It only takes one

We have a saying, those of us in this field, that “it only takes one”. It’s said with a slight wink and an imperceptible smile, the legal defense equivalent of “anything’s possible”. Said in reference to cases that present near insurmountable challenges to the defense, it implies that all you need is one juror and you have a hung jury. And if that occurs, anything can happen: the state may not re-prosecute, they may offer a more palatable plea bargain, or at the very least, you’ll have a free preview of their evidence. “It only takes one” is the outcome you’ll gladly accept when all hope of an outright acquittal is lost.

Paul Kennedy, in this post today, writes about a recent Texas trial and the jury’s failure to unanimously agree on a verdict. He references the “reasonable doubt” posts written by both Scott and yours truly last week to ask:

What is clearer evidence of reasonable doubt (other than a unanimous not guilty verdict)? Why should los federales get another bite at the apple when they couldn’t prove up their case the first time? Why should Mr. Eversole be forced to cough up even more money to defend himself against charges the prosecutors couldn’t prove beyond all reasonable doubt?

Rephrased, in the words of Judge Gee, writing for the 5th Circuit in US v. Becton, the issue becomes this:

Arrest warrant for judge rejected…if it existed in the first place

Updating the humdinger of a story from last Friday, wherein a State Trooper was allegedly seeking an arrest warrant for a judge who failed to sign an arrest warrant, there are two conflicting sets of stories out today. First, we have the Waterbury Republican-American, which reports that the trooper did indeed submit an arrest warrant application, but it was rejected (by whom, we don’t know), and that now the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office is “reviewing the allegations” that were made in that application:

A state trooper’s arrest warrant application that charges a Bantam Superior Court judge with coercion and hindering an investigation has been rejected, but the allegations it raises have been forwarded to the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office for review. … On Friday, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance declined to say why the application was denied or by whom. Vance said the document, stamped in bold with the words “arrest warrant application” at the top, is not considered an application for arrest unless and until it is signed by the investigating trooper and a supervisor.

BUT then we turn to the Register-Citizen, which has a different story. According to the R-C, no warrant was ever submitted by any police agency to any prosecuting authority:

Significant CT Supreme Court cases

Justice Old White Dude 1, Justice Old White Dude 2...

The Connecticut Judicial Branch, in keeping with its image of being speedy and up-to-date with news and technology, just posted a new link on its website. The link is to the celebrations held in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Connecticut State Library and Supreme Court building, which was November 10, 2010. So, you know, only 5 months late.

There actually is interesting information on that site, including really old photographs of really old dudes with names like Samuel Prentice and Silas Robinson and Elisha Carpenter, who, apparently sat on wooden chairs at floor level. No wonder it was called the Supreme Court of Errors. Now there’s an appropriate name, if there ever was one.

There’s also this lovely link to a list of all Connecticut Supreme Court (I’m just going to call it that, okay? Let the Court of Errors thing go. Act your age.) Justices, dating back to the ubiquitous and inimitable Tapping Reeve. [And if someone can explain to me just what the hell is going on with the layout of this page, I’ll buy you a drink.]

But – and what I’m getting to – is this nifty little list created by world-renowned Connecticut Appellate Lawyer Wesley Horton, of some “significant” CT Supreme Court decisions.

Being someone who once went to treatment for list-addiction, I cannot but permit myself a sip o’ the ole vice and present a list of my own and invite you to do the same. So, finally, here’s a list of the most significant Connecticut Supreme Court cases, in my opinion. Obviously, since no one really gives a shit about civil cases, there are few on this list.

1. State v. Golding – holding that unpreserved errors of Constitutional magnitude can and should be reviewed by appellate courts

1a. State v. Kitchens – effectively reversing State v. Golding above and making it near impossible to get any review of any sort of unpreserved claim of Constitutional magnitude.

2. Kerrigan v. Comm’r of Public Health – gay marriage is a-okay!

3. State v. Geisler – delineating a 6-part test to evaluate claims under the State Constitution.

4. State v. Stoddard – Police are required to timely inform suspects in custody of legal counsel’s attempts to contact them and render legal assistance.

5. State v. Oquendo – declining to adopt the restricted meaning of seizure under Hodari D. and holding that Connecticut’s Constitution provides greater protection.

6. State v. Randolph – reinstating the old common law rule of favoring a strict preclusion of “propensity evidence” in non-sexual assault cases.

6a. State v. DeJesus – actually putting ink on paper to say that, in sex assault cases, once a sex offender, always a sex offender.

7. State v. Marsala – under the State Constitution, there is no such thing as a “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule.

8. Sheff v. O’Neill – something about racial segregation and schools and who the hell knows. They’re still fighting over this one, nearly 20 years later. (No, I’m kidding. This case is very big deal.)

9. State v. Courchesne I – a death penalty reversal based on statutory construction and “plain meaning” of words written on paper, which led the legislature to pass CGS 1-2z, which essentially says mean what they mean.

10. Lozada v. Warden – that whenever the right to counsel attaches (in this case in post-conviction hearings), that right is the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel. Prosecutors hate this one.

11. Kelo v. New London – something about eminent domain and taking and – seriously, all I remember about this is that after SCOTUS’ opinion, some justice had almost had his house taken by eminent domain or something?

12. State v. Nelson, State v. Griswold – the name should give you a hint.

13. State v. Littlejohn – proving the old adage that a criminal defendant can waive whatever the hell she wants, including the statute of limitations.

14. Kohlfuss v. Warden – there is a double jeopardy provision in the State Constitution. It’s right there, umm, taking the shape of the Due Process Clause.

15. State v. Carpenter – holding, somehow, that recklessness (as required for manslaughter) is a subcategory of specific intent (required for murder).

16. State v. Morales – entitles the defendant to a jury instruction when the police fail to preserve potentially useful evidence.

17. State v. Ledbetter; State v. Marquez; State v. Outing – slowly but surely coming in line with the modern scientific thinking on the uselessness of eyewitness identification.

I’m sure there are others you find significant. Let’s hear them in the comments.

[PS: I was really, really tempted to add another: She Who Must Not Be Named v. DiNardo, for my good friend Ryan. But I give him enough crap about it already.So I leave it to you, mischievous reader, to suggest it in the comments.]











Wrong time, wrong battle

There are several “rules” of practice that all criminal defense lawyers would be well served knowing and understanding. One of them is that we must and should engage in battles with the prosecutors and courts for the sake of our general clientele. But one that is even more paramount, one that goes to the core of our mission to represent each and every client individually, is that you must never fight a battle to the detriment of a specific client.

And I get that this is even more of an issue with public defenders offices across the country, where the ever-increasing pressure of funding cuts leads to the inevitability of “taking a stand” and showing the clueless politicians in the state legislature just how devastating the impact of their poorly thought out budget reductions will go. I get that, even in the relative nirvana of Connecticut, we are severely understaffed in most of our public defender offices. And I get that it’s worse in places like Georgia and Florida and South Carolina.

But just like you’d never forgo a misdemeanor with a suspended sentence in favor of testing out your latest brilliant challenge to the constitutionality of a serious felony statute, there’s a place and a time to fight these fights. And that time isn’t at a critical stage of a criminal proceeding. So it irked me to read Bobby G.’s post today, about a seemingly office wide policy of the public defender’s office in Horry County, SC, to automatically waive all preliminary hearings for clients who are entitled to them.

South Carolina is an odd place to people from the Northeast, like me. They use terms like “general sessions courts” and “solicitors”. They still utilize a grand jury, and – although he doesn’t use it in his post – I bet they have something mechanism whereby cases are “bound over” to some other place.

But the commonality in the language we use this:

State police want to arrest judge who refused to sign arrest warrant

Unless the victim was also arrested. You can’t make this shit up. And if it were April 1st today, I might laugh it off as a clever joke. But it’s not and apparently neither is this.

Here’s the lowdown, from the two meager paywall inhibited articles that I could find. State Trooper from Salisbury, CT (where watching paint dry is exciting) Mark Lauretano apparently submitted an arrest warrant for a man who got into a bar fight with someone else. The “victim” of the fight (meaning the guy who got beaten up worse), was obviously not arrested, as these things go. Judge Klatt, upon reviewing the information in the warrant declined to sign it, apparently until the “victim” was also arrested.

Judge Klatt, a former prosecutor from Death Valley Waterbury, CT, should have known better. You simply do not refuse the State Police what they want. So instead of, I don’t know, reviewing the information again to see if maybe the Judge had a point, Lauretano does the logical thing and is now seeking an arrest warrant for the Judge herself*.

Because, you know – no, actually I don’t know. He claims that:

Reasonable gibberish

(alternate tagline: because juries never convict anyone anyway)

“I am convinced, after [fourteen] years of being a judge and many years of practice before that, that the standard reasonable doubt charge in Connecticut is unsatisfactory. It is satisfactory only in the sense that it is routinely upheld by the appellate courts, which is a considerable advantage, to be sure. But over the years I’ve become convinced that jurors’ eyes glaze over when it is given and it is not fully understood and, therefore, does not do adequate justice to the parties and I believe needs to be modernized, simplified, put into plain language but, obviously, appropriate language.

Judge Jon Blue, quoted from State v. Jackson, 283 Conn. 11 (2007). That Judge Blue, a former appellate public defender, would speak his mind and attempt to craft an instruction that may approach the hitherto unthinkable: an explanation of just what those most famous words actually mean, should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the good judge. What is surprising – and endlessly frustrating – however, is that courts all over the country have been perfectly happy to let the vagueness of that phrase persist, despite the clear knowledge that without clear guidance and definition, reasonable doubt is reduced to an nebulous gut feeling, rather than a precise application of a standard of proof. It has gotten to the point where courts are content to lazily quote the Beatles in all their peace-loving, pipe-smoking glory and implore us to “let it be“.

Before I embark on a vituperative rant, let’s at least look at the current definition of reasonable doubt as given in CT:

The meaning of reasonable doubt can be arrived at by emphasizing the word reasonable.  It is not a surmise, a guess or mere conjecture.1 It is not a doubt raised by anyone simply for the sake of raising a doubt.  It is such a doubt as, in serious affairs that concern you, you would heed; that is, such a doubt as would cause reasonable men and women to hesitate to act upon it in matters of importance.2 It is not hesitation springing from any feelings of pity or sympathy for the accused or any other person who might be affected by your decision.  It is, in other words, a real doubt, an honest doubt, a doubt that has its foundation in the evidence or lack of evidence.3 It is doubt that is honestly entertained and is reasonable in light of the evidence after a fair comparison and careful examination of the entire evidence.4

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all doubt; the law does not require absolute certainty on the part of the jury before it returns a verdict of guilty.5 The law requires that, after hearing all the evidence, if there is something in the evidence or lack of evidence that leaves in your minds, as reasonable men and women, a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, then the accused must be given the benefit of that doubt and acquitted.  Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that precludes every reasonable hypothesis except guilt and is inconsistent with any other rational conclusion.6

Deluding yourself is deluding the client

Sometimes I wonder what practicing as a criminal defense lawyer would be like if the State only arrested innocent people; if all my clients were, indeed, not guilty. It would be a burdensome practice, for sure. And exceedingly infuriating. As every criminal defense lawyer will tell you, one inevitably comes to believe in the not-guilt of a client with whom you are preparing to go to trial. Every inconsistency in the State’s case becomes magnified, every weakness exaggerated, every defense rock-solid. There is no way to lose, we say to ourselves.

But the reality is, unless you can pick and choose your clients, you will lose. More often than not. Frequently, even. Which is why the inevitable “how many trials have you won” question from an antagonistic client gets under my skin. None, I often respond. But what I really want to add is “that’s because I haven’t had an innocent client yet”. Recognizing that that is nothing more than a hurt ego lashing out, I resist.

But maybe there is something to be learned. Perspective, after all, matters. As defense attorneys, we regularly complain that the state and the man wearing the robes commence discussions and negotiations with the presumption of guilt. Due process, the burden of proof and all the rest of it are fine concepts, in principle and need to be upheld on a daily basis, for without them we would be left with a terrifying shambles of a system.

The reality, though, is that they’re right, for the most part. The system doesn’t just go about arresting perfectly innocent people willy-nilly. And the blind faith in the innocence of each and every client does them a disservice. Clients come to us – or we are thrust upon them – for our expertise, our knowledge and our advice. It is imperative that we consider every possibility and assess it accurately before suggesting the most prudent course of action.

Our job isn’t to “win” or to put on a great trial or to take on the State. It’s to protect the client’s ass, which, most of the times, they have no interest in doing. We fail miserably at our jobs if we adopt the same reckless abandon that they have to their future. We are in the mitigation business, unfortunately and even more so for others, we are akin to actuaries.

What is the most likely outcome, we are required to advise, and what is the best way to minimize negative consequences? Crunch the numbers and viola, we have a recommendation.

Do not, for a second, mistake this to be a growing disinterest or disillusionment with the role of the defense attorney, but the opposite: an expanding awareness of the pragmatism that is needed – required, even – to perform this job well. In the end, I do not sleep in a jail cell; the client does. And if that outcome is more likely than not, is it not my job to ensure that such an undesirable circumstance occurs for the least amount of time possible? And what, then, is the most certain way to achieve that outcome?

Prepare every case as if it were going to trial, because that meticulous preparation will inevitably lead to better offers from the State. But recognize that the plea deal is more often than not the sounder of the two choices. Because, in the end, experience tells us that the defendant almost always gets screwed. How badly he gets screwed is up to us.

Cf: Why I hate guilty pleas