Category Archives: prosecutors

Investigation into prosecutorial misconduct means no questions asked

On April 14th, I wrote about a Kentucky prosecution for murder during the midst of which an exculpatory statement was discovered in the truck of a detective and it was made known that the statement was “accidentally” suppressed by the former prosecutor, Tom Van De Rostyne. The man who replaced Van De Rostyne, Commonwealth Attorney Wise, promised an investigation into the suppression.

Turns out, by investigation, he meant “ve vill ask ze qveschuns!

In a motion filed last week, prosecutors acknowledge that they failed to turn over a summary of an interview with Hammond’s former girlfriend, Princess Bolin, until it was discovered after Bolin had testified, but asked a judge to quash the subpoena seeking testimony from Wine about what happened.

The case ended in a mistrial and the defense has asked that it be dismissed, in part, because of prosecutorial misconduct. A hearing could be held as soon as Wednesday on whether Wine will be called to testify.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dorislee Gilbert said in her motion that, “while it might be inviting to want to know the reason that this happened, the reason it happened is not relevant” to the issue before the court, which is whether the case should move forward to another trial or be dismissed.

It only matters that the evidence was not turned over; the how and why of it is irrelevant because it involves a prosecutor. The fact that the reason for withholding the exculpatory information may lead to other evidence that may have been suppressed has apparently escaped the prosecutor seeking to quash the subpoena.

This attitude is an increasingly prevalent one wherein “the people’s attorneys” are answerable to no one but themselves. When you vest that much power in the hands of people, exculpatory statements naturally find their ways into trucks.

SC public defender forgets meaning of adversarial

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What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I suppose, which is why it makes me really angry to see this story from South Carolina, where a lawyer has filed an ethics complaint against a prosecutor and a public defender for being figuratively caught in bed.

This stems from the same district where the prosecutor tried to have a Supreme Court justice recused for having the temerity to remind prosecutors that they shouldn’t be engaging in misconduct. (I wrote about it here and Radley Balko expounded on it here.)

The complaint has been filed by Attorney Desa Ballard:

A former law clerk with the state Supreme Court, Ballard has practiced law for 31 years and serves as an adjunct professor with the University of South Carolina School of Law. She specializes in professional ethics and responsibility.

In the complaint she alleges that Wilson, the prosecutor, has established an atmosphere of getting away with what you can and hiding exculpatory information. For instance:

Prosecutor threatens defense attorney with warrant for failing to help incriminate client

We’ve always known that the prosecutorial function requires somewhat of a solipsistic world-view, but failing to do one’s own job and then demanding that the defense do it for you is another realm entirely.

Charlie Rubenstein, Cincinnati prosecutor, may have an inadequate understanding of the adversarial process of the criminal justice system and seems to have never heard of the burden of proof resting on him. Rubenstein was prosecuting a man named Terrance Jones for the high crime of stealing candy from a store. This being 2014, there was a store surveillance camera which recorded the incident. Rubenstein, laboring under the mis-impression that convictions come walking in through the door without having to work for them, neglected to obtain the security footage.

Ray Faller, public defender and human with at least half a brain apparently, got his investigator to go to the store and obtain a copy of the surveillance video. The stores, as stores do, then erased the video so it could record the next robbery.

Rubenstein, ever so demanding, demanded that the defense turn over the video that purportedly incriminated Jones. Faller, as any good lawyer would do, told Rubenstein to go fuck himself.

So, like every misdemeanor prosecutor who’s been told to go fuck himself, Rubenstein flexed his muscle and got his pal and former co-worker Judge Lisa Allen to sign a search warrant for Faller’s office. In it, he claims that the video is evidence and the defense was hiding evidence and thus were guilty of “tampering with the evidence”.

The case settled and the warrant was never executed, but the idea that the warrant was sought and issued is a tremendously frightening one.

The surveillance video has evidentiary value, certainly, but it is not the job of the defense to provide that to the prosecution, when the prosecution had the opportunity to obtain it itself.

With the prevalence of 24-hour security cameras everywhere, retention of footage has become a big issue. The prosecution routinely secures footage when it believes it will be helpful, but not when it believes it to not be so or when it may be exculpatory. When asked to obtain video that might show the defendant was innocent, the prosecution routinely shrugs its shoulders and points out that it has no control over store owners and can’t legally be required to obtain the footage.

And yet Rubenstein thinks that a defense attorney is obligated to help incriminate his own client by turning over video of an incident that he himself failed to get.

The chilling effect of this line of thinking is obvious: defense attorneys would be extremely hesitant to conduct an investigation of their own because they would automatically have to turn over whatever they uncover that would incriminate their clients. This would cause a conflict of interest in all criminal cases: either fail to investigate and run afoul of the rules of professional conduct or investigate, refuse to turn over evidence and be subject to arrest or turn over incriminating evidence uncovered and violate the duty of confidentiality and zealous advocacy to the client.

In other words, Rubenstein’s thuggery serves to remove the defense attorney entirely from the adversarial process, leaving him free to steamroll pro-se defendants.

H/T: ABAJ

 

Yet another prosecutor “accidentally” suppresses exculpatory evidence

No, of course violations of Brady v. Maryland aren’t a problem; no, of course, no prosecutor ever would intentionally hide evidence that tended to show that the person accused may not be guilty; no, of course, the system that we have is great.

And yet. Yet again.

Say hello to Dejuan Hammond, who was 5 days into a trial accused of murder. Hammond had just finished sitting through the testimony of his ex-girlfriend, Princess Bolin, who gave two interviews to police implicating him.

Or did she?

Potential juror thinks defendant is guilty before trial; gets to sit on jury and find him guilty (Updated)

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Here is another in the long line of legal fictions: that you get an impartial jury of your peers. Let’s leave aside the peer part for now, because there’s already been much study on the lack of any real peers in juries selected these days and focus on the “impartial” part.

Impartial, in this context, is supposed to mean someone who doesn’t come to the trial with any predispositions. Someone who is able to be fair, listen to the evidence, and conscientiously apply the law to the  facts, regardless of whether one emotionally agrees with the result compelled by those facts.

In reality, we aren’t stone robots. Everyone comes in with preconceived notions. In these days of increasing polarity, we have ever stronger opinions about crime and criminal justice and especially those icky child molesters.

So we come to our legal fiction: rehabilitation. That’s when the judge asks an obviously biased venireperson enough questions that they eventually get the hint, no matter how stupid they are, and end up saying the magic words “I think I can be fair in this case”. Doesn’t really matter what they’ve said prior to that point, once we get to that incantation, the juror is deemed impartial and fit to serve on the jury.

You’d be a fool, however, to think that the juror has actually changed his or her views. Just ask Jose Felipe Velasco:

Jose Felipe Velasco insists Orange County Judge David A. Hoffer cheated him out of a fair trial by placing a juror on the supposedly neutral citizen’s panel after she repeatedly declared the defendant guilty before hearing any evidence.

But you knew that anyway from the title of this post. So how bad could it have really been? Very bad.

Grand juries, search warrants, revenge porn – oh, my, or: today at the legislature

For a short session of the legislature, there sure have been a large number of criminal justice bills already raised and considered by some committees. Today is no different, with a large number of “groundbreaking” bills being considered by the Judiciary committee. The public defender’s office and the CT Criminal Defense Lawyers Association have submitted written testimony on some or all of these bills1. What follows is what my testimony would be if they’d let me into the Capitol after that one time with the monkey and the backscratcher.

The Investigative Subpoena One Person Grand Jury Reform Bill

S.B. No. 488 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING GRAND JURY REFORM. (JUD)

A perennial favorite of prosecutors, this bill has made its way back to the legislature. Year after year they bring up this bill, seeking to give themselves the power to just subpoena whoever and whatever to their office to conduct their investigations. Year after year this bill is defeated. But you gotta hand it to them, they keep trying.

And this iteration is slightly different. Instead of seeking to give themselves the power, they vest it in a “one person grand jury” – the presiding judge of the judicial district courthouse.

The rest of the shit is the same. As I wrote extensively last year, their standard for issuing subpeonas is the lowest, most nebulous, undefined piece of nonsense I’ve ever seen: the interests of justice.

What does that mean? Nothing. It’s not a real thing. It’s a free pass. The bill explicitly removes a requirement of probable cause and replaces it with this interest of justice nonsense.

What’s worse is that there’s no limitation on when the investigative grand jury can be used. Under the law as it existed, the State’s Attorney had to make a showing that they’d made an effort using normal investigative tools. They have to show that their regular methods weren’t working and they needed this invasive tool to make one last ditch effort at cracking a case. If they hadn’t tried their normal methods, they had to include a statement saying why. In other words, accountability.

This proposal does away with that and replaces it with the sort of investigative subpoenas that are coercive and dangerous.

But go ahead, keep trusting the State to do its business in secret. That’s never backfired on us.

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The “revenge porn” bill

S.B. No. 489 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF AN INTIMATE IMAGE OF ANOTHER PERSON. (JUD)

This is the bill that seeks to specifically criminalize the act of taking a nude photograph of a person who you were once intimate with and distributing that photograph on the internet without their permission.

Let’s be clear: it’s a totally douchey thing to do. It’s violative of someone’s trust and makes you out to be a complete asshole.

But is it a crime? Should it be a crime? Can it be a crime? These are the important questions.

As I understand it (and you really should read this post by Mark Bennett for a complete deconstruction of its unconstitutionality), a picture is speech. So when a picture is made public and the government seeks to put restrictions on it, it becomes a question of the Freedom of Speech which implicates the First Amendment.

As Mark explains, the bills don’t seek to criminalize all pictures posted, only pictures posted that meet certain criteria: nudity, non-consensual.

That’s a content-based restriction: you’re restricting speech based on the content of it. For example, in 2010 in U.S. v. Stevens, the Supreme Court refused to find that “crush videos”2 were illegal.

But let us assume, for the purposes of this post, that “revenge porn” should and can be criminalized.3 What would a bill look like? CT’s proposal is:

(a) A person is guilty of unlawful dissemination of an intimate image when, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, such person electronically disseminates, without the consent of such other person, a photograph, film, videotape or other recorded image of (1) the genitals, pubic area or buttocks of such other person, or the breast of such other person who is female with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion of such breast below the top of the nipple, or (2) such other person engaged in sexual intercourse, as defined in section 53a-193 of the general statutes.

I’m just going to list the problems with this in bullet format, because it’ll be easier:

  • The “Intent to annoy” language. That’s exceedingly vague and a terribly low standard that’s so variable dependent on the person being so “annoyed”. Your face is annoying to me. Are you a criminal now?
  • “Electronically disseminates”. The bill seeks to criminalize electronic dissemination but nowhere defines that. What if I show the picture to my dying brother in the hospital room? What if I post it on a flyer on a lamppost outside my house?
  • “The genitals, pubic area or buttocks” apparently don’t need to be naked. So I can take a picture of your fat ass as you bend over to pick up a McFry and put it on the internet and now I have to go to jail because you have low self-esteem.
  • This might already exist. Here’s “Breach of Peace in the 2nd Degree“, which states, in relevant part: (a) A person is guilty of breach of the peace in the second degree when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person: (4) publicly exhibits, distributes, posts up or advertises any offensive, indecent or abusive matter concerning any person. Doesn’t that hit every note on the revenge porn bill? Why do we need a separate one again?4

The Search Warrant That Tracks Your Movement and Gets Your Email and Social Media

H.B. No. 5587 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING SEARCH WARRANTS. (JUD)

It’s innocuously named, but it covers a wide swathe and is important also for what it doesn’t cover. Primarily, the bill purports to bring into line our statutes to comply with two cases: U.S. v. Jones (the GPS case) and State v. Esarey (a case about out of state warrants for email). Also, this bill has nothing to do with the scope of search warrants for the search of your cell phone. That’s the subject of an upcoming column.

As for the GPS. the bill states that police can seek a warrant if they believe that “probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been, is being, or will be committed and that the use of a tracking device will yield evidence of the commission of that offense”.

So almost immediately we hit upon the first problem: how will a tracking device provide evidence of a crime that has already been committed? Because the warrant seeks to authorize the attachment of a device that tracks the movement of a person or object. So unless that movement in the future (for up to 30 days – another problem with the length of time) corroborates a crime in the past, I see that portion as problematic.

Next, the scope. As it currently stands, there is no limitation on the scope of the data collected and what it can be used for. For example, if the warrant states that the data is being sought to prosecute a high-level drug trafficker and the data shows that the suspect was at the residence of his girlfriend, who has a protective order against him, can the information be used to prosecute him for that? Just like warrants for the searches of homes are very specific as to what can be sought and seized, so should any warrant for this “tracking data”.

If not, doesn’t it become closer to those general warrants the founding fathers of our country so hated?

Speaking of general warrants, the other part of the bill that seeks to address State v. Esarey also succumbs to the same problem. The section incorporates the warrant requirement discussed above and applies it to out of state providers of data “or business entity that provides electronic communication services or remote computing services to the public”. In other words, your email providers and Facebook and Twitter.

Now imagine that: the police believe that you are about to commit a crime, so they get a judge to issue a warrant for your emails. As we’ve already discussed above, with a lack of particularity requirement in the statute, they get everything. EVERYTHING. All your emails.

Who’s to say they can’t read your emails and go on fishing expeditions to find other things that may be evidence of other crimes? Who’s to say they can read your emails and try to find crimes to fit what they see?

Worse, notice isn’t immediate, so you can’t move to quash the subpoena in time or file a motion seeking to limit its scope. The statute says that they have to let you know within 48 hours, but the company has only 5 days to provide all that data. There’s no provision that says they have to turn over the data unless there’s a motion to quash filed.

The Wiretapping/Eavesdropping Bills

S.B. No. 487 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECORDING OF TELEPHONIC COMMUNICATIONS. (JUD)

This is one strange bill. Not by itself. By itself it’s a “revision” to the eavesdropping statute. It states that no one shall record a private telephonic conversation without alerting the other party in various ways and obtaining that party’s consent. It then lays out various exceptions, including ones for law enforcement and:

(4) Any party who records a telephonic communication, provided the intent of the recording is to memorialize evidence of a crime before, during or after the fact and the unaltered and undisclosed recording must have been submitted to law enforcement within a reasonable amount of time;

One of the exceptions is also the corporation that provides these telephone services as defined in C.G.S. 53a-187(a)(1). This is important when you combine this bill with the next; it becomes a little confusing as to its purpose.

H.B. No. 5585 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING SURVEILLANCE OF CELL PHONE COMMUNICATION BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS. (JUD)

Remember that 53a-187 I just cited above? This one makes changes to that bill. And the change is good, but it’s still a bit confusing in context. The change essentially is that the exception to unlawful wiretapping doesn’t apply to law enforcement acting in the scope of their duties. “Scope of their duties” is amended to now include:

when such official (1) has probable cause to believe that the cellular radio telephone has been used in furtherance of the commission of a crime and has obtained a search warrant that authorizes wiretapping of the cellular radio telephone, or (2) is otherwise authorized by state or federal law to engage in wiretapping of the cellular radio telephone.

There is, of course, already a whole set of wiretapping statutes (54-41a-41u) which aren’t mentioned anywhere.

So I’m confused. Why did we need the previous bill? What does this do? What do any of them do to the actual wiretapping statute?

More importantly, why was this necessary? What are we trying to fix? Is there a problem of law enforcement listening to conversations without warrants and/or PC and if so, why haven’t we heard about it?

Now you know. Call your legislator.

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Prosecution by installment: the King Bruce theory

King Bruce of Scotland, you will recall, was a king driven into exile by those damn British. During the course of this, he was taking refuge in a cave, defeated, when he chanced upon a spider which was unable to spin a web, presumably having nothing to do with the fact that it was Scottish and hence drunk. So it tried and failed and tried and failed until it finally succeeded, which gave the Good King Bruce an epiphany that if you try enough times you will eventually succeed at what you want. He then promptly defeated the British and Scotland has been an independent country ever since but he doesn’t get nearly all the credit that Mel Gibson does presumably because he wasn’t wearing blue war paint.

I know what you were thinking. Pervert.

Just last week, the Connecticut Appellate Court issued an opinion [PDF] endorsing the ‘King Bruce’ theory of prosecutions: try as many times as you want. But in order to understand the opinion in State v. Brundage II, you have to start at the beginning with State v. Brundage I.

In the beginning, Brundage was a creep. Over a period of roughly 8 years, he allegedly sexually assaulted his then-girlfriend’s daughter. The girlfriend ended the relationship in 2003 and the girl finally reported the abuse in 2007.

He was charged by the prosecution with two counts of Sexual Assault in the First Degree and two counts of Risk of Injury to a Minor. Out of all the possible crimes available to them, these are the two they chose to proceed on. Brundage, on cue, got convicted and was sentenced to a long time in jail.

Except he appealed, claiming that the criminal charges were actually barred by the statute of limitations. On appeal, the prosecution and the Appellate Court agreed that all charges for all incidents occurring prior to 2003 were barred and could not be prosecuted: