of crack and tampering with evidence (i.e., attempting to conceal it in the seatbelt crack).

Now, let’s analyze her statements. To determine if they were hearsay, we begin by asking if the defense would have offered them to prove the truth of the matters asserted in her statements.

Answer: No, because they would have been offered to show that in response to something she said, he pulled the seat forward to look for her watch and that is when he found it, handed it to her, and produced the crumb-like substance that by his own admission he “knew all along was going to be crack.”

Notice that phrased this way, it is clear that what she actually said was not important. The point is she said something and whatever it was, it prompted him to pull the seat forward and look under it where he found her watch and the crumb-like object. That is, they were not in plain view and we know that because he testified at the Preliminary Hearing under oath that that is how he found the watch and the rock.

Whenever the actual words in a statement do not matter, as is the case here, the statement necessarily is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Make a note of this and remember it because it is very important.

Not only were her statements admissible, the deputy’s previous testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing was admissible to impeach his testimony about finding her watch and the rock together in plain view beside her.

The prosecutor’s incredibly sleazy closing argument commenting on her failure to explain why her watch and the rock were together in plain view, when he persuaded the trial judge to prohibit her from providing that explanation, was an atrocious improper comment on her court ordered silence.

Finally, the trial judge’s evidentiary rulings prevented her from putting on a defense in violation of her Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights.

Namaste

Cross posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

Author’s Note: Due to the length of this essay, I have decided to discuss the rest of the hearsay rule in Part 3 tomorrow.


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