Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments February 19th in Tsarnaev case

February 12, 2015

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments next Thursday, February 19th, to consider Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s request to move his death penalty trial out of Boston. United States District Court Judge George A. O’Toole has denied three defense motions to move the trial and that prompted the defense to go to the appellate court. Meanwhile, jury selection will continue.

The New York Times reports,

In making their requests to move the trial, defense lawyers had cited the attitudes of prospective jurors. They said that of the 1,373 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires, 68 percent said they already believed Mr. Tsarnaev was guilty and 69 percent had said they had a personal connection to the case.

They also cited the outpouring of emotion in Boston on Jan. 28 when a man shoveled off the marathon finish line in the midst of a blizzard. The Boston Athletic Association, which oversees the marathon, issued a statement saying that the act “proves that — in Boston — everyone owns the marathon.”

The defense seized on this as evidence of bias. “Such remarkable and enduring displays of public solidarity in the wake of the Marathon bombings are laudable,” the defense wrote. “But jurors drawn from the community where ‘everyone owns the Marathon’ cannot be dispassionate and impartial.”

Judge O’Toole and the lawyers have individually questioned 173 potential jurors so far in an attempt to create a pool of 60 – 70 potential jurors who have been passed for cause by both sides (i.e., people who claim that they can put aside what they know about the case and any opinions they may have formed about Tsarnaev’s guilt and impartially decide the case solely on the basis of the evidence introduced in court and the jury instructions). Judge O’Toole wants a pool that large before the lawyers exercise their peremptory challenges. Unlike challenges for cause that must be supported by a reason why the potential juror cannot be fair and impartial, peremptory challenges do not require a reason. Each side has 20 peremptory challenges, plus 3 for the 6 alternates. If both sides exercise their full complement of peremptory challenges, 46 potential jurors could be disqualified. To be on the safe side, the pool should consist of 64 potential jurors. They are not there yet, despite a month of jury selection and that demonstrates how tainted the potential jurors are by the extensive pretrial publicity and their feelings about the case.

In addition, a large percentage of the potential jurors would either automatically impose the death penalty if Tsarnaev is convicted or automatically refuse to impose it because they are opposed to it. Only people who can agree to balance evidence in aggravation against evidence in mitigation can serve on the jury. This is called the death qualification process.

I do not believe it’s possible to select a fair and impartial death qualified jury in Boston and I would grant the defense motion for a change of venue, if I were the judge. Judge O’Toole disagrees. Now a three-judge panel will decide whether to keep it in Boston or move it to another location.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Developing Dilemma

January 22, 2015

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

Nevertheless, the government has a problem.

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

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

The Sixth Amendment provides in pertinent part,

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

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

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

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

Crane-Station adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tsarnaev Voir Dire: This is my friend Dzhokhar

January 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O’Ryan Johnson ‏@crimeboston 3h3 hours ago

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

Jim Armstrong ✔ @JimArmstrongWBZ

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

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


Ebola Best and Worst-Case Scenarios

September 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Good morning:

Jury selection continues today in the Michael Dunn retrial.

Crane and I are sitting across from each other in a McDonald’s where we are enjoying free coffee and WiFi. We have reached our destination and we will get hooked up to the internet tomorrow afternoon. We will resume regular posting late tomorrow or Friday.

Crane just posted an article at Firedoglake updating readers on the Ebola epidemic. Read it below.

Meanwhile, jury selection continues today in the Michael Dunn retrial.

Ebola Best and Worst-Case Scenarios

By Crane-Station

On Tuesday, the CDC issued a report based on an epidemiological model, that projected a top-range (worst-case) estimate of Ebola cases in West Africa- what the number could reach – by January 20, 2015 – as well as a best-case scenario. Voa News explains:

Between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa could be infected with the Ebola virus by January 20, 2015, according to a report issued on Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The top range of the estimate, 1.4 million, assumes that the number of cases officially cited so far, 5864 according to the count kept by the World Health Organization, is significantly underreported, and that it is likely that 2.5 times as many cases, or nearly 20,000, have in fact occurred.

The CDC epidemiological model is based on August numbers, and do not take into consideration the recent US government announcement that it will send 3000 troops into Africa as part of the Ebola relief effort. The best-case projection involves getting 70 percent of the patients into facilities where risk of transmission is reduced, as well as burying the dead safely, which could potentially bring the epidemic to an end by January 20.

Extensive, immediate actions- such as those already stated- can bring the epidemic to a tipping point to start a rapid decline in cases,” CDC said in a statement.

Voa News is also reporting that in Liberia, the number of Ebola cases has been doubling every few weeks, posing a threat to the social, economic and political fabric of the country, as it impacts forestry, mining and agriculture.

In the meantime, experimental Ebola drugs will be tested in West Africa. Ebola is an RNA viral infection with no current cure. Details regarding the testing are “under discussion.” Apparently, three drug companies are working with WHO, to develop fast-track protocols.

Also, since Ebola does spread through bodily fluids, and since it can be transmitted from a dying and dead victim to the living, safe burial practices are a concern. Scientific American explains:

Unlike most pathogens, which cannot survive long on a corpse, however, Ebola does remain infectious after a person dies– for how long remains unknown. WHO notes that men who have survived the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery, providing a glimpse into the longevity of this potent pathogen.

In July, Smithsonian addressed the issue of culture, burial practices, and generalized mistrust that occurs, when strangers from another culture and country come to Africa, to retrieve, bag and disinfect loved ones, who are victims of Ebola:

Telling people that they can’t bury their family members according to tradition can be agonizing, and in order to reassure the living and prevent further infections, health workers follow strict guidelines when disposing of bodies. The WHO’s typical burial guidelines for emergency situations extort (sic) workers to prioritize the living over the dead and discourage mass burials, which can be incredibly demoralizing.

References:
CDC – Ebola- Ebola Virus Disease- What’s New

New Modeling Tool for Response to Ebola Virus Disease


Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial

September 16, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good afternoon:

Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial, which is scheduled to start next Monday. To have any chance to convict Michael Dunn of murdering Jordan Davis, the prosecution must screen for, identify and exclude any prospective juror who believes that it’s reasonable to assume that:

(1) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who likes to listen to loud rap music is an angry thug;

(2) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who lips off at an adult white male who orders him to turn down the volume is an angry thug;

(3) a black 16 to 21-year-old male who cranks up the volume after being ordered to turn it down is an angry thug;

(4) it’s reasonable for an adult white male to assume that an angry black thug who confronts him is armed and intends to kill or seriously hurt him; and

(5) it’s reasonably necessary for an adult white male to use deadly force in self-defense to prevent an angry black thug from killing or seriously injuring him.

The best way to determine if any prospective jurors hold these views is to ask them a series of hypothetical questions to discover if they fear black 16 to 21-year-old males.

For example, if you were walking down a sidewalk by yourself and saw a black 16 to 21-year-old male walking toward you, would you,

(a) continue walking toward him and ignore him;

(b) continue walking toward him and greet him;

(c) cross the street and walk down the other side; or

(d) turn around and walk the other way?

The use of hypothetical questions is the best way to uncover racial prejudice.

Can you think of any other hypothetical questions that you might ask during voir dire?

Finally, if you were a prosecutor, would you rather try this case to a judge according to the procedure followed in South Africa?

Would your answer change, if you were defense counsel?

The most important disputed questions of fact in the case are whether Jordan Davis was armed or had something that looked like a weapon in his hands, and if he was attempting to get out of the back seat of the SUV when Dunn squeezed off multiple shots at him.

FYI: Judge Healey denied a defense motion for a change of venue, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach to see if the extensive publicity about the shooting and the first trial has made it impossible to seat a twelve-person jury that can fairly and impartially decide the case (i.e., jurors have already formed an opinion about what the outcome should be). Once chosen, the jury will be sequestered.

This is our 1205th post. If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation.


Tuesday Evening Open Discussion: Comparison of Wafer to Pistorius

July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good evening:

Welcome to the Tuesday Evening Open Discussion where off topic is on topic.

A jury of 12 with two alternates has been selected in the #TheodoreWafer porch-shooting case. Two black females, two black males, one Arab male, two minority females, three white females and four white males. Don’t know anything else about them because jury selection was not televised or live streamed.

I am frustrated by the decision not to broadcast jury selection because that is where most trials are won or lost.

Opening statements will commence at 10 9 am EDT tomorrow. They will be livestreamed as will the rest of the trial.

Many people have compared this case to the Zimmerman case, but I believe it more closely resembles the #OscarPistorius case because the defendants in both cases are claiming self-defense after shooting through locked doors at people whom they say they believed to be an intruder (OP) or potential intruder (TW).

What do you think?

Anything else on your mind?

This is our 1149th post.

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation to enable us to keep the lights on.

Thanks,

Fred


We need to abolish the use of peremptory challenges in jury trials

June 26, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Good morning:

The SCOTUS prohibited the use of peremptory challenges, for which no reason must be given, to systematically exclude blacks from juries in criminal trials of black defendants in Batson v. Kentucky.

Batson permits the use of peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from juries so long as the party challenging the juror has a race neutral reason for asserting the challenge.

The Batson rule applies to all cases, whether criminal or civil, and it has been extended to prohibit the use of peremptory challenges to systematically exclude jurors based on gender or religious affiliation.

Unfortunately, a smart lawyer usually can come up with a race neutral “reason” to exclude a black juror, however unlikely, to pass judicial scrutiny.

The reverse side of that racial injustice is the acquittal by all white juries of guilty white defendants who murdered black victims.

We saw that in the Zimmerman trial.

Justice Thurgood Marshall realized games were being played in the aftermath of Batson. He wanted to solve the problem by getting rid of peremptory challenges.

Until recently I disagreed.

I quit practicing law ten years ago and it has taken me this long to finally change my mind and acknowledge that Justice Marshall was right.

We should not be excluding anyone from serving on a jury without a valid reason. By eliminating peremptory challenges, we would be requiring lawyers to present a convincing case for disqualifying a juror, convincing in the sense that opposing counsel would have an opportunity to rehabilitate a challenged juror.

This is how courts handle challenges for cause. Unless unopposed, each challenge for cause becomes a mini trial decided by the judge after each side gets an opportunity to question the challenged juror.

By forcing lawyers to support a challenge with an evidence based reason, instead of a hunch or a prejudice, we would do no more than subject them to the same standard to which we routinely hold police officers when they arrest a suspect. Such a rule would only improve our system of justice.

If you appreciate what we do, please make a donation.

Thank you,

Fred


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