I also want to give a public nod to my colleague and friend Neil Rockind for his brilliant work in the case. He is a truly great co-counsel.
Then the Sixth Circuit issued its October 30, 2013, Peoples v Lafler opinion. A three-member panel criticized a Michigan prosecutor for a false inference argument and deemed that it was prosecutorial misconduct. The court ruled that AEDPA precluded them from reviewing the case, yet the issue that ultimately was considered dicta in the appellate opinion may nudge open AEDPA’s heavy door. In Peoples v. Lafler, two witnesses told a similar story that was the only evidence connecting Jesse Peoples to the murder of Shannon Clark, a Detroit drug dealer fatally shot outside his home. However, the evidence was “known false testimony” and “trial counsel did not use the only hard evidence at his disposal to prove that the two witnesses not only lied, but told the same lie,” the appellate court said in its opinion.
Three months after Clark’s death, police arrested Jesse Peoples, Demetrious Powell, and Cornelious Harris after the men led police on a chase in a stolen Jaguar that ultimately crashed. Police found on the driver’s side floorboard the pistol that killed Clark. Also, a police officer witnessing the crash writes a report identifying Harris as the driver. Peoples, while awaiting trial, mailed defense counsel a copy of the police report, indictment, and criminal docket sheet showing that Harris was the Jag’s driver. However, they are ignored and Harris and Powell are able to spin a similar story about Peoples’ involvement.
The Sixth Circuit partially reversed the decision relating to Peoples’ ineffective assistance of counsel claim and remanded the case to the district court to conditionally grant a habeas corpus writ, giving the State of Michigan 90 days to retry Peoples or release him from custody. Quoting the opinion, “ ‘[i]t is particularly unreasonable to fail to track down readily available and likely useful evidence that a client himself asks his counsel to obtain.’ Couch v. Booker, 632 F.3d 241, 247 (6th Cir. 2011). Where, as here, counsel fails to use a police report, indictments, and criminal docket sheets the client himself obtained that would have proven counsel’s own defense theory, the failure is, a fortiori, unreasonable to the point of constitutional deficiency. It certainly is not, by any objective measure, sound trial strategy.”
The appellate court’s AEDPA deference delved into discussions of a “modified form of AEDPA deference,” in which the court focuses on the result rather than the reasoning of the state court. Hawkins v. Coyle, 547 F.3d 540, 546 (6th Cir. 2008). The question then, according to the court, is whether there was a reasonable likelihood that the trial’s outcome would have been different if the known false testimony had never been presented. The court concluded that there was other testimony connecting him to the murder so there was no reasonable likelihood that the outcome would have been acquittal or conviction on a lesser charge. Keep in mind, the court decided in this case to “REMAND the case to the district court with instructions to conditionally GRANT a writ of habeas corpus.”
The Michigan Supreme Court just granted permission to appeal on People v Carp and People v Eliason. These cases deal with the retroactivity of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller v Alabama (Carp); and the appropriate remedy should be for these individuals (Eliason). The Court has also agreed to hear a third case where the question is whether a juvenile convicted of aiding and abetting first degree murder can potentially receive a natural life sentence or whether Graham v Florida bars this. I will post an update to this with links to the various orders in the near future. In the mean time, here is a good link from M-Live.
Hats off to the Canadian Supreme Court in Regina v Vu, 2013 SCC 60 (2013) for recognizing what so many American courts don’t seem to get -- that computers are different. Police are now routinely seeking (and unfortunately getting permission) to search everyone’s computers when they have probable cause of any evidence of crimes. The Canadian Supreme Court said that there has to be individualized probable cause to search a computer and that the police cannot get to its contents by virtue a general search warrant to search a home.
Still, the State of Michigan steadfastly argued that Mr. Aceval’s conviction was not tarnished by the perjury. Recently, Judge Tarnow disagreed. Calling the Defendant’s trial a sham the judge said that the charges should have been dismissed with prejudice. Earlier this week, Mr. Aceval was released a free man. The state has not decided whether it will appeal.
The sites usually work closely with a so-called removal service which will remove your name from their website for a payment of $400 or so. Some charge more; some charge less. Most of the sites also have a free removal process, but my clients have reported to me that the free removal services is overly cumbersome and the sites will only comply if there is an express statute banning the publication of the information. Thus, if the offender pleads to a deferred adjudication with no criminal record, many of these sites will leave the charges up even though the individiual has never been convicted of an offense.
There is also a rising grass roots movement against these sites. Many people feel that they have been the victim of blackmail and that even when they capitulate and pay the money, their name promptly prompts up on a new server. It effectively becomes a game of “whack a mole.”
The article also reports that many credit card processors have refused to handle these removal businesses and that PayPal has banned them as well. While I feel positive about these developments, my unscientific experiment showed that these sites still come up on the top with respect to my former clients with sheltered convictions. Amending the Fair Credit Reporting Act to cover these sites would be the answer in this author’s opinion. It already covers some dissemination of criminal records.
In the Second Circuit’s Sept. 26, 2013, reversal, where the order is to “remand the case to the district court with directions that it vacate the sentence and resentence the defendant consistent with this opinion,” Judge Weinstein’s 401-page sentencing opinion came under review, along with the judge’s allegation that a five-year sentence for Corey Reingold was an unconstitutional Eighth Amendment violation. Judge Weinstein had claimed the mandatory minimum a cruel and unusual punishment and had suggested that 30 months would provide enough psychiatric treatment to prevent a repeat offense.
The 2nd Circuit’s reversal, though, found no such constitutional violation and a case analysis gave much attention to Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957 (1991), for case specific analysis and Graham v. Florida, 130 S.Ct. 2011 (2010), for categorical rule analysis. The court emphasized, citing Graham, that punishments are deemed cruel and unusual when they are both “inherently barbaric” and “disproportionate to the crime.” A five-year sentence, the court said, requires categorical rules to ensure constitutional proportionality as applied to particular felony crimes or classes of defendants, and the Second Circuit ruled that Judge Weinstein had not employed Graham’s analytic approach to pronounce a categorical rule. Instead, the appellate court said Judge Weinstein had found the five-year minimum disproportionate to the offense as applied specifically to Reingold. “The Supreme Court’s proportionality jurisprudence does not support such a substitution of Graham’s categorical-rule approach for Harmelin’s particular-case approach to assess the proportionality of an otherwise permissible term-of-years sentence as applied to a particular case,” the court said.
The reversal also criticized Judge Weinstein’s emphasis on juvenile offenders. “Reingold was already 19 when he committed the crime of conviction,” the 2nd Circuit’s opinion reads. “In short, he was an adult, not a juvenile.”
Judge Weinstein’s sentencing opinion states that Corey Reingold was 15 when he started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. A year later, the judge wrote, a friend introduced him to child pornography on the Internet. He began watching the material with male and female peers.
In an unpublished Aug. 27, 2013, opinion, the conservative court led by presiding Judge Michael Talbot, branded the original Iron Circuit Court's failure to demand new deliberations as “plain error.” The appellate court, in its non-binding opinion, cites MCR 6.411: “[i]f an alternate juror replaces a juror after the jury retires to consider its verdict, the court shall instruct the jury to begin its deliberations anew.” Errors in jury instructions, the appellate court emphasizes, are of a constitutional magnitude. People v. Tate, 244 Mich App 553, 567; 624 NW2d 524 (2001). There actually were two deadlocked jurors in this case. Juror K was the one who, upon questioning, revealed that he was at a Christmas party several years before when he touched a young girl during a group picture. He further revealed that he was cleared of any wrongdoing and said he did not mention the incident during voir dire for two reasons: He didn’t think the past would affect his judgment and he did not want to bring attention to himself. The court removed him from the case after further learning that “he had received a lot of peer pressure in the jury room.” Once an alternate was chosen, the court ordered the jury resume deliberations instead of starting anew, and the defense counsel politely declined the judge’s invitation for comments. “Given the existence of the original two ‘holdouts,’ this was obviously a close case,” the court wrote in its opinion, “and, when viewed in light of the error discussed infra, we find that it could indeed have had an effect in the outcome of the trial if the jury had begun deliberations anew with a new member and the fresh perspective that member would bring.”
The infra error was when the court gave sway to the prosecution in its line of questioning. The appellate court cited MRE 404(a), which says the only way prosecutors can introduce evidence of a non-testifying defendant’s character is if the defendant “first opens the door” by offering evidence of that character trait. The prosecutor was questioning a female witness about Mr. Morikawa and how she came to know him. After some routine questions, the prosecutor then asked the following: “And based upon your familiarity with him and with other troopers can you come to a conclusion or an opinion as to his credibility and veracity being truthfulness? Do you have an opinion?”
A: Yes, I do.
Q: What is it?
A: He is not credible.
The prosecutor had the witness clarify that she meant “truthful” when she said “credible.” There was no objection from defense counsel. People v Morikawa, Court of Appeals No. 308016.
Some police departments maintain “Brady lists” of officers with troubled pasts. They try to keep these officers from being affiants in search warrants where possible and regard it as their duty to turn evidence of past scandals over to the defense. At least in California, however, there is no consistent policy about what is in a Brady policy or when a prosecutor has to go back to the police department looking for evidence of past lying on the part of a given officer.
The now disbanded California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice had recommended in their 2008 report that prosecutor’s offices maintain strict and consistent Brady lists. Unfortunately, police departments have pushed back because they think that these lists will make these tainted cops unusable.
One of my new favorite blogs (the Open File) has a nice commentary on this article. The Open File about prosecutor misconduct and urging public accountability. Not surprisingly on the same page are articles about convictions being overturned because the police have failed to turn over more than 11,000 pages of exculpatory evidence in one case, of a federal judge in New Orleans overturning another conviction because their US Attorney’s Office elicited perjured testimony, and a 9th Circuit case overturning a money laundering case because the declassified summaries turned over to defense counsel were misleading and withheld favorable evidence.
As I was about hit the “publish button” on my software, I saw today’s story about Debra Milke, the German mother convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of her son and received the death penalty. The Maricopa County Arizona prosecutor had concealed the fact that the police officer who supposedly took her undocument “confession” had a long history of perjury. Not surprisingly, the prosecutor concealed evidence that the police had a history of perjury. Despite the fact that there was four incidents of perjury by the officer he was kept on the force. Judge Kozinski’s opinion can be found here. Chief Judge Kozinski is the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit a independent minded conservative. Despite the Arizona’s Attorney General’s vow to appeal this ruling, I don’t think he has much chance. While the US Supreme Court has not been kind to the Ninth Circuit, this error strongly suggests actual innocence and seems to be within the four corners of Brady.
In Balko’s latest article, he writes about a study clearly stating its premise: “The Criminal Justice Creates Incentives for False Convictions” by Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks. He details the most noteworthy finds such as a crime lab that receives $10 for each guilty plea or verdict from a speeding ticket and $50 for each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense. Another specious fact: An Illinois crime lab receives fees upon sex offense convictions.
As Balko says, “every analyst knows that a test result implicating a suspect will result in a fee paid to the lab. Every result that clears a suspect means no fee. They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions.”
Balko finishes his article by noting scandals that arise from such practices. Balko isn’t the only one to predict more problems from such a compromised system.
- Professor Erwin Chemerinsky is the Dean of the University of California Irvine’s School of La and is an exceptionally well published author on the U.S. Constitution. He has published roughly ten articles on decisions from this year’s Court. His general summary is entitled “What we learned about SCOTUS this term” and does a nice job about discussing the political divides of the Court and the current ideological divide on the Court. This summary covers the University of Texas affirmative action case (Fisher v University of Texas), the dog sniff on the porch case (Florida v Jardines), the DNA collection case (Maryland v King), the marriage equality case (United States v Windsor and Hollingsworth v Perry), and the Voting Rights Case (Shelby County v Holder);
- Supreme Court Review is my find of the week. It is a website which tracks decisions of the US Supreme Court and which I will use as frequently as I use SCOTUS Blog. The site has a great media collection site, a nice section on court statistics, a great docket summary for the week, and more.
- Slate has a summary designed more for ordinary folks (and not lawyers) written by Emily Bazelon, a popular news writer and fellow at Yale Law School. Her summary “Supreme Court 2013: the Year in Review” covers the general ground covered by others. She makes several interesting points, however, including fight between Justices Roberts and Scalia in City of Arlington v FCC -- an obscure case dealing with the authority of the FCC to regulate the placement of cell towers. Justice Roberts used the ruling to challenge the expanding power of the FCC which is coming with our increased methods of communication. She also made an interesting point on the gene patenting decision fro the court. Justice Thomas (writing for the majority) drew a distinction between naturally occurring DNA and synthetic DNA. The problem is that the people in the biotech industry say that the distinction is “meaningless and anachronistic.”
More analysis will be coming out very shortly and I’m still sifting through all the stuff. I will update this post as I find more good reviews.
The New York Times has urged these companies to reconsider their policies.
Update: The Time-Picaynne website has since noted that the order doesn’t expressly mention Jones by name, but it is widely reported that the complaint was filed against her based on a speech where Judge Jones stated that African-Americans are more likely to commit crime than other subgroups.
People v Koon reversed. Mich SCt Holds that Medical Marijuana patients can drive as long as they aren't actually intoxicated.
The Supreme Court reversed holding that the protections under Section 4 of the Medical Marijuana Act controlled. The Court specifically noted that Section 7 of the Act provided that nothing in the Act would prohibit the prosecution of actually driving while impaired. The Supreme Court suggested that the Legislature adopt a standard analogous to Washington’s which prohibited 5 ng/ml of THC in a person’s system. People v Koon, Supreme Court No. 145259
The litigation however speaks about what is wrong with the system. Innocence should be enough. If we convict an innocent defendant, then we should be prepared to compensate him for the portion of their life that was destroyed. It is incredibly difficult to reestablish your life once you have been incarcerated (wrongfully or correctly). Most people lose all their assets while incarcerated. What the state doesn’t take directly is lost because the person’s incarceration stops them from paying mortgages, car payments, etc. All personal possessions (except what a kind relative may hold as a favor) get tossed out on the street. When society makes a mistake and convicts an innocent person, the issue should not be about whether the officer or the prosecutor set out to convict an innocent man, but whether an innocent man was convicted. States should create a compensation fund which is the equivalent of a crime victim’s fund designed to compensate these individuals.