Monthly Archives: June 2009

Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts: Protecting the Right to Confront Witnesses

Hallelujah.

Crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-591.ZS.html

The case arose from the conviction of Luis E. Melendez-Diaz on cocaine trafficking charges in Massachusetts. Part of the evidence against him was a laboratory report stating that bags of white powder said to have belonged to him contained cocaine. Prosecutors submitted the report with only an analyst’s certificate.

The ruling was an extension of the 2004 Crawford decision that breathed new life into the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which gives a criminal defendant the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.  The Court reasoned that cross-examination of witnesses is designed to weed out not only the fraudulent analyst, but the incompetent one as well.  This reasoning is strong.  In February, for example, the National Academy of Sciences issued a sweeping critique of the nation’s crime labs. It concluded, for instance, that forensic scientists for law enforcement agencies “sometimes face pressure to sacrifice appropriate methodology for the sake of expediency.

Additionally, the decision came in the wake of a wave of scandals at crime laboratories that included hundreds of tainted cases in Michigan, Texas and West Virginia.  Those scandals proved that live testimony from analysts was needed to explore potential shortcomings in laboratory reports.

My opinion?  Excellent decision!  It gives much-needed teeth to the the Supreme Court’s 2004 Crawford decision.  How this decision applies as a practical matter remains to be seen.  Criminal defense lawyers may still stipulate that crime lab reports are accurate, fearing that live testimony will only underscore their clients’ guilt. Others may insist on testimony in the hope that the analyst will be unavailable. Still, others will now be able to prove that an analyst’s conclusion was mistaken or inconclusive.  As Justice Kennedy wrote, “The defense bar today gains the formidable power to require the government to transport the analyst to the courtroom at the time of trial.”

US Supremes Rule Convicted Defendants Have No Right To Test DNA

Bad news.

http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-67.pdf

The United States Supreme Court finds convicts have no right to test DNA.

The Supreme Court said Thursday that convicts have no constitutional right to test DNA evidence in hopes of proving their innocence long after they were found guilty of a crime.

The decision may have limited impact because the federal government and 47 states already have laws that allow convicts some access to genetic evidence. Testing so far has led to the exoneration of 240 people who had been found guilty of murder, rape and other violent crimes, according to the Innocence Project.

The court ruled 5-4, with its conservative justices in the majority, against an Alaska man who was convicted in a brutal attack on a prostitute 16 years ago.

William Osborne won a federal appeals court ruling granting him access to a blue condom that was used during the attack. Osborne argued that testing its contents would firmly establish his innocence or guilt.

In parole proceedings, however, Osborne has admitted his guilt in a separate bid for release from prison.

The high court reversed the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. States already are dealing with the challenges and opportunities presented by advances in genetic testing, Chief Justice John Roberts said in his majority opinion.

“To suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response,” Roberts said. Alaska, Massachusetts and Oklahoma are the only states without DNA testing laws. In some other states, the laws limit testing to capital crimes or rule out after-the-fact tests for people who confess.

But Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that a simple test would settle the matter. “The court today blesses the state’s arbitrary denial of the evidence Osborne seeks,” Stevens said.

My opinion?  HORRIBLE DECISION.  Although the crime in question was heinous, there is no doubt that a small group of innocent people — and it is a small group — will languish in prison because they can’t get access to the evidence.  This directly violates a defendant’s 6th Amendment rights.  Unbelievable.

Class Action Lawsuit Challenges “Camera Tickets”

Rosen Law Firm in Seattle is currently researching a class action law suit against many Washington cities that operate red light and speed zone cameras in Washington.  If you have paid for a photo enforcement ticket in Washington, they may be interested in representing you and trying to get your money back.  The firm is willing to do so at no cost to you unless they win, and then only a percentage of the amount they recover for you. If you are interested and meet the eligibility requirements of 1) having received a photo enforcement ticket; 2) in Washington; and 3) you paid the ticket, please contact the Rosen Law Firm:

My opinion?  I wish success upon this class action!  Red light camera tickets seem like an easy way for cities and counties to fill their coffers.  And it is working.  For example, the city of Balitmore shortend the yellow light on just one intersection and collected $1000’s in traffic light camera violation fines until one alert victim took them to court.   Additionally, I’ve heard complaints (hearsay, I know) that yellow lights times are SHORTENED if a camera is observing the intersection; and that the cameras actually don’t decrease people’s speed.

Good luck, RosenLaw Firm.  Give ’em Hell!   🙂

Waiving or Reducing Interest on Court Fines

Gotta love the ACLU.

The organization just created a step-by-step guide which provides information and forms on how to obtain a court order waiving or reducing interest on legal financial obligations (LFOs) in Washington State. Defined by statute RCW 10.82.090, the court may, on motion by the offender, reduce or waive the interest on legal financial obligations ordered as a result of a criminal conviction.

http://walawhelp.org/WA/StateChannelResults.cfm/County/%20/City/%20/demoMode/%3D%201/Language/1/State/WA/TextOnly/N/ZipCode/%20/LoggedIn/0/iSubTopicID/2/iProblemCodeID/2040100/sTopicImage/court.gif/iTopicID/1196/ichannelid/7/bAllState/0

In order to move the court to waive or reduce interest, you must prove the following to the court in all cases:

1) You have already been released from total confinement;

2) You have made a good faith effort to pay, meaning that you have either (a) paid the principal amount in full, or (b) made 24 consecutive monthly payments excluding any payments mandatorily deducted by DOC;

3) The interest accrual is causing you significant hardship;

4) You will not be able to pay the principal and interest in full;

5) Reduction or waiver of the interest will likely enable you to pay the full principal and any remaining interest thereon;

My opinion?  So many clients tell me the criminal justice system sucks their money away.  It’s bad enough that people get criminal records, jail time, fines, restitution, etc., when convicted of crimes.  Paying interest fees on top of criminal fines is adding insult to injury.  Unbelievable.

Here, the ACLU has provided a great service to criminal defendants and their attorneys.  Good stuff.  I’m looking forward to applying the guidelines and helping my clients save money.

State v. Garvin: WA Supremes Held “Squeeze Search” Unlawful

Very impressive opinion regarding unlawful pat-down searches.  My hat’s off to the WA Supremes.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/?fa=opinions.disp&filename=809411MAJ

In State v. Garvin, the Court held that police officers cannot “squeeze” a defendant’s pockets to determine the nature of objects in the pocket.

An officer pulled Anthony Garvin over for a traffic infraction. When he noticed a knife on the seat next to Garvin, the officer ordered Garvin out of the car and conducted a search for additional weapons. In the process he discovered a baggie of methamphetamine. At trial the officer testified, “We don’t really pat anymore. It’s more of a squeeze search.”  He moved to suppress the evidence seized, and the trial court denied the motion. Garvin was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, and Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.  The WA Supreme Court granted review.

The court reasoned that the officer was not allowed to manipulate objects within the clothing, and his “squeeze method” exceeded the scope of a valid frisk under the “stop and frisk” rule articulated in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).  The court added, “Without probable cause and a warrant, an officer is limited in what he can do.  He cannot arrest a suspect, he cannot conduct a broad search.”

My opinion?  Yaaaay!!

Many clients get arrested because police officers obtain evidence unlawfully.  It’s an outrage!  This case is beautiful.  I can’t wait to argue a Garvin motion in my future attempts to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence.   🙂