Kennedy v LA Goes to Conference

Update on Detroit Police Forensic Lab Closure

Ohio Court Limits Use of EgT Test

New York Federal Court Limits Ballistics Testimony

COA Says that Beastiality is Not a "Sex Offense" for SORA

Detroit Police Forensic Lab Closed Due to High Error Rate

Sixth Circuit Finds Racial Disparity in Grand Rapids' Jury Selection System

Michigan Supreme Court Proposes Narrowing Judge's Involvement in Plea Bargains

What is Judicial Activism?

War in the Macomb Circuit Court: Prosecutor Refuses to Offer Plea Bargains in Judge Biernat's Court

60 Minutes Takes on Bullet Lead Analysis

Michigan Messenger Predicts a Bloody Fight for Michigan Supreme Court

Wendrow Family May Face a Steep Climb to Justice

SCOTUS Receives Briefs on Misdemeanor Defendant's Right to Own Firearms

As was noted by the by a Las Vegas New Channel, US District Judge Mahan has declared unconstitutional Nevada’s Adam Walsh Act. In order to gain federal grant funding, Nevada modified its registration laws to require numerous individuals previously thought not to be a risk of reoffending to register. Last Friday, a Federal District Judge found this law violated due process.
President Bush signed the federal Adam Walsh Act in 2006 to expand the National Sex Offender Registry and to create national standards for ranking sex offenders. Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587 (2006). The law established three tiers, rankings based on the crime the offender committed.
Section 111 of the Adam Walsh Act specifically sets out expanded definitions that include registration and notification which were considerably broader than the versions previously used in Nevada. Under this section, a sex offender is “an individual who was convicted of a sex offense.” A sex offense is a criminal offense that has an “element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another.”
The new provisions physically resemble the three tier system previously used in Nevada, but the federal law is considerably more exapnsive. A tier three sex offender is punishable by more than one year in prison. The individual must have attempted, conspired, or actually committed a sexual abuse or aggravated sexual abuse, an abusive sexual contact against a minor who has not attained the age of thirteen years, or a more severe offense. A tier three offense may also be committed if the offense involves kidnapping of a minor that is not one's own child or if the offense occurs after the offender is a tier two sex offender.
Second tier sex offenders are those who do not fit into tier three, but may still be punishable by more than one year in prison. Tier two includes offenses against a minor, or conspiracy to commit such offenses against a minor, such as: (1) sex trafficking; (2) coercion and enticement; (3) transportation with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and (4) abusive sexual conduct. A tier two offense may also involve: (1) use of a minor in a sexual performance; (2) solicitation of a minor to practice prostitution; or (3) production or distribution of child pornography. [FN72] An offense can also qualify as a tier two if any of these offenses occur after the offender is already a tier one offender. The first tier includes any sex offender who does not squarely fit into categories two or three. Tier one offenders are considered at low risk to reoffend and are not seen as dangerous.
The expansion of the sex offense definition includes any “[1] criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another; [and 2] a criminal offense that is a specified offense against a minor ....” An offense that is consensual is not a sex offense unless the adult victim is under the custodial care of the offender, the victim is not an adult and the offender is more than four years older than the victim, or the victim is under the age of thirteen.
A juvenile is considered to be “convicted” of a sex offense when the juvenile “is 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense and the offense adjudicated was comparable to or more severe than aggravated sexual abuse ... or was an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense.”
Nevada used a scheme that required only the most dangerous offenders to appear on the public registry. Under the old law, you could only see offenders ranked two or three. After Adam Walsh, virtually all offenders were on the public registry. The Court found that this retrospective change in the law violated due process.

Eleventh Circuit Says it is OK to Taze a Motorist Who Refuses to Sign a Traffic Ticket

COA Sets Forth the Due Process Defendant Must Be Given When County Seeks Reimbursement for Court Appointed Counsel

Overwhelmingly, criminal defendants are represented by court appointed counsel. Many counties have sought reimbursement for such fees. Three years ago, the Michigan Legislature codified this practice with MCL 769.1k which provided that after conviction, the Court may make the Defendant pay for any costs or the expenses associated with the defendant’s legal representation.

In
People v Trapp, Court of Appeals No. 282662, the Court of Appeals answered the question about what a court is supposed to do when the Defendant claims that he does not have the means to pay this fee.

In Trapp, on request the Court ruled that the Court must look at the Defendant’s ability to pay. Unfortunately, the Court ruled in the last paragraph that a hearing was not required and the Court could rely on an updated presentence report.

Trapp is disturbing because most countries do not disclose the presentence report until moments before sentencing. Trapp is yet another reason why Michigan should adopt the federal practice of providing the reports to counsel ten days before sentencing and allowing counsel the opportunity to file written objections to the reports.

The other item which went undiscussed in Trapp is the fact that the parties were talking about $300. It will probably costs Berrien County thousands to collect this paltry sum.

Nevada Federal District Court Declares Adam Walsh Act Unconstitutional

As was noted by the by a Las Vegas New Channel, US District Judge Mahan has declared unconstitutional Nevada’s Adam Walsh Act. In order to gain federal grant funding, Nevada modified its registration laws to require numerous individuals previously thought not to be a risk of reoffending to register. Last Friday, a Federal District Judge found this law violated due process.
President Bush signed the federal Adam Walsh Act in 2006 to expand the National Sex Offender Registry and to create national standards for ranking sex offenders. Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, Pub. L. No. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587 (2006). The law established three tiers, rankings based on the crime the offender committed.
Section 111 of the Adam Walsh Act specifically sets out expanded definitions that include registration and notification which were considerably broader than the versions previously used in Nevada. Under this section, a sex offender is “an individual who was convicted of a sex offense.” A sex offense is a criminal offense that has an “element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another.”
The new provisions physically resemble the three tier system previously used in Nevada, but the federal law is considerably more exapnsive. A tier three sex offender is punishable by more than one year in prison. The individual must have attempted, conspired, or actually committed a sexual abuse or aggravated sexual abuse, an abusive sexual contact against a minor who has not attained the age of thirteen years, or a more severe offense. A tier three offense may also be committed if the offense involves kidnapping of a minor that is not one's own child or if the offense occurs after the offender is a tier two sex offender.
Second tier sex offenders are those who do not fit into tier three, but may still be punishable by more than one year in prison. Tier two includes offenses against a minor, or conspiracy to commit such offenses against a minor, such as: (1) sex trafficking; (2) coercion and enticement; (3) transportation with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and (4) abusive sexual conduct. A tier two offense may also involve: (1) use of a minor in a sexual performance; (2) solicitation of a minor to practice prostitution; or (3) production or distribution of child pornography. [FN72] An offense can also qualify as a tier two if any of these offenses occur after the offender is already a tier one offender. The first tier includes any sex offender who does not squarely fit into categories two or three. Tier one offenders are considered at low risk to reoffend and are not seen as dangerous.
The expansion of the sex offense definition includes any “[1] criminal offense that has an element involving a sexual act or sexual contact with another; [and 2] a criminal offense that is a specified offense against a minor ....” An offense that is consensual is not a sex offense unless the adult victim is under the custodial care of the offender, the victim is not an adult and the offender is more than four years older than the victim, or the victim is under the age of thirteen.
A juvenile is considered to be “convicted” of a sex offense when the juvenile “is 14 years of age or older at the time of the offense and the offense adjudicated was comparable to or more severe than aggravated sexual abuse ... or was an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense.”
Nevada used a scheme that required only the most dangerous offenders to appear on the public registry. Under the old law, you could only see offenders ranked two or three. After Adam Walsh, virtually all offenders were on the public registry. The Court found that this retrospective change in the law violated due process.

Expunged: Think Again

Virginia Supreme Court Finds Constitutional Right to Spam

We all hate those pesky e-mails we get hawking copy watches, Viagra, and get rich quick schemes. They often come from forged e-mail addresses, sent from hijacked machines, containing forged i.p. addresses. After deleting two hundred such pieces of e-mail in a single day, even this ACLU liberal type wants to say that there is no First Amendment right to spam, but think about it. Our founding fathers often wrote under aliases, leafleted to unwanting recipients, and had a message that half the country (the loyalists) found deeply offensive, and even blasphemous. Are spammers really different from the Hare Krishna that ten years ago we worked so hard to avoid on a city street? Yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court said “no” reversing its own six month old ruling to the contrary. Jaynes v Commonwealth, Virginia Supreme Court No. 06-2388.

Jeremey Jaynes was convicted in 2004 of sending over 50,000e-mails through America Online servers in Loudoun, Virginia. The e-mails were sent from Mr. Jayne’s computers in his home in Raleigh North Carolina. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, these emails “intentionally falsified the header information and sender domain names before transmitting the e-mails to the recipients.” The decision also noted that the subscriber lists that Mr. Jaynes was using had been stolen from AOL by a corrupt employee. Mr. Jaynes was the first person tried under a 2003 Virginia anti-spam law. A Loudoun Circuit Court judge sentenced Mr. Jaynes to nine years in prison.

Justice G. Steven Agee (now on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit) wrote the unanimous opinion for the court. "The right to engage in anonymous speech, particularly anonymous political or religious speech, is 'an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment,' "By prohibiting false routing information in the dissemination of e-mails," the court ruled, Virginia's anti-spam law "infringes on that protected right."

Justice Agee noted that "were the 'Federalist Papers' just being published today via e-mail, that transmission by 'Publius' would violate the [Virginia] statute." Publius was the pen name for James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

The court determined that the law does not limit its restrictions on spam to commercial or fraudulent e-mail or to such unprotected speech as obscenity or defamation. Many other states and the federal government drafted anti-spam laws after Virginia, but often specifically restricted the regulations to commercial e-mails, the court found. The ruling affects only the Virginia statute.

In addition to the First Amendment ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling has several interesting discussions which make the decision a must read for any criminal practitioner. The first question is jurisdiction in internet crime cases. Mr. Jaynes resided in North Carolina and most of the e-mails he sent were destined for third states or foreign countries, but the use of AOL’s servers in Virginia was sufficient to confer appelllate jurisdiction. Also interesting is the way that the Court distinguished Virginia v. Hicks, 539 U.S. 113, 118-19 (2003). The Commonwealth had lifted a passage that supported the narrow standing rule that they were arguing (that Mr. Haynes could only challenge the law as applied). The Court looked at the Commonwealth’s brief to the U.S. Supreme Court and its oral arguments in the Supreme Court to find that this passage was being read out of context. The Court noted the concessions that Virginia had made and refused to read the Court’s opinion in the manner that Virginia was now arguing

The Federal CAN Spam Act is restricted to commercial speeches and could be distinguished on those grounds. The Virginia Attorney General has vowed to appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court.

Gitmo Prisoners Seek Sanctions

According to SCOTUS blog, lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees on Tuesday asked a U.S. District judge to impose severe sanctions for delays that the attorneys said were of the government’s own making — delays that are already slowing down court review of military detentions. Even as that maneuver unfolded, the government asked another District judge to give it more time and new filing deadlines in other detainee cases — a move likely to meet the same resistance.

7th Circuit Says Vienna Convention Argument is Still Valid

Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires the United States to inform a foreign national of his/her right to consular access (to talk to his home country’s embassy or consulate) upon arrest. Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, art. 36, April 24, 1962, 21 U.S.T. 77, 596 U.N.T.S. 261. In Sanchez-Lllamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331, 336 (2006), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a violation of Article 36 did not require suppression of evidence. See also Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. __, 128 S. Ct. 1346, 1355, 170 L.Ed.2d (2008). Despite repeated orders from the International Court of Justice, Texas executed two suspects earlier this year where the evidence was clear that the convictions were based on confessions obtained in violation of the suspects rights to diplomatic access. Based on Sanchez-Llamas and these developments, many member of the bar (including this one) believed that this issue was not going to prevail in any domestic court.

On September 8, 2008, a Seventh Circuit panel ruled to the contrary in a published decision. In Osagadie v United States, Seventh Circuit No. 07-113, the Court recognized the continuing viability of the Article 36 issue. The Court first recognized the importance of Article 36:

The adoption of the Vienna Convention by the international community was “the single most important event in the entire history of the consular institution.” LUKE T. LEE, CONSULAR LAW AND PRACTICE 26 (2d ed. 1991). When the United States ratified the treaty in 1969, it became the “supreme Law of the Land.” U.S. CONST. art. VI, cl. 2.



The Court then went onto stress the importance of the treaty:

Foreign nationals who are detained within the United States find themselves in a very vulnerable position. Separated from their families and far from their homelands, they suddenly find themselves swept into a foreign legal system. Language barriers, cultural barriers, lack of resources, isolation and unfamiliarity with local law create “an aura of chaos” around the foreign detainees, which can lead them to make serious legal missteps. Linda A. Malone, From Breard to Atkins to Malvo: Legal Incompetency and Human Rights Norms on the Fringes of the Death Penalty, 13 WM. & MARY BILL RTS. J. 363, 392-93 (2004). In these situations, the consulate can serve as a “cultural bridge” between the foreign detainee and the legal machinery of the receiving state. William J. Aceves, Murphy v. Netherland, 92 AM. J. INT’L L. 87, 89-90 (1998).


The Court went onto note while there is some overlap with the function of a lawyer, the overlap is not complete. There are somethings that an embassy or a consulate are uniquely qualified to do:

Of course, we assume that lawyers here are equipped to deal with language barriers; we also assume they are familiar with the law. Sometimes, however, the assistance of an attorney cannot entirely replace the unique assistance that can be provided by the consulate. The consulate can provide not only an explanation of the receiving state’s legal system but an explanation of how that system differs from the sending state’s system. See Linda Jane Springrose, Note, Strangers in a Strange Land: The Rights of Non-Citizens Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 14 GEO. IMMIGR. L. J. 185, 195 (1999). This assistance can be invaluable because cultural misunderstandings can lead a detainee to make serious legal mistakes, particularly where a detainee’s cultural background informs the way he interacts with law enforcement officials and judges.



The Court noted that Sanchez-Llamas was a good example of the help that a consulate can provide:

Sanchez-Llamas 2 provides a striking example. In Sanchez-Llamas, Bustillo’s defense was that another man, “Sirena,” had committed the crime. Sirena, however, had fled back to Honduras; he was nowhere to be found. “Bustillo did not learn of his right to contact the Honduran consulate until after conviction, at which time the consulate located additional evidence supporting this theory, including a critical taped confession by Sirena.”



Thus far, the Court’s opinion matches the position articulated by dissents and the International Court of Justice. Now here is where the decision gets interesting. The Court stated that Sanchez-Llamas stated that the Government was required to provide a remedy for a violation and the remedy was to internalize this violation into our domestic law. While violation of a Vienna Convention Claim would not be a self-standing violation of the Constitution or federal law requiring suppression of a confession, it could be a Fifth Amendment or a Sixth Amendment violation.

[

W]e must address the Government’s argument that Sanchez-Llamas forecloses foreign nationals from bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims based on Article 36 violations. A close reading of Sanchez-Llamas suggests otherwise. While the Court rejected the argument that the treaty itself required suppression as a remedy, the Court stressed that there were other means of “vindicating Vienna Convention rights.” Sanchez-Llamas, 548 U.S. at 350, 126 S. Ct. 2669. Specifically, the Court stated that a defendant could raise an Article 36 violation as a part of a broader constitutional challenge, such as a challenge to the voluntariness of a statement under the Fifth Amendment. Id., 126 S. Ct. 2669; see also United States v. Ortiz, 315 F.3d 873, 886 (8th Cir. 2002). More importantly, the Court suggested that the Sixth Amendment could also serve as a vehicle for vindicating Article 36 rights. In a telling passage, the Court noted that an attorney’s failure to raise an Article 36 violation would not be “cause” for overriding a state’s procedural default rules, unless “the attorney’s overall representation falls below what is required by the Sixth Amendment.” Sanchez-Llamas, 548 U.S. at 357 & n.6, 126 S. Ct. 2669 (emphasis added).


Osagiede is a testament to the value of persistence. Mr. Osagiede prevailed on an argument that most lawyers would have rejected.

Michigan Court of Appeals Uphold's "Heidi's Law"

Before January 3, 2007, there was a ten year time limit on how far back a prosecutor could go to charge an habitual OUIL offense. The theory was that an OUIL committed more than ten years ago was not reflective of a person’s current status. To use a Britishism, the conviction had been “spent.” Heidi’s law changed this in Michigan.

The law amended to MCL 257.265 to increase the penalty for persons convicted of driving under the influence if the person has been convicted of the offense 3 or more times regardless of the age of the prior conviction. There have been numerous cases challenging this law around the state with mixed results.

In
People v Perkins, Court of Appeals No. 281957, the Court of Appeals voted to uphold this law. The Isabella County Circuit Court had found that this was an ex post facto violation. Ex post facto laws are ones that: (1) attach legal consequences to acts before their effective date, and (2) they work to the disadvantage of the defendant.”

The Court of Appeals panel in
Perkins disagreed holding that even though Heidi's Law works to defendants' disadvantage, the "amendment did not attach legal consequences to their prior offenses, which occurred before the amendment's effective date. Rather, the amendment made the consequences of their current offenses, which occurred after January 3, 2007, more severe based on defendants' prior convictions."

This is probably not the law last we’ve heard of this argument.

"Reform Michigan Government Now" Opinion Finally Released

Yesterday, I reported on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Reform Michigan Government Now v State of Secretary of State. I also noted that the official opinion had not been released. Today, the opinion was finally released. While the decision is 6 to 1 (Justice Kelley dissented), there are numerous different theories in the opinion and there is clearly no majority as to reasoning. The Court of Appeals had held that the proposal was too complex to be summarized in under 100 words (as required by the constitution). Ironically, the day after the Court of Appeals handed down its ruling, the Board of Elections created a 100 word summary which did a nice job of summarizing the ballot initiative.

COA Defines SORA's Catch-All Registration Requirements


Michigan’s Sex Offender Registration Act (“SORA”) requires an individual “who is convicted of a listed offense after October 1, 1995, to register as a sex offender.” MCL 28.723(1)(a). The definition of “listed offense” in MCL 28.722(e) includes a catchall provision, MCL 28.722(e)(xi), which states that “[a]ny other violation of a law of this state or a local ordinance of a municipality that by its nature constitutes a sexual offense against an individual who is less than 18 years of age,” constitutes a listed
offense.

Last week, in People v Atlhoff, the Michigan Court of Appeals had the opportunity to clarify what the registration obligations were under this provision. Mr. Althoff had been convicted of downloading child pornography from the internet. The question was whether this act constituted a “sexual offense against an individual who is less than 18 years of age” under the Act.

Previously, in People v Meyers, 250 Mich App 637, 649 NW2d 123 (2002), the Court stated that in catch-all cases, a Court was required to look at the specific facts of a given case to determine whether the Defendant’s conduct fell within the catch-all. In December of 2006, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded Althoff to the Court of Appeals as on leave granted. In its remand order, the Michigan Supreme Court stated in dicta that the language in Meyers was dicta. People v Althoff, 477 Mich 961 (2006). In People v Golba, the Court of Appeals stated that this language was holding. In Altholff, the Court of Appeals found that Golba was wrongly decided because it ignored the remand order in Althoff. In other words, the Court of Appeals created a “wrongly decided” exception to Michigan’s “first out rule.” Because the prior panel failed to detect or credit a suggestion that Meyers was dicta, the decision was invalid. Even though Michigan’s court rules require to follow a post-1990 published Court of Appeals decision, Atlhoff chose not to. In the process, the Court has inadvertently created an exception which will swallow the rule. The authors of this decision will regret their words.

SCOTUS Requests Further Briefs on Death Penalty for Child Rape

According to SCOTUS Blog, the United States Supreme Court has ordered supplemental briefing in Kennedy v Louisiana, Supreme Court No. 07-343. The original ruling struck down Lousiana’s death penalty for child rape, but may have done so based on a false premise concerning the number of jurisdictions that had a death penalty for child rape. The new briefing must be filed by Sept. 24 suggesting that the Court will be considering the issue at the first Conference of the new Term, on Monday, September 29, 2008.

Michigan Supreme Court Keeps "Reform Michigan Now" Initiative Off the Ballot

Today, a divided Michigan Supreme Court today upheld the Court of Appeals decision to bar the so-called Reform Michigan Government Now proposal from going before voters in November. The Court found that multi-faceted proposal could not be considered as a singular ballot initiative. The ruling (not yet available on the Court’s website) was reported by both the Lansing State Journal and the Detroit Free Press. A great summary of the defunct proposal appears on the website of the conservative Mackinaw Center for Law and Public Policy. Their website even includes a summary prepared by the UAW. Michigan State University has also posted a great summary, including many of the source documents.

The Supreme Court majority consisting of Chief Justice Clifford Taylor and Justices Michael Cavanagh, Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman, Elizabeth Weaver and Robert Young Jr. -- said the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal to enact three dozen constitutional changes, including pay cuts for elected officials, reductions in the size of the Legislature and appellate judiciary, and changes in redistricting rules, was too broad to be addressed by the amendment process and could not be adequately explained on the ballot in 100 words as required. Justice Marilyn Kelly dissented, suggesting the court was leaving open to question the standards for future proposed amendments.

The Reform Michigan Government Now proposal, drafted and supported by top state Democratic Party insiders, was challenged by a group of elected officials and interest groups led by the state Chamber of Commerce. According to an internal Reform Michigan Government Now memo inadvertently released to the public, the proposal was viewed by Democratic Party officials as the most cost-effective way for the party to gain control of all three branches of state government. The Reform Michigan Now Official website has not been updated to reflect the Court’s ruling.

South Carolina Imposes Sixth Amendment Duty on Defense Counsel to Investigate

Last week, I reported on the Sixth Circuit decision in VanHook v Anderson recognizing that post-Strickland decisions from the United States Supreme Court have tightened the duty of investigation required by defense counsel. Today the South Carolina Supreme Court reached essentially the same position in Council v State.

Diane Hathaway to Challenge Cliff Taylor for State Supreme Court

According to The Michigan Lawyer’s Blog, Dianne Hathaway received the democratic nomination to challenge Cliff Taylor in the fall. Here’s a link to the Mlive story on the same nomination. The M-Live story seems to state that Governor Granholm also supports this nomination. Several days ago, Dawson Bell of the Detroit Free Press wrote a sobering analysis of Judge Hathaway’s chances. Judge Hathaway is a fifteen year veteran of the Wayne County Circuit Court. She appears to have solid Democratic rank and file support. Judge Hathaway Photo

Eleventh Circuit Says that Crack Amendments to Federal Sentencing Guidelines Are Not Retroactive

According to Doug Berman’s Sentencing Law and Policy Blog, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has held that the Amendment 706 to the Federal Sentencing guidelines is not retroactive. US v. Moore, No. 08-11230 (11th Cir. Sept. 5, 2008). The key paragraph of the decision is as follows:

In this consolidated appeal, Gary Moore, Ralph Edward Wester, Theodora Lawton, Clarence Collins, and Keith Maurice McFadden (“defendants”) appeal separate district court decisions denying their motions for reduced sentences under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The defendants’ motions were all based on Amendment 706 to the Sentencing Guidelines, which, together with Amendment 713, retroactively reduced the base offense levels applicable to crack cocaine offenses.  The district courts denied their motions on the ground that, because the defendants were sentenced as career offenders under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1, Amendment 706 did not have the effect of lowering their applicable guideline ranges. We affirm.

California Supreme Court Frees Lifer Where They Was No Valid Reason for Governor to Veto Parole

The Post-Conviction Justice Project at USC Law recently prevailed in a defining case for the California parole system for long-time client Sandra Davis-Lawrence The students argued and the California Supreme Court agreed -- that a life-term prisoner is entitled to be granted parole once the prisoner no longer poses a danger to the community. The court rejected the governor’s reversal of the parole commission’s grant of parole based solely on the circumstances of Sandra Davis-Lawrence’s 1971 commitment offense (first-degree murder), holding that the reversal violated her due process rights. The 4 to 3 ruling provides meaningful judicial review of parole decisions by the Board of Parole Hearings and the governor, and could affect nearly 1,000 parole cases now on appeal. Lawyers on both sides said it was the first time in recent history that the state’s highest court has ruled in favor of a prisoner in a parole case.

Sixth Circuit Reverses Conviction Based on Actual Conflict of Interest

The Sixth Circuit reversed a habeas petitioner’s murder conviction where he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel was violated at trial and on appeal because of his state attorney’s actual conflict of interest. Boykin v Webb, Sixth Circuit No. 06-5775.

boykin

Lansing Journal Calls for Regime Change in Ingham County Prosecutor's Office

Last week, the Lansing State Journal took the unusual action of calling for the ouster of incumbent chief prosecutor Stuart Dunning. According to the Journal: “That day also should be the end of his prosecutorial career. Ingham County voters must look elsewhere on Nov. 4 for someone to lead the Prosecutor's Office; someone who can gain and hold the public trust. Dunnings clearly cannot.” The Journal did not endorse Dunning’s opponent (J. Nicholas Bostic). Instead, it concluded by noting: “At this time, it's unclear who would be the best person to lead the Prosecutor's Office in 2009. What is clear, though, is it should not be Stuart Dunnings III.”

The Wifi Sharing Defense

According to Torrent Talk, Danish and German Courts have accepted the wifi sharing defense. This defense says that because of the huge amount of illegal wifi piggybacking that goes (people using other people’s wifi connections without permission), proof that someone’s ip address was used in the commission of a crime is not proof that the individual committed the crime.

The Ultimate Conflict of Interest

According to Thursday’s New York Times, the Texas Attorney General has joined the defense request for an investigation into an affair between the prosecutor and the judge in a death penalty trial. Texas Governor Perry has taken the unusual step of staying the execution until this matter is investigated. Also joining in the Defendant’s cry for a full investigation is former FBI Direction (and federal judge) William Sessions.

Lawyering is Not About Gamesmanship

The focus of this blog is on criminal appeals, but occasionally there is a ruling in the civil sphere which directly impacts on criminal law. Judge O’Connell’s recent opinion in Shaw v Spence Bros. is one of those rulings. The majority reversed a trial court default when the insurance company representing a contract did not timely file an answer to the complaint. Judge O’Connell wrote a separate theory criticizing the attorneys who apply game theory to the practice of law.

The key opinion in the ruling notes:

At the outset, I stress that this opinion is not intended as an analysis or criticism of either the trial court or the majority’s methodology in resolving this case, but as an opportunity to address and reduce the gamesmanship that creates hostile attitudes and friction among litigants, lawyers, and the bench. Some attorneys maintain that gamesmanship is a fundamental and ingrained aspect of the legal process, and that attempts to compete with or outdo their opponents are not only appropriate but also required for zealous advocacy. I contend, however, that this gamesmanship attitude, which is all too prevalent in today’s law practice, is more destructive than helpful, because it brings disrespect upon the law, the litigants, and our shared concept of justice. Although I have no illusions that the game theory of law practice will be eliminated, I remain hopeful that this gamesmanship can be reduced through the application of the totality of the circumstances test to the process of administering justice. Indeed, one purpose of this opinion is to ignite discussion on the topic.

Garbage In May Not be Garbage Out

The United States Supreme Court is going to hear a case which may expand the limits of probable cause. The Coffee County Alabama Sheriff’s Department was desperate to search Bennie Herring’s car. A deputy called the dispatcher to check for active warrants. Unfortunately, there weren’t any. Undeterred in his quest to pull a pretext search of Mr. Herring, the deputy asked the dispatcher to check with neighboring Dale County. Dale County initially told Coffee County there was a warrant. They were wrong. The question presented in Herring is whether the police officer’s “good faith” reliance on this incorrect information in his question to pull a bad faith pretext stop should have the search. The briefs have been filed and the case will be argued on October 8th. To read the SCOTUS Wiki article on the case and access the party briefs, click here.

If You Don't Like the Facts, Change Them

At this week’s Republican National Convention, former New York City Mayor (and U.S. Attorney) Rudolf Gulliani stated that when a trial lawyer doesn’t like the facts, he or she simply changes them.  This week’s Sixth Circuit ruling in Tucker v. Palmer is a wonderful example of this principle.
Tucker was a State appeal of the grant of a habeas corpus.  Mr. Tucker was convicted of home invasion of his former neighbor’s home.  U.S. Magistrate Komives and U.S. District Judge Zatkoff granted a writ of habeas corpus finding no evidence that the Defendant committed the crime.  A sharply divided Sixth Circuit reinstated the convictions.  What is striking about the case is the dueling use of facts between Judge Ackerman (for the majority) and Judge Keith (in the minority) and how AEDPA deference can be used to conceal poor state court workmanship.
On a hot summer day, Nicholas Sutliff was mowing his back lawn.  He had locked his front door, but left the back door unlocked for access to the home.  While he was mowing, Mr. Sutliff saw Raymond Tucker jump over a low fence in his backyard and run by Mr. Sutliff.  Raymond Tucker used to live next to Mr. Sutliff, but had moved out “many years” before; the Tucker family still lived next door. 
Mr. Sutliff checked his back door, saw it was ajar, briefly checked his house and found nothing amiss. Judge Ackerman does not state whether the neighbors were the Tuckers, or whether Raymond was visiting.  He then briefly spoke to his neighbors to see if they had seen Raymond that day and then returned home and checked his house more carefully.  Mr. Stuliff then noticed two rings missing from his dresser. He reported it to the police, Mr. Tucker was arrested, and then convicted. 
Judge Ackerman’s opinion makes a convincing case that this was a routine burglary case and that the only question was whether home invasion could be sustained on circumstantial evidence.  If this was the case, plainly Judge Zatkoff  was wrong granting the writ.
Judge Keith’s dissent, however, describes a significantly different case and points out that this might easily be a case where an innocent might have convicted.  Mr. Sutliff who was painted by the majority as a competent witness with good observation skills and knowledge of the facts, was painted as a very different gentleman in the dissent. 
Mr. Sutliff was an individual with very “poor vision” due to his diabetes, who was not wearing his glasses, that his “eyes fluctuate,” when he identified an individual he had not seen in years.  Mr. Tucker had moved out of his parent’s home a full twenty years earlier.   It had been several years since Mr. Sutliff had seen Mr. Tucker. 
While Judge Ackerman points to the sharpness of Mr. Sutliff’s recall; Judge Keith points to the fact that the dresser was cluttered and that Mr. Sutliff thought he had put his rings there.  Judge Ackerman’s opinion is premised on the fact that the state court judge convicted Mr. Tucker because it thought that Mr. Sutliff stated that he saw Mr. Tucker entering his home.  This was a point that Mr. Sutliff stated the exact opposite.  Even though the state judge based his finding of facts on a critical mistake of facts, the majority ignores the fact that the state judge made such an error (a statutory AEDPA exception to the deference rule) and then “hides behind the AEDPA statute and claims that because its hand are tied, injustice must prevail.”   According to Judge Keith:  “just saying it, does not make it so.” 
The majority placed a great deal of evidence on ambiguous evidence that it characterized as flight and more importantly on Mr. Tucker’s not speaking to Mr. Sutliff.  Reading the opinion, however, it is clear that Mr Sutliff and Mr. Tucker did not get along.  Inferring guilt from silence on an on the street passing is hardly proof of anything. 
In reading this dueling recitation of the facts, it seems like politicians may not be the only ones who need a factcheck.org.

Sixth Circuit Reaffirms that an Attorney Cannot Exercise "Strategy" if (s)he Never Did Basic Investigation

In VanHook v. Anderson the Sixth Circuit recently granted a habeas corpus in a capital case where the evidence was that counsel did minimal investigation regarding the Defendant’s mental health. Since the Court’s 1984 ruling in Strickland v Washington, the United States Supreme Court has applied a two part test for determining whether counsel was ineffective: (a) whether there was a breach of counsel’s duty to the defendant; and, (b) “but for” that error, the defendant stood a reasonable chance for acquittal. While the analysis has not technically changed, many commentators have pointed out that later high court decisions have placed greater emphasis on Strickland’s language about the need for basic investigation. See, e.g. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003) (incorporating the American Bar Association Guidelines For the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases as the professional standard of performance), and Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 387 (2005) (same). Judge Merritt’s opinion in VanHook does a wonderful job at discussing this point and is a must read for any appellate practitioner. Hopefully, the decision survives en banc review. Mr. VanHook has previously won panel decisions on other grounds only to have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by the en banc court.

Expanding the Record on the Ex Parte

Purists like to argue that an appeal consists only of the documents contained in the trial court file before the Notice or Claim of Appeal is filed. While this is certainly the general rule, there are a number of pragmatic reasons why appellate courts do not rigorously adhere the “flash freeze” theory of issue preservation. This week’s SCOTUS blog has an interesting discussion about filing non-record materials for the first time in the United States Supreme Court. It appears to happen fairly frequently.

Can Judges Hear a Case Which Might Eliminate Their Jobs?

The voter’s of Michigan will probably have a chance to vote on a proposal which will downsize the size of Michigan’s Supreme Court. The proposed initiative is being constitutionally challenged and is currently before the Michigan Supreme Court. The Court has scheduled oral arguments on the application for leave to appeal. As part of the order, the Court also denied the motion to disqualify two members of the Court from sitting on the Court. The plaintiff’s argued that the very judges whose job was being eliminated could not heard the case because they had a personal interest in keeping their job. The two justices disagreed invoking the “rule of necessity” which says that if it is impossible for an unbiased court to hear the case, then the judges can sit. Two other justices joined in this opinion. Justice Kelly has promised her separate opinion in short order.

Megan's Lists Expand to Drug Offenders in TN & KS

According to the Tennessean, Tennessee and Kansas have created sex offender style registries for persons convicted of possessing methamphetamine. When will the craziness stop? There is no showing that these registries stop recidivism and there is strong evidence of exactly the opposite -- they directly impede a person’s ability to resume a normal life.

AEDPA Deference and "Objectively Reasonable Silence"

One of the most important, but dry areas of appellate law is the “standard of review.” Every experienced appellate lawyer knows that which standard of review is applied to a case often dictates whether an appellant wins or loses. This term, the United States Supreme Court (in Bell v Cone) is going to decide the sticky question which arises in many habeas corpus cases – how much deference is owed to a state court which cannot be bothered to talk about the issue.

The writ of habeas is the main vehicle which state prisoners use to challenge their convictions in federal court when there is a good argument that the conviction was obtained in violation of the federal laws or the constitution. The writ has been used to challenge such unjust convictions as that of former boxer and current international civil rights activist “Hurricane Rubin Carter.”

In 1996, in the wake of the Oklahoma Federal Courthouse bombing, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. For the first time in the history of the writ of habeas corpus. Congress in its infinite wisdom believed that weakening the power of federal courts to hear such actions would deter the likes of individuals such as Timothy McVeigh.

One of the key provisions of the act was to provide that a federal court must defer to the ruling of a state court unless is to contrary to clear United States Supreme Court holding or is objectively unreasonable. This provision has been interpreted by federal courts to hold that state court rulings which are only contrary to decisions of lower federal courts or which are contrary to the reasonable import (but not clear US Supreme Court holding) must be upheld unless the state court’s interpretation of the law is clearly unreasonable. A good example of this principle is shown in the Court’s 2006 decision in Carey v Musladin. In that case, the victim’s family wore buttons to court with a message calling for justice in memory of the victim. The defendant in the state case had successfully convinced the lower federal appellate court that this conduct violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. The United States Supreme Court reversed. Justice Thomas, writing for a six justice majority , found that the conduct of this group of non-parties might have violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, but no clear U.S. Supreme Court decision had held this. They therefore reinstated the conviction. Three Justices wrote separately, raising questions about allowing spectators to engage in courtroom activity that arguably might impair trial fairness.

A question which has remained unanswered is what federal courts are required to do with state court rulings which are either completely unresponsive to the federal question or where the ruling is so summary that it is impossible to discern the mental process of the state judge(s) who decided the case. Are federal courts required to create a hypothetical state court ruling and defer to it? Or are federal courts permitted to decide the issue for the first time? In Bell v Kelly, the Court has agreed to examine some part of this quandary. The Court has granted certiorari to consider:

“1) whether the deferential 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) standard should apply to a claim resting on evidence that the state court did not consider and was thus introduced for the first time on federal habeas”

Oral arguments are scheduled for November 12th. Mr. Bell’s brief on the merits is available here. The Government’s brief has not been filed yet. The SCOTUS Wiki description of the case and other key documents in the case is available here.