Does Chris Hedges Have Standing To Sue Barack Obama and Leon Panetta?

January 17, 2012
Gavel Sculpture at  Ohio Judicial Center by Andrew F. Scott (photo: afsart, flickr)

Gavel Sculpture at Ohio Judicial Center by Andrew F. Scott (photo: afsart, flickr)

(h/t to Liz Berry at Firedoglake for alerting me to Chris Hedges’s lawsuit in her post yesterday)

Chris Hedges recently filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which is located in New York City. He is challenging the constitutionality of the National Defense Authorization Act that the president signed into law on December 31, 2011. The law will go into effect on March 3, 2012.

This is the controversial law that authorizes the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone without a trial, including U.S. citizens within the territorial boundaries of our nation, if they are deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. He calls this law “a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.” I agree.

He alleges in his complaint that he is at risk to be detained under this law because, in practicing his profession as a journalist, he already has engaged in activities by spending time with and developing long-term relationships with individuals actively involved in activities to overthrow authoritarian governments that are allied with the United States. He contends that hose activities could arguably constitute a violation of this statute, given its vague and undefined terms like “substantially supported” terrorism, “directly supported” terrorism, and “associated forces” with Al Qaeda.

The Government will no doubt move to dismiss his complaint on the ground that he lacks standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute because he has not been detained under its provisions. This argument has been successful in the past in other cases.

Hedges hopes to satisfy the standing requirement, since he intends to continue to develop relationships with and interview people who are actively involved in challenging authoritarian governments and U.S. corporate power. Given the government’s past behavior targeting and harassing peace, antiwar, and environmental groups for non-violently opposing government and corporate activity, he believes that the government will regard him as a person who supports terrorism, if he should write reports from the field that criticize the U.S. and its military. This would place him at risk to be disappeared into a U.S. gulag by the U.S. military, if the court does not act. Read the rest of this entry »


Forensic Fraud (Part 2)

January 13, 2012

As I said yesterday in Part 1,

One of the biggest problems we’ve seen in crime labs is people testifying as experts regarding matters beyond their expertise.

This happened in Crane-Station’s case when a lab tech with a bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University in Lexington, KY, who routinely analyzes human blood samples for controlled substances in the Central Lab of the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMC), testified as an expert toxicologist regarding the probable effects of Clonazepam on her. He was permitted to do this without objection from her lawyer, even though,

(1) he had not detected Clonazepam, or any other drugs in her blood when he analyzed her sample;

(2) he had no formal training in drug toxicology;

(3) he never had published a peer reviewed article in a professional journal on any subject;

(4) he did not know what constituted a toxic level of Clonazepam in human blood, as opposed to a safe level;

(5) the prosecutor told him that she had admitted taking her prescribed medication when she was arrested, which included Clonazepam, but he had no information regarding what dosage she had taken and when she had taken it.

Nevertheless, he was permitted to express his opinion as an ‘expert’ that she was probably under the influence of and impaired by Clonazepam when the deputy stopped her.

This was a travesty of speculative nonsense and never should have happened.

Now, how is it possible that she could have been under the influence of and impaired by Clonazepam, if he did not detect it in her blood sample?

Well, he testified that it is difficult to detect using gas chromatography and he might have been able to detect it using liquid chromatography, but the Kentucky State Crime Lab cannot afford the equipment to perform that analysis.

Could some other lab have performed the analysis?

Well, as a matter of fact, NMS Labs in Philadelphia can do it and the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory has a contract with NMS to do the test.

Did that happen in Crane’s case?

According to the Director of the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory, the lab sent her blood sample to NMS.

But Ryan Johnson claims that he did not send her blood sample to another lab and the prosecution denies that another lab tested her sample, or that there is an exculpatory lab result from NMS.

However, there is a 2-month gap between the date that Ryan Johnson completed his analysis and the date that it was approved by his supervisor.

Sure looks like he completed his analysis and sent her sample to NMS. They tested it and sent it back reporting an exculpatory result confirming his analysis without generating a written report, so his supervisor reviewed and signed off on his exculpatory result. Then the prosecution turned over his report without mentioning the NMS report.

NMS has referred all inquiries to the prosecutor and, as I said, the prosecutor claims there is no NMS Report or analysis.

This is the kind of bullshit that we are dealing with.


Forensic Fraud (Part 1)

January 12, 2012

Forensic fraud is an ongoing serious problem in our courts.

For example, in State v. Kunze, 97 Wn.App. 832, 988 P.2d 977 (1999), the Washington State Court of Appeals reversed David Kunze’s conviction for killing James McCann, a man who had informed him four days earlier that he was going to marry Kunze’s ex-wife. Kunze and his ex-wife had divorced 8 months earlier after 18 years of marriage and Kunze was reportedly upset when he heard the news. The court related the pertinent facts as follows.

In the early morning hours of December 16, 1994, an intruder entered the Clark County home of James McCann. McCann was asleep in the master bedroom. His son Tyler, age 13, was asleep in another bedroom. The intruder bludgeoned McCann in the head with a blunt object, causing his death. The intruder also bludgeoned Tyler in the head, causing a fractured skull. When the intruder left, Tyler crawled out to the front porch, where he was found after daylight by a passerby.

While awaiting surgery at the hospital, Tyler told the police that he had been afraid to look at his attacker closely. He thought, however, that the attacker was a darkly complected male, possibly Puerto Rican, about six feet tall with medium build, dark or black hair to mid-ear, 25 to 30 years of age, and a deep voice. Tyler later recalled that the attacker wore gloves but not glasses, and had a flashlight in his mouth. Kunze is in his mid-forties, wears glasses, and has reddish-blond hair.

Back at the house, the police observed that the intruder had opened drawers and cabinets without disturbing the contents. They also found that the intruder had taken a TV, a VCR, stereo speakers, a “boom box,” McCann’s wallet containing identification and credit cards, McCann’s truck, and various other items.

George Millar, a fingerprint technician with the Washington State Crime Laboratory, processed the home for evidence. He discovered a partial latent earprint on the hallway-side surface of McCann’s bedroom door. He “dusted” the print by applying black fingerprint powder with a fiberglass brush. He “lifted” the print by applying palm-print tape first to the door and then to a palm-print card. The resulting print showed the antitragus and portions of the tragus, helix, helix rim, and antihelix. The external features of a complete ear are shown in the following diagram.

(diagram omitted)

On or about March 28, 1995, Michael Grubb, a criminologist with the Washington State Crime Laboratory, compared the latent print from McCann’s bedroom door with photos of the left side of Kunze’s face. He concluded that the latent print “could have been made by Dave Kunze.” He also thought that “[i]t may be possible to obtain additional information by comparing the [latent print] to exemplar impressions.”

On September 21, 1995, Millar and Grubb met with Kunze to obtain earprint exemplars. Neither had taken an earprint exemplar before, although each had practiced on laboratory staff in preparation for meeting with Kunze. For each of the seven exemplars they took, they had Kunze put hand lotion on his ear and press the ear against a glass surface with a different degree of pressure (“light,” “medium,” or “hard”). They then dusted the glass with fingerprint powder and used palm-print tape to transfer the resulting impression onto a transparent plastic overlay.

The reason Millar and Grubb took multiple exemplars is that they were consciously trying to produce one that would match (i.e., “duplicate” the latent print from McCann’s door. They knew that earprints of the same ear vary according to the angle and rotation of the head, and also according to the degree of pressure with which the head is pressed against the receiving surface. They did not know the angle and rotation of the head that made the latent print, or the degree of pressure with which that head had been pressed against McCann’s door. Hoping to compensate for these difficulties, they told Kunze to use a different degree of pressure each time (“light,” “medium” or “hard”), and they looked at the latent print as they worked.

After Millar and Grubb took the exemplars, they were asked to compare them to the latent print. Millar declined because his laboratory supervisor thought that earprint identification was “out of the expertise of the [crime lab’s] latent unit.” Grubb went ahead, concluding that “David Kunze is a likely source for the earprint and cheekprint which were lifted from the outside of the bedroom door at the homicide scene.”

After reviewing the testimony of 3 forensic scientists, who testified for the prosecution, and 12 forensic scientists, who testified for the defense, the court held that earprint-identification evidence should not have been admitted at trial because it is not generally accepted in the forensic science community.

I had known Mike Grubb professionally for many years because he was often involved in cases that I handled. I was shocked when I read the Kunze case and found out that he had testified that earprint-identification evidence is generally accepted in the community of forensic scientists because that is absolutely false. At the time, he was the acting supervisor of the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Seattle and one of the state’s most experienced and respected forensic scientists. I believe he must have known that earprint-identification evidence is not generally accepted by forensic scientists when he testified that it was.

Why did he testify that it was?

I suspect he did because he viewed himself to be a member of the prosecution team, rather than an independent forensic scientist doing his job and letting the chips fall wherever they may.

Most, and probably all publicly owned and operated forensic crime laboratories, including the FBI Crime Lab obviously, are agencies within a law enforcement agency. Over the years, I have known many forensic scientists and many of them have complained privately to me that, as a quasi law enforcement agency, they occasionally have felt pressured to assist the prosecution by rendering improper opinions that will convict a defendant. The feel like it is too easy to get caught up by the fever to build a case that convicts a prime suspect and they wish they could be an independent agency.

On the other hand, there are many forensic scientists who see themselves as a modern day Sherlock Holmes, a crime solver who helps law enforcement nail the perpetrator. In other words, the ultimate team player. This is the mentality, for example, that you see when you watch a show like CSI.

Apparently, Mike Grubb falls into this latter category.

BTW, he moved on after the Kunze case to become the head of the San Diego Crime Lab.

The Innocence Project in New York City, which has freed 284 wrongfully convicted innocent people by post-conviction DNA testing, has identified forensic fraud as one of the 7 causes of wrongful convictions. This is what they say about forensic fraud.

The risk of misconduct starts at the crime scene, where evidence can be planted, destroyed or mishandled. Evidence is later sent to a forensic lab or independent contractor, where it can be contaminated, poorly tested, consumed unnecessarily or mislabeled. Then, in the reporting of test results, technicians and their superiors sometimes have misrepresented their findings. DNA exonerations have even revealed instances of “drylabbing” evidence – reporting results when no test was actually performed.

All over the map

The Innocence Project has seen forensic misconduct by scientists, experts and prosecutors lead to wrongful conviction in many states. The following are among the more notorious:

• A former director of the West Virginia state crime lab, Fred Zain, testified for the prosecution in 12 states over his career, including dozens of cases in West Virginia and Texas. DNA exonerations and new evidence in other cases have shown that Zain fabricated results, lied on the stand about results and willfully omitted evidence from his reports.

• Pamela Fish, a Chicago lab technician, testified for the prosecution about false matches and suspicious results in the trials of at least eight defendants who were convicted, then proven innocent years later by DNA testing.

• A two-year investigation of the Houston crime lab, completed in 2007, showed that evidence in that lab was mishandled and results were misreported.

Tomorrow in Part 2, I will review some forensic butchery in Crane-Station’s case.


Opinion Evidence, Expert Witnesses, And The Plight Of The Injured Plaintiff

January 9, 2012

Junk science and the charlatans for sale who rely on it while masquerading as objective experts above the fray of litigation constitute a serious and continuing problem to the fair administration of justice in our legal system.

The Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) distinguish between ordinary witnesses and expert witnesses. With a few exceptions, such as whether a person appeared to be intoxicated or how fast someone was driving, ordinary witnesses are supposed to restrict their testimony to facts they perceive through their five senses. Experts are permitted to express opinions that are typically expressed to a “reasonable scientific (or medical) certainty.” A major part of the problem for indigent and poor plaintiffs is lack of sufficient funds to hire sufficiently qualified experts. Plaintiffs personal injury lawyers usually advance the costs of such witnesses and reimburse themselves out of a favorable money judgment. In practice, this means that they will not agree to take a case unless they are virtually certain they will win. It also means that the lawyer or firm that takes the case must have a big war chest and there are not very many who do. Meanwhile, corporations and insurance companies have virtually unlimited funds available to retain multiple experts and they routinely subject plaintiffs to delays and hurdles to leap until money runs out and they settle the case for less than it is worth or they drop out.

Fortunately, in criminal cases, an indigent defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to have the court appoint and compensate an expert when an expert’s assistance is “reasonably necessary” to present a defense. Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985).

There are any number of urban legends about undeserving plaintiffs who won multiple million dollar judgments against ‘poor’ corporations and insurance companies, but I doubt that any of the stories are true. Even if some of them are true, they pale when considering the following studies.

When considering whether there should be limits on tort liability for damages due to personal injury, keep in mind that, according to HealthGrades’ fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, patient safety incidents cost the federal Medicare program $8.8 billion and resulted in 238,337 potentially preventable deaths during 2004 through 2006.

This study followed HealthGrades’ studies in 2000-2002 that reported 195,000 preventable deaths per year in U.S. hospitals.

Here are the applicable rules regarding ordinary and expert witness testimony.

As you read the rules and my discussion of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals that follows, keep in mind that one of the many evidence-based debates that we should be having as an educated democratic society, but tragically are not having, is what should we do to reform these rules and other practices to assure fair and equitable results to economically disadvantaged people who suffer personal injury.

Rule 701 provides:

If the witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness’ testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is limited to those opinions or inferences which are

(a) rationally based on the perception of the witness,

(b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’ testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and

(c) not based on scientific, technical, other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.

Rule 702 provides:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion, or otherwise, if

(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data,

(2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and

(3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the United States Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals for birth defects allegedly caused by Bendectin, a drug manufactured by Merrell Dow to prevent pregnant women from suffering morning sickness. The plaintiffs had relied on in vitro and in vivo animal studies, pharmacological studies, and reanalysis of other published studies to show that Bendectin could have caused the birth defects. Nevertheless, trial court had dismissed their lawsuit based on the Frye Rule, which prohibits the use of evidence that has been obtained from using a scientific methodology or process that has not been generally accepted in the scientific community.

The United States Supreme Court rejected the Frye Rule in Daubert as unnecessarily restrictive of new discoveries in science because it amounted to little more than counting heads in the scientific community to determine if a principle or methodology was generally accepted rather than evaluating the merits of the new principle or methodology. Therefore, even though the scientific community had not yet generally accepted that Bendectin caused birth defects, the Court concluded that the studies relied on by the plaintiffs were sufficient such that they should have been been permitted to present them to a jury to consider.

In Daubert the Court basically appointed trial judges to function as gatekeepers in determining whether to admit evidence based on novel scientific principles or methodologies. The Court set forth a non-exclusive checklist for trial judges to apply in assessing the reliability of scientific evidence. The specific factors the Court mentioned are:

(1) whether the expert’s technique or theory can be or has been tested according to some objective process,

(2) whether the technique or theory has been subjected to peer review and publication,

(3) whether there was a known or potential rate of error for the technique or theory and, if so, whether it was applied,

(4) whether applicable laboratory standards and controls were used, and

(5) whether the technique or theory used has been generally accepted in the scientific community (which is the Frye Rule downgraded from an outcome-determinative rule to one of several factors that should be considered).


The Wenatchee Sex Ring Case: UPDATED

January 7, 2012

Before I accepted an offer to teach at the American Justice School of Law (AJSL), a start-up law school in Paducah, Kentucky, as well as organize and manage the school’s innocence project, I warned the dean and assistant dean that I wanted their assurance that they would support me, if I questioned and attempted to change the criminal justice system in Paducah. I had previously done that in Wenatchee, Washington with Innocence Project Northwest, an organization that I had cofounded at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. The legal and political turmoil that we caused in Wenatchee was still ongoing and I wanted them to know that I would do everything within my power to root out injustice in Paducah, if I found it, no matter how that might impact the school. Both men promised me they would have my back and I accepted their offer of employment.

When Crane-Station and I arrived in Paducah in June, 2006, I discovered that the deans had been recruiting students to enroll at AJSL by using my name and national reputation from our work in the Wenatchee case. I had more or less expected them to do this, so I was not surprised. In fact, I was rather pleased, as I have always viewed myself as a revolutionary and derived considerable pride from instigating change. Nevertheless, I soon found myself checkmated after Crane-Station was arrested because I feared what might happen to her, if I pushed too hard. We have often wondered if the prosecution’s determination to get a conviction and send her to prison for as long as possible, even if it had to withhold evidence, cheat, and suborn perjury to do so, was a reaction to my presence here and the threat that I represented to the conduct of business as usual in this immensely corrupt river town.

I will be writing more about that corruption in the future. Before I do, however, I want to tell y’all a little bit about the Wenatchee Sex Ring case, so that you might better understand why we believe Crane-Station was railroaded into prison to neutralize me. After all, that is an extraordinary claim to make and we believe y’all deserve to know why we believe that is what happened.

The first thing y’all have to understand is that the Wenatchee Sex Ring never existed. It was the product of the prejudiced mind and fevered sexual imagination of a Wenatchee police officer named Bob Perez and several child welfare social workers. The defendants and their children were poor white folks living on welfare and social security disability payments. They belonged to the same church and stood out in an otherwise economically well off community. Many of the parents and their children were developmentally disabled and viewed by many in the community with suspicion and distrust, if not outright hostility. Despite an absence of any evidence, Perez and the social workers also suspected the parents were sexual perverts.

That situation changed when one young girl told her mentally disabled mother, Idella Everett, that several boys in her class at school had jumped her in an alley as she was walking home from school and forcibly touched her privates. The mother reported the matter to a state social worker who suspected the mother and the child were lying in order to protect the child’s father, Harold Everettt, by blaming the boys for bruises in the child’s genital area. When Idella insisted that Harold would never do that to a child, she decided that both parents were sexually abusing the child in the home on an ongoing basis, even though the child persistently denied it. She then persuaded Idella that it was in the best interests of the child to remove her from the home and place her in a loving and nurturing foster home for awhile and put her in therapy to deal with her issues. Not knowing that she had a right to refuse the placement and concerned about her daughter’s welfare, Idella signed a consent form agreeing to the placement.

Well, the loving and nurturing foster home turned out to be the police officer’s home. He and his wife kept repeating that they knew her parents were “very sick and needed help.” They explained the situation to the therapist to make sure that he ‘knew’ that the girl was been sexually abused by her parents over an extended period of time and they decided to work together to convince the girl that her siblings, who were still living in the home, were in danger of being sexually abused by sick parents who needed help to prevent them from victimizing her siblings. They played on her love for her family insisting that unless she told the ‘truth’ (i.e., that her parents had sexually abused her) so that they could provide the help that the parents needed to get better, her siblings would suffer the inevitable unpleasant consequences and it would be her fault because she did not tell the truth. They never told her that getting her parents the help they needed meant convicting them of raping children and sentencing them to prison for more than 20 years.

As ya’ll can imagine, the girl soon buckled under that pressure and told them what they wanted to hear about her parents. Police immediately arrested the parents who immediately protested that they were innocent. The police accused them of lying, separated them, transported them to the police station, and placed them in separate interview rooms. Then they lied telling each of them that the other had confessed that both of them had raped their children and they would spend the rest of their lives in prison, unless they confessed and pled guilty.

Lawyers were not appointed to represent them until after they signed their confessions.

Meanwhile, the police officer continued to tell the girl that he ‘knew’ more adults were involved. When the minister of the church held a public meeting at the church to discuss the arrests and publicly announced that the church membership believed the girl’s parents were innocent victims of a witchhunt investigation and prosecution, the officer and the social worker decided that the minister and everyone who supported him must belong to the sex ring. He told the girl he believed they were involved and sure enough, she agreed.

The police then focused their investigation on interviewing the children of those individuals. They went to the schools that the children attended, pulled them out of their classes and interviewed them individually using the same tactics they used with girl. In most cases, the children buckled under pressure and told them what they wanted to hear.

That led to another wave of arrests with police employing the same tactics they had used with the child’s parents to extract false confessions. Eventually, all of the parents pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms exceeding 20 years.

Eventually, many of the children recanted their false accusations and there was any physical evidence corroborating the accusations.

I decided to get involved when I read The Power to Harm, an expose of the incredible injustice that had taken place in Wenatchee written by Andrew Schneider and Mike Barber, reporters for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I recruited 40 lawyers in Seattle to work for free and teamed them up with law students to represent 17 of the innocent men and women who were wrongfully convicted. We succeeded in freeing all of our clients even though all of them had pleaded guilty.

In recognition of our efforts, the National Law Journal awarded Innocence Project Northwest and our teams of lawyers and students its prestigious Indigent Defense Award in 2000.

I do not believe the corrupt legal system in Paducah welcomed my arrival.

EDIT: In the paragraph that begins with the word, ‘eventually’,I corrected a mistake by adding the word never, which is italicized.

Unfortunately, I also inexplicably forgot to mention that all of my innocence project files were in the car when Crane-Station was pulled over and the officers can be seen in the in-dash video reading through them with flashlights using the lid of the trunk as a desk.

This occurred before she was transported to the hospital for the blood draw and before the ‘discovery’ of the controlled substance that started out being heroin and later became crack.

I apologize for the omissions.


The Decision From Hell (Part 3)

December 29, 2011

In Part 1 of this series of posts about the decision from hell, as I have come to call it, I criticized the first part of the Kentucky State Court of Appeals decision in Crane Station’s case.

That part affirmed the circuit court’s pretrial and supplementary post trial decision denying her motion to suppress evidence. In so doing, the Court of Appeals ignored binding legal precedent by United States Supreme Court and Kentucky State Supreme Court cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals, in effect, established a new rule that trial courts may consider evidence acquired after an investigatory stop without the requisite reasonable suspicion in determining whether a police officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. In other words, an otherwise unlawful investigatory stop becomes lawful, if the officer discovers evidence of a crime!

In Part 2, I criticized the Court of Appeals decision that, even if the circuit court improperly restricted her from cross examining the arresting officer, the error was harmless and the conviction should be affirmed. I pointed out there is no question that (1) the trial judge improperly restricted the cross examination and (2) the error violated her Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Further, because the error involved a constitutional right, the Court of Appeals had applied the wrong rule in determining whether the error was harmless.

If the Court of Appeals had applied the correct rule in Crane’s case, it should have reversed her conviction. Why? Because the correct rule would have required it to conclude that the error affected the outcome of the trial, unless the prosecution could have satisfied it beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not. I demonstrated how that was an impossible in Crane’s case.

Now, let us proceed to take a look at, believe it or not, the most egregious error committed by the Court of Appeals.

After the prosecution rested its case, the defense asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal on the DUI charge. The trial judge denied the request and the jury subsequently convicted Crane of DUI. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial of her request.

The problem with this decision is that it ignores the results of two scientific tests of Crane’s blood sample by analysts at the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory that conclusively established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

KRS 189A.010, which defines the crime of DUI, required the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Crane operated her motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance or combination of substances which impairs one’s driving ability.

The Court of Appeals said,

The evidence elicited at trial established that Leatherman admitted to Deputy McGuire that she was taking three prescription medications, including Clonazepam, which contains a warning regarding driving while on that medication. Deputy McGuire also testified to his observations of Leatherman’s behavior, including the results of the HGN test showing intoxication.

Furthermore, Mr. Wilkey (the 911 caller) testified at trial that Leatherman and her husband visited him several months after the incident regarding his upcoming testimony. He reported that Leatherman told him that she was unable to remember what they discussed because she was “whacked out.” This evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is of sufficient substance to permit the question of guilt to go to the jury. (citation omitted)

Putting aside for the moment that I was there, she did not say that or anything like it, I told her lawyer that she did not say that, I asked him to call me as a witness, and he failed to call me as a witness,

The simple fact remains that two scientific tests established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.

That simple fact also establishes to a reasonable scientific certainty that the deputy and the 911 caller were mistaken or lying when they testified that she appeared to be intoxicated. Further, the HGN test is just a non invasive screening test that indicates possible alcohol or drug impairment that needs to be confirmed by a breath or blood test. Here, the blood test did not confirm impairment and the HGN was not even administered in the proper fashion.

This is a very dangerous precedent, if it is allowed to stand, because it basically says that mistaken and unreliable eyewitness testimony can trump scientific test results that establish innocence to a reasonable scientific certainty.

So much for exculpatory DNA testing . . .

I guess this is the Kentucky Court of Appeals solution to ‘solving’ the alarming, embarrassing, and escalating number of wrongful convictions of innocent people, including many people on death row, as conclusively established by post conviction DNA testing.

Do not attempt to reform the system because that would involve admitting something is wrong. Instead, just disappear wrongful convictions altogether by setting up a false equivalence that a scientific test result is not more accurate and reliable than a lay witness’s opinion and let a jury decide which to believe.

Will the Kentucky State Supreme Court deny Crane’s motion for discretionary review and allow this case to rewrite federal and state constitutional law and ‘solve’ the wrongful conviction problem by ignoring and disappearing it?

Stay tuned.


The Decision From Hell (Part 2)

December 28, 2011

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this post, I critiqued the first part of the Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s denial of her pretrial motion to suppress evidence.

I concluded that the Court of Appeals erred because it improperly relied on evidence (1) obtained after the deputy stopped Crane Station and (2) facts invented by the trial court. The Court of Appeals also (3) erroneously claimed that her appellate lawyer had failed to challenge any of the trial court’s findings of fact. I provided links to the decision by the Court of Appeals and Crane’s Opening Brief on Appeal and her Reply Brief.

In a related post today entitled How Could Judge Taylor Forget Garcia v. Commonwealth, I discussed a decision he wrote reaching the opposite conclusion on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. You may find that to be an interesting and helpful follow-up to Part 1 since he is one the three judges who decided her case. I also referenced Crane’s Petition for Rehearing of the decision by the Court of Appeals just so there is no misunderstanding or confusion regarding whether her lawyer challenged the findings of fact.

This first part of the decision by the Court of Appeals stands for the proposition that a motion to suppress based on an argument that a police officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop someone can be decided on the basis of information he acquires after the stop. Likewise an argument that a police officer lacked probable cause to arrest can be decided on the basis of evidence that turns up after the arrest. Both principles are contrary to long established federal and state case law and eviscerate the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, the Kentucky State Supreme Court must grant discretionary review and reverse the Court of Appeals. If it does not, trial courts across the state will create havoc by following the decision by the Court of Appeals and denying motions to suppress in violation of a long line of state and federal cases. Eventually, the Supreme Court would have to grant review in one of those cases and overrule the Court of Appeals in the Leatherman case.

That is why it is necessary to grant discretionary review.

Today, I will critique that part of the decision that deals with Crane’s statement that her watch had fallen behind the seat during the ride to the hospital and her request for the deputy’s assistance to retrieve her watch for her.

Tomorrow in Part 3, I will deal with the final issue; namely, the decision by the Court of Appeals that the trial court properly denied her motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on the DUI charge. Due to the length of today’s article, I have decided that I should discuss the latter issue in a separate post.

When Deputy McGuire assisted Crane to get out of the back seat of his patrol vehicle at the hospital (because she was handcuffed with her hands behind her back), she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist and dropped behind the rear seat during the ride. She asked him to please retrieve it for her. That is undisputed.

At the preliminary hearing, McGuire testified that, after they returned to his vehicle following the blood draw, he pulled the seat back, saw the watch and the suspected controlled substance near it, and seized both of them. When her lawyer asked him if he could see the two items before he pulled the seat back, he said. “No.” However, at the suppression hearing, he testified that he saw both items in “plain view” sitting at the top of the seatbelt crack next to where she was sitting when he opened the door to assist her to get out of his vehicle at the hospital.

Those two statements are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true and there is no question that Crane’s lawyer was entitled to challenge the deputy’s credibility at trial by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the trial judge sustained an improper objection by the prosecutor to that line of inquiry preventing him from eliciting the inconsistent statement.

Why did the trial judge do that?

Before jury selection, the trial judge granted the prosecutor’s motion in limine (i.e., at the beginning) for an order preventing the defense from introducing Crane’s statement about her watch and her request for his assistance in retrieving it on the ground that her statement was inadmissible hearsay.

I have addressed this issue previously in Hearsay, Part Deaux.

The judge’s ruling was improper because the statement was not hearsay, since it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. It was offered to show that, as a result of something she said (and it really does not matter what it was, which is why it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted), he pulled the seat back to look for her watch and found both the watch and the suspected controlled substance in proximity to each other.

There is nothing misleading or improper about allowing the jury to hear that evidence because that is the way it happened, according to the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing.

Instead, the jury only heard the deputy’s trial version of his discovery, which was that he found her watch and the suspected controlled substance in plain view on top of the rear seat in the seatbelt crack right next to where she was sitting. To make matters worse, in his final summation the prosecutor said the proximity of her watch to the suspected controlled substance in plain view amounted to her “autograph” on the controlled substance and she had not offered any explanation for how they happened to be in plain view together in the seatbelt crack right next to her.

It’s not surprising in the least that the jury found her guilty of possession and evidence tampering for attempting to conceal the rock of crack. Would the jury have convicted her if they knew that the deputy found the rock not in plain view, but under his back seat because she asked him to retrieve her watch from under the seat?

I do not believe the jury would have convicted her because who would ask a police officer to retrieve their watch from under the seat, if they had lost the watch while attempting to slough a controlled substance?

That was her defense, but the trial judge took it away from her with his ruling in limine.

The Court of Appeals did not decide whether her statement about her watch and request for his assistance to find her watch was inadmissible hearsay. Instead, it dodged the issue by saying the error, if any, was harmless because she could have testified about her statement and request. Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial judge told her that she could testify about it.

Why does this not make any sense?

(1) If the statement were hearsay, it is not admissible, whether or not she testifies. That is the law and the trial judge cannot create an exception that does not exist.

(2) She had a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment not to testify and a right to have the judge instruct the jury that it cannot hold her silence against her. In other words, silence is not evidence of guilt.

(3) The judge’s unlawful exception was a manipulative and coercive effort to force her to testify against her will in violation of her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not have her silence held against her.

(4) If she had testified, the jury would have been presented with a classic he-said-she-said controversy in which he said he found her watch and the rock together in plain view at the top of the seatbelt crack on the seat right next to her, and she said he found it under the seat after she asked him to look for her watch. Not even the longest long shot Louie at Hialeah would put a fin on her fate in such a swearing contest.

(5) Who could deny that the odds on the outcome of that he-said-she-said swearing contest would change dramatically, if the jury found out that the deputy had previously testified under oath at the preliminary hearing, about a week after her arrest, confirming her statement. The suppression hearing was five months after her arrest and the trial was 18 months after her arrest, by the way. There can be little doubt that the jury would have believed her and disbelieved his plain-view testimony. Then their whole case falls apart.

(6) That is why her lawyer’s attempt to cross examine the deputy by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing was proper and legitimate.

To call this error harmless is disingenuous and absurd. But guess what? That is not even the right test. Why is it not the right test?

The trial judge’s order in limine and his ruling preventing her lawyer from impeaching the deputy with the deputy’s prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing took away her defense.

A defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to put on a defense and her right to do that was denied to her by the trial judge’s rulings and aggravated by the prosecutor’s closing argument in which he commented on her silence, which is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment. He also attempted to switch the burden of proof over to her to prove her innocence, which is a denial of due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

When the court and a prosecutor violate a defendant’s constitutional rights, the test presumes the error affected the outcome of the trial and the prosecution must rebut that presumption by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not.That is a far different test from the one employed by the Court of Appeals.

There is no way the prosecution can meet its burden in this case. Therefore, the Court of Appeals must be reversed on this issue.

Until tomorrow . . .


How Could Judge Taylor Forget Garcia v. Commonwealth?

December 28, 2011

Note: I am cross posting this article from Crane Station’s site with her permission. In the article, she points out that Judge Taylor, who signed off on the opinion written by Judge Lambert in her case affirming the trial judge’s denial of her motion to suppress evidence, reached the opposite conclusion in an opinion that he wrote in Garcia v. Commonwealth. Judge Taylor was certainly free to change his mind. Judges who change their minds, typically write a concurring opinion explaining why they changed their mind. Usually a judge will change his mind because the Supreme Court has rendered a decision changing the law and the decision is binding precedent. The judge has no choice when that happens. Other times, for one reason or another, the judge will conclude that there is some significant fact in the case that differs from the earlier case causing him to reach an apparently contradictory conclusion. When that happens, the judge will write a concurring opinion distinguishing the two cases.

Judge Taylor, however, has remained silent, even though Crane’s lawyer handling the appeal specifically mentioned the contradiction in her Petition for Rehearing.

I suspect the answer may be due to the panel’s false assumptions (1) to rely on after-acquired and false information to support the trial judge’s clearly erroneous findings of fact and (2) to falsely declare that her lawyer failed to challenge any of the trial court’s findings of fact. I specifically addressed and shot down these false assumptions in The Decision From Hell (Part 1).

Judge Taylor’s refusal to explain himself and the panel’s refusal to mention and explain why the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Hensley does not require reversal is inexcusable and reflects poorly on the judges who decided the case, the Court of Appeals, and the legal system in general.

For those of you following the legal case, bear in mind that the case is no longer about me. The fact that the Kentucky Court of Appeals has designated the opinion in my case “to be published” means that they have deemed the case serious and important enough that it has precedential value for any and all related cases in the future; the Court seeks to make the Leatherman case available for future citation as binding case law.

In the Petition for Rehearing, Hon. Julia Pearson discussed a published Kentucky case, Garcia v. Commonwealth.

This Court also ignored Garcia v. Commonwealth, in which a member of this panel found the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver who “quickly changed to the right lane” as a Kentucky State Police Trooper approached the vehicle. 185 S.W.3d 658, 660-661 (Ky. App. 2006). The panel found that “Garcia’s nervousness, lane change, failure to make eye contact, ‘death grip’ on the steering wheel, and out-of-state license plate. . . . describe a substantial number of drivers on our highways.” Further, the panel said, “[i]f we were to accept the Commonwealth’s argument, ordinary law abiding citizens could be subjected to a stop by police based upon routine driving habits.” Id., at 665.

Contrast Garcia’s behavior with that of Rachel Leatherman in the case at bar. According to the officers in each case, both Leatherman and Garcia appeared nervous and changed lanes and had out-of-state license plates. The difference is that Leatherman driving with a turn signal blinking is somehow seen as suspicious behavior rather than the routine (for some drivers) driving habit that it unfortunately is.

The author of the published opinion in Garcia v. Commonwealth is Judge Taylor. Judge Taylor was a member of the panel in Leatherman as well. The Petition for Rehearing in Leatherman v. Commonwealth was denied without comment by judges Taylor, Lambert and Isaacs.

Note the ultimate irony, as stated by Hon. Julia Pearson:

The ultimate irony for this case is that after the hour and one-half Deputy McGuire held Rachel Leatherman on the side of the road, he found nothing illegal. This Court stated as much when it said, “consent searches of her automobile and her person did not reveal any heroin or any other illegal substance.” Leatherman, supra, 2011 WL 181251, at *7.

Such was not the case in Garcia.

Judge Taylor wrote the Garcia opinion. How could he sign off on, and seek publication of, the Leatherman opinion, reaching the opposite conclusion that he reached when he wrote Garcia? We do not know the answer to this question. At the vary least, Judge Taylor should have written a concurring opinion explaining why he reached the opposite conclusion, but he did not. His silence is deafening.

Here is the Garcia opinion that Judge Taylor wrote:

Garcia v. Commonwealth

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF KENTUCKY

February 24, 2006

FRANCISCO GARCIA APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE
HEINRICH LETKEMAN APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

APPEAL FROM FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE WILLIAM L. GRAHAM, JUDGE ACTION Nos. 04-CR-00045-001 & 04-CR-00045-002.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Taylor, Judge

TO BE PUBLISHED

OPINION

(1)REVERSING AND REMANDING APPEAL NO. 2004-CA-002271-MR

(2) AFFIRMING APPEAL NO. 2004-CA-002283-MR

BEFORE: MINTON, SCHRODER, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES

Francisco Garcia brings Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR from an October 4, 2004, judgment of the Franklin Circuit Court entered upon a conditional plea of guilty to trafficking in marijuana. Heinrich Letkeman brings Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR from an October 4, 2004, judgment of the Franklin Circuit Court entered upon a conditional plea of guilty to trafficking in marijuana. We reverse and remand Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR. We affirm Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR.

On March 6, 2004, Garcia and his passenger, Letkeman, were traveling upon Interstate 64 in a 1993 Dodge Caravan. Kentucky State Trooper Jeremy Devasher approached the vehicle and noticed the vehicle quickly changed to the right lane. The trooper testified that he pulled his cruiser alongside the vehicle. Trooper Devasher thought that the driver, Garcia, looked nervous because he avoided making eye contact with the trooper and kept a “death grip” on the steering wheel of the vehicle. The trooper then observed cracks in the windshield of Garcia’s vehicle and thought the cracks impaired Garcia’s forward vision. At this point, Trooper Devasher stopped the vehicle for a traffic violation.

Trooper Devasher testified that he asked Garcia a series of questions in both English and Spanish; consequently, the trooper believed Garcia spoke English very well. Trooper Devasher testified that Garcia and Letkeman’s stories concerning their travel plans fell apart upon further questioning. The trooper also noted that neither had any luggage for a purported trip to Virginia.

The trooper issued a citation for a cracked windshield pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 189.110. After issuing the citation, the trooper informed Garcia the traffic stop was complete and he was free to leave. Trooper Devasher then asked Garcia for permission to search the vehicle. The trooper testified that Garcia nodded affirmatively and pointed to the vehicle. A search was commenced, and ten bricks of marijuana were seized from the vehicle.

Garcia and Letkeman were indicted by the Franklin County Grand Jury upon the offense of trafficking in marijuana over five pounds (KRS 218A.1421(4)). Thereafter, Garcia and Letkeman filed motions to suppress the evidence seized (marijuana) from the search of the vehicle. After an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court denied both motions to suppress.

Garcia and Letkeman entered conditional pleas of guilty to the offenses of trafficking in marijuana. Pursuant to the conditional pleas, Garcia and Letkeman preserved the issue of whether the circuit court properly denied their motions to suppress. See Ky. R. Crim. P. 8.09. On October 4, 2004, Garcia and Letkeman were each sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with one year to serve and the remaining sentence probated for a period of five years. These appeals follow.

Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR

Garcia contends the circuit court erroneously denied the motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle. Specifically, Garcia contends the stop of his vehicle based upon the cracked windshield was improper. Garcia argues that the cracked windshield was not a violation of KRS 189.110. Thus, he contends the initial stop of the vehicle was without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and the circuit court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence.

Our standard of review of a suppression determination is succinctly set forth in Stewart v. Commonwealth, 44 S.W.3d 376, 380 (Ky.App. 2000)(footnote omitted):

First, the factual findings of the court are conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence. The second prong involves a de novo review to determine whether the court’s decision is correct as a matter of law.

We observe that resolution of this appeal involves issues of both fact and law.

It is well-established that the stopping of a vehicle and detaining of its occupants amounts to a seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution. It is equally axiomatic that a police officer may stop a motor vehicle if that officer possesses reasonable suspicion that criminal activity has occurred or is imminent. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979). The occurrence of a traffic violation is recognized as sufficient justification to warrant a stop of a motor vehicle.

The initial stop of Garcia’s vehicle was originally premised upon Trooper Devasher’s belief that the cracked windshield constituted a violation of KRS 189.110. This statute provides as follows:

(1) A windshield in a fixed and upright position, that is equipped with safety glazing as required by federal safety-glazing material standards, is required on every motor vehicle which is operated on the public highways, roads, and streets, except on a motorcycle or implement of husbandry.

(2) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a public highway, road, or street with any sign, sunscreening material, product, or covering attached to, or located in or upon the windshield, except the following:

(a) A certificate or other paper required to be displayed by law;

(b) Sunscreening material along a strip at the top of the windshield, if the material is transparent and does not encroach upon the driver’s direct forward viewing area as defined in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards No. 205 as the AS/1 portion of the windshield.

(3) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, on a public highway, road, or street on which vehicle the side wings and side windows on either side forward of or adjacent to the operator’s seat are composed of, covered by, or treated with any sunscreening material or other product or covering which has the effect of making the window nontransparent or which would alter the window’s color, increase its reflectivity, or reduce its light transmittance, except as expressly permitted by this section. A sunscreening material may be applied to the windows if, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, the material has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than twenty-five percent (25%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least thirty-five percent (35%) in the visible light range.

(4) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, on a public highway, road, or street on which vehicle any windows behind the driver are composed of, covered by, or treated with any sunscreening material, or other product or material which has the effect of making the window nontransparent or which would alter the window’s color, increase its reflectivity, or reduce its light transmittance, except as specified below:

(a) Sunscreen material consisting of film which, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least eighteen percent (18%) in the visible light range; however, sunscreen material which, when tested on one-eighth (1/8) inch clear glass, has a total solar reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) as measured on the nonfilm side and a light transmittance of at least eight percent (8%) in the visible light range may be used on multipurpose passenger vehicles;

(b) Perforated sunscreening material which, when tested in conjunction with existing glazing or film material, has a total reflectance of visible light of not more than thirty-five percent (35%) and a light transmittance of no less than thirty percent (30%). For those products or materials having different levels of reflectance, the highest reflectance from the product or material will be measured by dividing the area into sixteen (16) equal sections and averaging the overall reflectance. The measured reflectance of any of those sections may not exceed fifty percent (50%).

(5) A person shall not operate a motor vehicle required to be registered in the Commonwealth, upon a public highway, road, or street, on which vehicle the rear window is composed of, covered by, or treated with any material which has the effect of making the window nontransparent, unless the vehicle is equipped with side mirrors on both sides.

(6) Each installer or seller of sunscreening material shall provide a pressure-sensitive, self-destructive, nonremovable, vinyl-type film label to the purchaser stating that the material complies with the provisions of KRS 189.010(20) to (23) and subsections (1) to (5) of this section. Each installer shall affix the required label to the inside left door jamb of the motor vehicle. In addition, the label shall state the trade name of the material and the installer’s or seller’s business name. Labeling is not required for factory glazing which complies with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 205.

(7) Every percentage measurement required by subsections (3) and (4) of this section is subject to a tolerance of plus or minus three percent (3%).

(8) A person shall not install window tinting materials on a vehicle that fails to meet the minimum standards for light transmission pursuant to subsections (3) and (4) of this section. Tinted material that fails to meet the minimum standards for light transmission pursuant to subsections (3) and (4) of this section shall be removed immediately.

(9) A person who applies sunscreening materials in violation of this section shall be guilty upon conviction of a Class B misdemeanor.

(10) Nothing in this section shall prevent the display of a representation of the American flag on the rear window of any motor vehicle, including any vehicle owned by a local or state government, provided that the representation does not exceed a size of five (5) inches by eight (8) inches and is placed in a lower corner of the rear window.

(11) The windshield on every motor vehicle shall be equipped with a device for cleaning rain, snow or other moisture from the windshield. The device shall be so constructed as to be controlled by the operator of the vehicle.

(12) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the use of any window which is composed of, covered by, or treated with any material or component in a manner approved by federal statute or regulation if the window was a component part of a vehicle at the time of the vehicle manufacture, or the replacement of any window by a covering which meets these requirements.

KRS 189.110.

A reading of KRS 189.110 reveals that it provides requirements for window sunscreening and tinting. It also sets forth mandatory safety glazing of glass and windshield wiper requirements. It, however, does not set forth any express or implied proscriptions against cracks in a vehicle’s windshield. Based upon the plain language of KRS 189.110, a cracked windshield simply does not constitute a violation of its provisions. As a cracked windshield is not a violation of KRS 189.110, we believe the Commonwealth cannot justify the stop of Garcia’s vehicle upon same.

Alternatively, the Commonwealth argues the traffic stop was lawful because the cracked windshield was a violation of KRS 189.020, which states as follows:

Every vehicle when on a highway shall be so equipped as to make a minimum of noise, smoke or other nuisance, to protect the rights of other traffic, and to promote the public safety.

The interpretation of a statute is a matter of law for the court. City of Worthington Hills v. Worthington Fire Prot. Dist., 140 S.W.3d 584 (Ky.App. 2004). When interpreting a statute, a word is to be afforded its ordinary meaning unless it has acquired a technical meaning. Id. Upon examination of KRS 189.020, we must initially decide whether a cracked windshield constitutes an “other nuisance” within its meaning. When interpreting the term “other nuisance” in KRS 189.020, we are guided by the rule of statutory interpretation called ejusdem generis:

[W]here, in a statute, general words follow or precede a designation of particular subjects or classes of persons, the meaning of the general words ordinarily will be presumed to be restricted by the particular designation, and to include only things or persons of the same kind, class, or nature as those specifically enumerated, unless there is a clear manifestation of a contrary purpose.

Steinfeld v. Jefferson County Fiscal Court, 312 Ky. 614, 229 S.W.2d 319, 320 (1950)(citations omitted). Applying the rule of ejusdem generis to KRS 189.020, the term “other nuisance” is preceded by the particular designation of “noise” and “smoke.” To effectuate legislative intent, we believe “other nuisance” should be interpreted as including only those nuisances of a similar kind as noise and smoke. Accordingly, we do not interpret the term “other nuisance” in KRS 189.020 as encompassing a cracked windshield.

KRS 189.020 also requires a vehicle to be equipped so as “to protect the rights of other traffic, and to promote the public safety.” A cracked windshield that unreasonably impairs the vision of a driver certainly increases the risk and likelihood of an accident. The increased risk would undoubtedly present a significant threat to public safety and would adversely affect the rights of other traffic. Therefore, we hold that a cracked windshield must unreasonably impair the vision of a vehicle’s driver to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020. We emphasize that a cracked windshield is a violation of KRS 189.020 only if it is of sufficient severity to unreasonably reduce the driver’s visibility.

In the case at hand, Trooper Devasher testified that he believed the cracked windshield impaired Garcia’s forward vision. The circuit court concluded:

Courts hold that stopping a vehicle for a traffic law violation is constitutionally permissible under the Terry test. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996); Commonwealth v. Fox, Ky., 48 S.W.3d 24 (2001). That is the situation here. Before stopping the Defendants’ vehicle, the officer observed two cracks in the vehicle’s windshield. The officer believed the cracks impaired the driver’s vision and violated KRS 189.110. The officer subsequently stopped the vehicle and issued Defendant Garcia a citation for this violation. The vehicle stop, therefore, did not contravene the Constitution.

In the record, there exists a photograph of Garcia’s vehicle, which provides a full view of the windshield. Upon examination of the photograph, the cracks do not appear to be of sufficient severity to unreasonably impair Garcia’s forward vision. We observe that mere hairline cracks of a vehicle’s windshield are not typically of sufficient severity to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020. Hence, we are of the opinion that the cracks in the windshield of Garcia’s vehicle were not of sufficient severity to constitute a violation of KRS 189.020.

We also reject the Commonwealth’s attempt to justify the stop as an investigatory stop based upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Commonwealth particularly argues:

Furthermore, given the training and experience of this officer, other indicia were present that suggested criminal activity might be afoot. The nervousness displayed by the driver, the erratic lane change upon observing that the officer was near, the failure to make eye contact, the “death grip” on the steering wheel, and the foreign license plate (knowing that the drug interdiction training indicated that illegal drugs typically travel east to west) led to further suspicion.

Commonwealth’s Brief at 12.

In Commonwealth v. Banks, 68 S.W.3d 347, 350-351 (Ky. 2001), the Supreme Court emphasized:

[T]he test for a Terry stop . . . is not whether an officer can conclude that an individual is engaging in criminal activity, but rather whether the officer can articulate reasonable facts to suspect that criminal activity may be afoot . . . . The totality of the circumstances must be evaluated to determine the probability of criminal conduct, rather than the certainty.

In the case sub judice, the articulated facts set forth by Trooper Devasher were Garcia’s nervousness, lane change, failure to make eye contact, “death grip” on the steering wheel, and out-of-state license plate. We believe these facts describe a substantial number of drivers on our highways and constitute an innocuous mirage created in an attempt to retrospectively justify the stop. If we were to accept the Commonwealth’s argument, ordinary law abiding citizens could be subjected to a stop by police based upon routine driving habits. Simply put, such routine driving habits do not warrant a police stop under Terry. As such, we do not believe that Trooper Devasher possessed the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory stop of Garcia’s vehicle.

In sum, we hold the initial stop of Garcia’s vehicle was improper and the circuit court erred by denying Garcia’s motion to suppress the marijuana subsequently seized from the vehicle.

We view Garcia’s remaining contentions as moot.

Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR

Letkeman argues that the circuit court improperly denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle.*fn1 Specifically, Letkeman contends that a cracked windshield is not a violation of KRS 189.110; thus, the initial stop was invalid. Letkeman further maintains that Garcia did not voluntarily consent to the search of the vehicle.

It has been recognized that the protection of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure is a personal right and cannot be vicariously asserted. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978)(citing Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165 (1969)). To have standing to contest a search and seizure, an individual must possess a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched or property seized. Rakas, 439 U.S. 128. The United States Supreme Court has developed a two-step analysis for determining whether a legitimate expectation of privacy exists:

[W]hether the individual has exhibited a subjective expectation; and whether such subjective expectation, viewed objectively, is justifiable under the circumstances.

United States v. Thornley, 707 F.2d 622, 624 (1st Cir. 1983) (citing Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979)).

In the case at hand, we cannot say that Letkeman possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle. The record indicates that Letkeman was a passenger in the vehicle and did not assert an ownership or possessory interest in the vehicle. A mere passenger in a vehicle generally does not have the requisite expectation of privacy to raise the issue of the legality of the vehicle’s search. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978).

Letkeman also claims ownership of the marijuana seized from the vehicle and believes that such ownership in the property seized confers standing. The ownership and possession of seized property is not dispositive upon the issue of expectation of privacy; rather, such are simply factors to be considered. United States v. Salvucci, 448 U.S. 83 (1980).

In this case, the seized property was wrapped bricks of marijuana. These bricks were hidden in the vehicle’s rear storage compartments. Applying the two-part analysis for determining whether an expectation of privacy existed, we believe Letkeman satisfied the first part because it is uncontroverted he possessed a subjective expectation of privacy in the marijuana. However, the second part of the test requires that the subjective expectation of privacy be objectively reasonable under the circumstances.

The facts reveal that Letkeman was only a passenger in the vehicle and did not have control over its contents. Specifically, it appears that Letkeman did not possess the legal right to exclude third parties from exercising possession or control over the vehicle or its contents. Moreover, the marijuana bricks were not concealed by Letkeman in luggage or other baggage. Rather, the bricks were simply hidden in the vehicle’s rear storage compartments. Considering the unique circumstances of this case, we cannot say Letkeman possessed an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the seized marijuana.

In sum, we are of the opinion that Letkeman did not possess the requisite expectation of privacy to establish standing to contest the legality of the vehicle’s stop or of the marijuana’s seizure.

Letkeman also argues that his detention following the vehicle’s stop was unreasonably long and constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution. Letkeman particularly maintains he was detained by Trooper Devasher for some thirty minutes while waiting for another trooper to arrive. Letkeman contends that Trooper Devasher lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant the thirty-minute detention and that the citation took only a few minutes to issue.

In Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33 (1996), the Supreme Court recognized that the legality of a continued detention following a stop for a traffic violation is a question of reasonableness. It has been held:

Questions that hold potential for detecting crime, yet create little or no inconvenience, do not turn reasonable detention into unreasonable detention. They do not signal or facilitate oppressive police tactics that may burden the public-for all suspects (even the guilty ones) may protect themselves fully by declining to answer. Nor do the questions forcibly invade any privacy interest or extract information without the suspects’ consent.

United States v. Burton, 334 F.3d 514, 518 (6th Cir. 2003).

In the case sub judice, the record indicates that Trooper Devasher questioned Letkeman and Garcia, checked the vehicle’s registration and license plate, and checked Garcia’s out-of-state driver’s license. Upon the whole, we believe the continued detention of Letkeman for some thirty minutes after the initial traffic stop was reasonable.

Letkeman additionally maintains the statement he made to police following his arrest should be suppressed.*fn2

Specifically, Letkeman alleges he did not voluntarily and knowingly waive his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Letkeman contends he was advised of his Miranda rights in English but that he “did not understand English sufficiently to make a valid waiver of these important rights.” Letkeman Brief at 19. Letkeman claims his primary language is Spanish.

In its order denying Letkeman’s motion to suppress, the circuit court found:

Detective Brennan testified that Letkeman spoke English to him, answered everything asked of him, and he and Letkeman could communicate with each other.” (Comm. Br. at 13). Trooper Devasher testified that Letkeman answered “yes” when Devasher asked him if he understood his Miranda rights. Devasher also testified that Letkeman knew English better than he originally led the trooper to believe. Though Letkeman testified that he does not speak English and did not understand everything that Trooper Devasher said, the Court finds in favor of the Commonwealth based on the testimony by Brennan and Devasher.

Based upon the testimony of Detective Brennan and Trooper Devasher, we conclude the circuit court’s findings that Letkeman understood English and understood he was waiving his rights under Miranda were not clearly erroneous. See Stewart, 44 S.W.3d 376.

For the foregoing reasons, Appeal No. 2004-CA-002271-MR is reversed and this cause remanded for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion, and Appeal No. 2004-CA-002283-MR is affirmed.

ALL CONCUR.


The Decision From Hell (Part 1)

December 27, 2011

The Kentucky State Court of Appeals issued its decision affirming Crane Station’s conviction on January 21, 2011. Her motion for reconsideration was summarily denied without an explanation. Her motion for discretionary review is pending in the Kentucky State Supreme Court.

I call the 3-0 opinion written by written by Judge Lambert and joined by judges Henry and Taylor the decision from hell and will now take it apart. First, here is a link to the decision.

The Court begins by making two fundamental errors that invalidate the conclusion it reached affirming the circuit court’s denial of the motion to suppress evidence. The two errors are:

(1) It relied on after-acquired information, including trial testimony and the dispatcher’s tape, which is prohibited by the United States Supreme Court and the Kentucky Supreme Court; and

(2) It stated that the appellant had failed to challenge any of the findings of fact in the three suppression orders, which is absolutely false.

In United States v. Hensley, the Supreme Court held that trial courts must decide the constitutional validity of investigatory stops of civilians by police officers (i.e., whether there was reasonable suspicion or probable cause to justify the stop) based on the information available to the police officer before the stop. Information acquired after the stop cannot be used to justify a stop that was not supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause because that would eliminate the rule.

The Supreme Court also held in Hensley that, even if a police officer stops a suspect acting in good faith on mistaken information provided by a dispatcher, the stop nevertheless violates the Fourth Amendment, if the correct information did not constitute a reasonable suspicion.

Therefore, the proper legal analysis under Hensley is to determine whether the information supplied by the 911 caller constituted a reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. The caller said,

And there is a lady in a dark blue looks like a Buick LeSabre. I’d say it’s a late 80s, early ’90s model. And I’ve got a license plate number. But she’s out here walking around in my neighbor’s yard and everything and writing stuff down, and she’d talked to him and mentioned something about tar heroin and all that stuff.

The caller did not describe suspicious activity, much less criminal activity. He described a conversation between his neighbor and a stranger in which the stranger mentioned the word heroin. So what?

This is not complicated. Absent information that the caller witnessed a purchase or sale of a controlled substance, or possibly a request to purchase or sell a controlled substance, there is nothing to investigate.

A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch or suspicion. The hunch or suspicion must be reasonable. That is, it must be supported by articulable objective facts and circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person to conclude that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed. That did not happen.

Now, the stop would violate the Fourth Amendment, even if the dispatcher had innocently altered what the caller said and told the deputy that the caller had reported witnessing a drug transaction between his neighbor and a stranger and the officer stopped the stranger to investigate.

Why? Because the dispatcher cannot create a reasonable suspicion that did not already exist, even if the dispatcher does so by committing an innocent mistake. In other words, good faith reliance on mistaken information provided innocently by a dispatcher cannot create a reasonable suspicion where none existed. Therefore, the dispatcher’s information is irrelevant under Hensley.

But even if we consider what the dispatcher said, there still is no reasonable suspicion. He said,

Suspicious person complaint, the 4000 block of Queensway Drive off of Lester Harris and Bottom Street. A white female in a dark blue LeSabre that’s out walking around asking people about 218A.

(218A is a reference to the Kentucky State Uniform Controlled Substances Act)

Again, so what? A person walking around asking people about a drug statute is not illegal activity.

I am not saying that the caller’s tip should not have been investigated. I am saying that the proper procedure would have been to contact and interview the caller to obtain additional information regarding what he observed, which the deputy did the following day. However, even if the caller provided additional information such as, “I saw the woman buy some heroin from my neighbor,” the information could not be considered for the purpose of determining whether the deputy had a reasonable suspicion to stop Crane Station because he acquired that information after he stopped her. Therefore, it is irrelevant.

But the caller did not say anything like that. He said,

On 6-28-2006, a Lady driven a Buick LeSabre stoped at my driveway and ask me if I would sell 2 berrlles and i said they belong to my Naber. She had her painst unbuttoned and unzipped. She acted like she was under the Influence of something. She was a dirty Blonde wereing Blue shirt and Blue Jeans. (Spelling and grammatical errors in the original)

(incidentally, her jeans were not unbuttoned and unzipped in the in-dash video)

Asking someone if they are willing to sell two barrels is not criminal activity. (The barrels were made out of oak and split in half across the middle so they could be placed on a deck and used as planters) In addition, the statement does not mention heroin or any other drug. Finally, the description he provided and the conclusion that she appeared to be high on something falls far short of “sufficient articulable objective facts and circumstances that would warrant a reasonable person in concluding that the person had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.”

Also, since the caller provided the statement after he knew about the arrest, his perspective would have necessarily changed and we cannot know whether he would have said the same thing, if he had been interviewed before the stop. The bottom line is this information should not have been considered.

Additional information that came to light at subsequent pretrial hearings or the trial itself would, of course, also be irrelevant on the issue of reasonable suspicion because it would have been after-acquired. Therefore, to the extent that the Circuit Court and later the Court of Appeals relied on such information to enter findings of fact, such findings are necessarily invalid, as a matter of law under Hensley.

A consideration of the deputy’s observations of Crane Station’s driving prior to the stop is not prohibited by Hensley. To find out what he observed, the Circuit Court should have watched and listened to the deputy testify at the suppression hearing and the Court of Appeals should have watched the video and read the transcript of his testimony at the suppression hearing. Evidently the judges did not do this because the deputy testified that her driving was exemplary, she violated no laws, and he pulled her over as soon as he realized that she and her vehicle matched the description provided by the caller. He did not pull her over because of her driving; he admitted that he pulled her over because he suspected she possessed heroin.

The deputy was the only witness at the suppression hearing. Therefore, there were no disputed facts. No he-said-she-said differences for the trial judge to resolve. He merely had to enter findings of fact based on what the witness said, but he did not do that.

Instead, he made-up some facts, such as Crane Station initiated a voluntary citizen-police contact that is not subject to the Fourth Amendment, when the deputy testified that he pulled her over. He also relied on trial testimony, which was after-acquired information, including testimony by the deputy that directly and materially contradicted his testimony at the suppression hearing.

It is difficult to know what the hell was going on when the deputy and the trial judge were making stuff up.

The Court of Appeals added to the mess by ruling that the appellant is stuck with the invalid findings of fact because she did not challenge them on appeal. That is absurd because her lawyer challenged all of the materially false facts. There is no doubt. Read her opening and reply briefs, if you do not want to take my word for it.

Finally, the Court of Appeals ignored Hensley. Ignored Crane’s argument that the HGN should not have been considered because it was improperly administered. Concluded that despite “not driving erratically or weaving” and passing a portable breath test, the invalid HGN, when considered together with nervousness, glassy eyes, her admission that she was taking prescribed Clonazepam, and other unspecified “odd behavior,” the deputy had probable cause to arrest. Apparently, despite quoting the product insert warning for Conazepam, which does not say that people who take the drug should never operate machinery or a motor vehicle the Court of Appeals believes that, as a matter of law, a police officer has probable cause to arrest anyone who takes the drug and operates a motor vehicle whether they drive properly or not. The Court also ignored federal and state cases cited by Crane’s lawyer, which hold that nervousness is not a valid or reliable indicator of impairment because people who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol typically also exhibit nervousness when stopped. They require additional evidence of evasive behavior to establish probable cause to arrest and there was no evidence of that in Crane’s case.

So, did the judges on the Court of Appeals read her briefs?

Difficult to conclude that they did, because I do not see how they could honestly claim that her lawyer failed to challenge any findings of fact, if they had read it.

On the other hand, if they wrote an opinion affirming the conviction without having read her briefs, they should be defrocked and disbarred.

Either way, they have a lot of splainin’ to do.

I will deal with the rest of the Decision From Hell in Part 2 tomorrow.

Until then, Court will be in recess.


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.


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