Prosecutor Connelly resigns

You may or may not have heard, but the State’s Attorney for the Waterbury Judicial District – and the man responsible for sending the most inmates to death row in CT – has just resigned. Justice Richard Palmer, chair of the Criminal Justice Commission, which oversees the State’s Attorneys in CT, issued a statement that Connelly had resigned effective February 1st:

Palmer stated that the resignation follows an inquiry undertaken by the commission into allegations regarding Connelly’s conduct while in office. Palmer further stated that, because the commission’s inquiry involved a personnel matter, and because the allegations have been the subject of an investigation by federal authorities, he was not free to discuss details of those allegations at this time.

You might recall that back in August I posted that Connelly was the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had accepted compensation from his good friend – and defense attorney Martin Minella – in exchange for favorable treatment of Minella’s clients. That Federal investigation is still ongoing. Palmer’s statement is particular noteworthy because it seems that the Commission had conducted its own inquiry into this alleged unethical conduct and was ready to issue some form of punishment. That has now been rendered unnecessary by Connelly’s resignation:

Palmer said that the commission had honored a request that it refrain from engaging in any activities in furtherance of its inquiry that might have impaired or otherwise interfered with the federal investigation. Palmer also said that despite this limitation on the commission’s inquiry, it was prepared to take appropriate action with respect to the allegations against Connelly, but that any such action has been rendered unnecessary by Connelly’s resignation.

Now that may or may not mean anything about the “action” the commission was ready to take, but it certainly does indicate that Connelly was to receive some form of rebuke, separate from the Federal investigation.

The disproportionate number of death sentences originating in Waterbury had been the driving force behind a racial and geographical disparity lawsuit that is still pending.

What this means for the state of the death penalty in Connecticut or for those who were tried by Connelly in capital and non-capital cases is anyone’s guess. Mine is that there will be no consequences and that’s a damn shame.

These crumbs are wishing you a happy new year

Life is like a box of choc-oh now I'm sad

Unlike last year’s new year’s eve explosion of completely useless posts that no one read and I barely remember writing, this year I’ve decided that there’s no better way to ring in the new year than with a reminder of how wonderful and crazy the internet is. So, the final “crumbs” edition of 2010, brought to you by Sad Keanu:

  • Let me see you naked: the most recurring theme in all searches, which just goes to confirm the “theory” that the internet would not exist without nudity and porn.
  • you rock: yes, yes I do, don’t I?
  • you know you’re screwed when: see next entry
  • fuck: QED
  • what day is Caturday: Really? You haven’t been paying attention to anything I’ve said? Every day is Caturday. In fact, Caturday was the most searched word of all-time. Ever. Just goes to show that the internet actually couldn’t exist without cats doing funny things and porn.
  • April 17 1996: According to Wikipedia, that day does not exist.
  • Conviction rates of whites to blacks: I believe the word you’re looking for is conversion.
  • how can rotten peach contribute to real life? when life gives you rotten peaches, you move to another state.
  • officer said he would drop my charge: that bridge you bought is also worth nothing
  • rehab cliparts
  • guilty of creating disturbance: I think that’s what Darth Vader was when he wiped out an entire planet
  • the justice system makes me want to kill myself: In Sovyet Raasha, you dont keel jaastice seestem, jaastice seestem keel you
  • how do I determine whether I am practicing law in NY: well, are you?
  • tv show defenders bar they drink at: Dude. It’s a show. They’re not real. You won’t meet them. Stalker.
  • lege sex: awkward, cacophonous, mostly uncomfortable and you might catch someone playing solitaire in the middle of it.
  • how do you find the defendant: look for the guy in a prison jumpsuit with shackles
  • plea bargaining quote: $500
  • show how to learn about law: that’s stupid. No one’s going to watch that show.
  • kick in the groin: that’s what these posts feel like.

And that’s about all the nonsense I can tolerate. Have a Happy New Year!

Top 10 things you shouldn’t say to your clients

eh heh, eh heh, yup, uh huh

In the end-of-the-year-lists-that-are-poor-substitutes-for-actual-writing spirit, I present to you the first of many Top 10 lists. Today, we learn about things that you really shouldn’t tell your client (it would really help if you pictured this list being introduced by Letterman portrayed by Peter Griffin).

So, without any more fanfare or irrelevant segues, the Top 10 things you really shouldn’t say to your clients, in no particular order:

10. Now, when did you stop beating your wife?

9. We’re going to go with the “your identical twin brother did it” defense.

8. You’re right, I’m not a real lawyer, but for $500 I’ll play one in real life.

7. And if you plead within the next 30 minutes, I’ll throw in an extra set of kitchen knives, free.

6. Listen, you keep saying you didn’t do it, but I really don’t believe you.

5. Remember, it’s always polite to tip your lawyer.

4. Has anyone ever told you you look like Charles Manson?

3. Maybe spending a few decades in jail will do you some good.

2. Bro, I love you and all, but that teardrop tattoo looks ridiculous.

1. Who cares how much evidence they have against you, God is on our side.

The comments are yours.

And frankly, the only reason I wrote this damn post is so I could use that picture. Don’t judge me, you’re no better.

Sundown comes to East Haven


East Haven, CT generally has two claims to fame: being a predominantly Italian-American populated town and being in the middle of the collision of tectonic plates during the Paleozoic Era, which led to the formation of Pangaea (yeah, bet you didn’t know that!). And now, rapidly, the town is intent on adding a third selling point: a sundown town.

Residents of Connecticut will have heard these stories for years now: the systematic harassment of and discrimination against minorities, mainly Hispanic, who comprise about 5% of the town’s population. For example, Father James Manship was arrested in March of 2009 after he started videotaping the harassment of Latinos [what is up with cops and videotaping in the Havens?]. During that same incident, police inexplicably ordered the owner of a store to take down expired license plates that adorned his walls:

On the evening of his arrest, at around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19, Father Manship walked into My Country Store, a convenience store in East Haven run by Ecuadorians. Inside, the police were removing over 60 expired license plates that had been hung as decorations in the store. The license plates were government property, the officers had said, and they were confiscating them.

After the police arrested the priest, they noticed that the store was equipped with security cameras. Elio Cruz, a leader in New Haven’s Virgen Del Cisne Ecuadorian community, was in the store that night. “When [the police officers] realized there was videotaping from My Country Store, they went crazy,” Cruz recalled later. “They said it was illegal and they tried to grab the computer.”

Matute said that three officers entered the back room without his permission and searched the shelves in his storeroom. When they found the hard drive containing the store’s digital security camera footage, they wanted to take it, but Matute wouldn’t let them, he said. Matute said that the officers then called a detective to bring a video camera to record the security footage off of the computer screen, but the detective’s camera didn’t work.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In October of this year, some Latino residents of East Haven filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, after the DOJ had opened an investigation into police tactics:

Death penalty abolition bill filed and waiting

It isn’t even January yet and already state legislators are “pre-filing” bills to be voted upon in the next session of the state legislature. As expected, first among them is a death penalty abolition bill with State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield as its proponent. Holder-Winfield, you may recall, spearheaded the first abolition bill two years ago, which passed both the House and Senate and was ultimately vetoed by “only a month left until she’s gone, wooohoo” Gov. Rell.

Holder-Winfield has also introduced other necessary criminal justice reform legislation, like adopting the best practices for eyewitness identification procedures and videotaping interrogations. He has “pre-filed” a bill addressing the former once again.

Of course, with the just concluded Hayes trial and the upcoming circus in the trial of his co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, the debate on the death penalty bill is likely to be emotional, contentious and close. But no one can accuse Holder-Winfield of falling prey to the typical abolitionist tendencies of avoiding confrontation and “waiting for the right moment”, which almost never materializes, because there’s always a heinous crime around which the pro-death penalty folks will rally.

With newly elected anti-death penalty Dan Malloy taking over the reins of the State for the next 4 years, there’s a sliver of hope for abolition.


Queensland, Alabama

If you look closely, you can see "South Pacific Ocean". Alabama is no longer part of the US! Yay!

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of geography will quickly realize that Queensland is not in Alabama at all. Queensland is in Australia and Alabama is, well, somewhere down south where we like to pretend doesn’t exist.

But the two have come together in this mind-boggling and ultimately bordering on illegal vendetta prosecution of Gabe Watson for the murder of his wife Tina, in 2003.

And while the rest of the world is busy getting up in arms about Julian Assange and Sweden and Britain and bail and the US and possible prosecutions [that's SEO, n00bs], it falls upon me to bring you this sorry tale of overreaching and choice of law.

Back in ’03, Gabe and Tina, newlyweds, went to Queensland for its great barrier reef and it’s picturesque setting for a honeymoon. As most people not named Gideon are wont to do, they went scuba diving and that’s where tragedy struck. Tina drowned and died. Gabe returned to Alabama where he lived for 5 years until an Australian court indicted him for the murder of Tina Watson. He voluntarily returned to Queensland and through the good work of his lawyers was able to secure a plea bargain wherein he pled guilty to manslaughter, for “failing to perform his duties as dive buddy” that resulted in Tina’s death. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, which was later increased to 18 months by Australian “authorities”:

After objections from Tina Watson’s family and Alabama Attorney General Troy King that the sentence was too lenient, Australian Attorney General Cameron Dick increased Watson’s time by six months.

What does this have to do with Alabama? Well, that’s where he’s from and that’s where Tina was from, so a few months ago, AL prosecutors indicted the proverbial ham sandwich: two counts of capital felony. Australia, bless their reformed souls, agreed to deport Watson only if AL agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

So, you’re probably wondering, how in [insert deity of choice]‘s name does Alabama have jurisdiction? The crime, whatever it may be, occurred almost 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the planet. AL prosecutors’ assertion is that he killed Tina for insurance money, a plot that was hatched in AL before going to Queensland where he completed it.

The problem with that theory is this:

The stupid; it hurts the brain

no caption needed

There are few topics in the criminal justice arena that get the masses’ blood boiling as much as sexual assault and the “rights” of those accused of these horrible crimes. When it comes to rape, people generally don’t care about the rules or the Constitution or the fact that no matter how awful and hideous the crime, the procedures must be followed. Which is why we end up with stories like the one I linked to yesterday from the State of Washington:

Of course, even those accused of horrible crimes are entitled to a defense. And just because someone is accused of being a rapist doesn’t make it so. But victims also have rights, and asking them to relive the trauma of a sexual assault via a cross-examination by the perpetrator sure seems to be a violation of them.

Thankfully, there have been efforts to address the situation. Last year, a bill was introduced that would appear to protect defendants’ and victims’ rights alike by allowing the former to question the latter via closed-circuit television or through a surrogate attorney. And while the bill stalled in the state legislature, a similar proposal is expected to be reintroduced in the next legislative session — and recent events ought to persuade previously skeptical politicians.

This is stupid in so many ways, it hurts the brain. How? Let me count the ways. First, as I’ve written extensively, there’s the Constitution:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to [...] be confronted with the witnesses against him.

That right of confrontation is “the right physically to face those who testify against him, and the right to conduct cross-examination.” Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987).

The reasoning is explicit and clear: to have the person making the allegation face the defendant and the jury and look them in the eye. After all, if you’re going to accuse someone of a crime, at least have the conviction to do it face to face:

As the United States Supreme Court has asserted, a defendant’s “literal right to `confront’ the witness at the time of trial … forms the core of the values furthered by the Confrontation Clause.” California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 157 (1970); Delaware v. Fensterer, supra; Davis v. Alaska, supra, 315; Dowdell v. United States, 221 U.S. 325, 330 (1911). The clause was originally conceived as a safeguard “to prevent depositions or ex parte affidavits … being used against the prisoner in lieu of a personal examination and cross-examination of the witness in which the accused has an opportunity, not only of testing the recollection and sifting the conscience of the witness, but of compelling him to stand face to face with the jury in order that they may look at him, and judge by his demeanor upon the stand and the manner in which he gives his testimony whether he is worthy of belief.” Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242-43 (1895); see also 5 J. Wigmore, Evidence (3d Ed. 1940) §§ 1365, 1367.

But in almost all cases, this confrontation is had between the accuser and the defendant’s lawyer. The lawyer, who is trained and well-versed in the rules of evidence and who will keep the questioning relevant and professional. The concern in the story that’s the focus of the post is pro-se questioning by defendants, who tend to go off the rails and sometimes seek to bully, embarrass and badger witnesses. Or ask completely irrelevant questions and upset the whole trial. Sure, that’s a concern. But that’s a concern with anything a pro-se defendant does. And here, yet again, there’s that pesky constitution: