Category Archives: Judicial lying/cheating

Sometimes by commission, usually by omission

Wealth Distribution In The USA

This little study is pretty revealing, on a number of levels.

Speaking for myself,  you know, I’m not a wealth redistributionist.  If that’s a word.

Not as a matter of politics, anyway.

On the other hand, I thoroughly approve of, and have brought about on a number of occasions, wealth redistribution on an individual level, to remedy an individual injustice of some kind.   In a successful personal injury lawsuit, for example, money is taken from an insurance company and paid to an injured person to compensate for the injury.  In other situations you might have an employee wronged in some way by an employer and the employer pays to compensate.  Or you might have a breach of contract where the breacher is ordered to compensate the other party. 

In fact as you might have just gleaned, one of the primary functions of any justice system is to transfer wealth - from the wrongdoers to the wronged.

Now, you don’t necessarily have an imbalance of wealth in the social sense (and if you didn’t read the linked article, it contains proof that wealth in the United States is extremely imbalanced) solely, or even primarily, because the justice system is failing.  Or even at all.  There could be other reasons.

But it’s also true to say that an extreme imbalance in wealth distribution is consistent with a failing justice system.  I am not the only one who thinks so.  It would be legitimate to suspect, then, that a justice system is failing when there is an extreme imbalance of wealth.  The conclusion that the justice system is failing is made more likely if there are other indicators that the justice system has problems.  Do we have other indications of that in the US?

Are you f***ing kidding me?

 

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Good Faith Presumption?

Interesting discussion over at SJ about presuming that the government acts in good faith.  And I certainly agree that there has to be a good faith presumption in favor of government conduct, just as there should be a presumption of regularity, and a presumption of paternity where the mother is married, and so on.

But the error Greenfield is making in his own analysis is also quite interesting.  At least in the context of criminal prosecutions and defending against them, which is the SJ raison d’etre, the presumption that a criminal prosecution is brought in good faith is not ‘rebuttable’.  It’s what we call conclusive

How do you know?  There’s no affirmative defense to a criminal prosecution that it is not brought in good faith.  New York’s Criminal Procedure Law, for example, simply does not contemplate that a criminal prosecution could be brought in bad faith so does not address it until after there is a conviction (in Article 440).

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a criminal prosecution that is, in fact, not brought in good faith, you have to resort to what we call a “collateral” proceeding, or you have to wait until there is a conviction before you can challenge it.  There’s no argument to make to the trial judge except for “due process”; but that’s another post, not this one.

Collateral proceedings are highly disfavored when they are addressing a criminal prosecution.  There are very good reasons for that.  Nevertheless, if a criminal prosecution is not brought in good faith it’s the only remedy there is.

Every criminal defense lawyer should know that.

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Amanda Knox Redux

So here’s an important contribution to understanding not just Italy’s problematic justice system outcomes, but our own.

The idea is that the justice system in Italy is invested in the guilty verdicts of Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend for reasons of institutional integrity.  Their guilt is mandated because that was the narrative leading to the conviction in a separate trial in the Italian courts of Rudy Guede, the real perpetrator.

Here in the US, we wouldn’t hold Amanda Knox to a fact finding from a trial in which she was not a party or did not have the opportunity to contest.  These are the rules of a doctrine known as collateral estoppel.  Or more recently “issue preclusion”.

Now it may be that the law in Italy doesn’t have such a doctrine.  Or rather, it recognizes issue preclusion but will apply it whether the person precluded had an opportunity to be heard or not.  I don’t know.  And actually, come to think of it, I don’t know if Amanda Knox had an opportunity to be heard at Rudy Guede’s trial.  Maybe she did, because it seems it works differently over there – you can make yourself a party to someone else’s criminal prosecution, maybe if you can demonstrate some kind of personal stake in it. 

This is all kind of interesting from a lawyer’s standpoint.

But let’s give Italy’s law the benefit of the doubt.  If they give Knox the opportunity to be heard in Rudy Guede’s trial and she passes it up, well then that’s her opportunity to be heard.  Now they hold her bound to whatever facts might be found against her at that trial.  She will no longer be heard to contest them.  And this is one of those odd situations where for technical legal reasons a fact is deemed to be true regardless of whether it really is.  That is possible in our system, too.  For example, a fact in a civil case that is formally admitted in a pleading is legally true regardless of whether it’s actually true.  Or, a person can be found “not guilty” at his trial and in fact he is guilty.

Now, it might be surprising to some, but I have a little bit of sympathy for the institutional concern.  It would be a terribly unfortunate thing for Amanda Knox to be technically, legally guilty without being actually guilty, but the high courts in Italy could be legitimately worried about what happens in other cases.  In this case, the law works a wrong; but if you disregard it in this case and set a new precedent, then the new precedent could just as easily work a bigger wrong in another case.  If the Italian courts allow peripheral potentially accused persons to be heard in the criminal trial of another person, then I suppose Amanda Knox’s lawyer(s) in Italy should have taken that into account when Rudy Guede was put on trial.  So you might argue that they screwed up and put her in a position where she had no chance to be found not guilty because that issue had already been determined, she had a chance to fight it and she didn’t.

But like I said, a little bit of sympathy, not a lot.  I don’t think you should run the rule out – assuming it is the rule over there, I mean I don’t know – to the extent that you’re going to hold someone guilty of a murder they didn’t commit.  Hard cases make bad law, but being wrong is bad, too.  I don’t think you can ever enhance institutional integrity by getting it wrong, especially when everyone knows it.  The system has to conform to reality, not the other way around.

I guess my position is that if you find yourself in a position where the rule forces you to be wrong, then it’s time to develop a new rule.  Appellate judges are all smart guys, so just be careful and have at it.  It’s your job, it’s why we pay you the big bucks.

In any case, I’m grateful to my twitter companion (and author of the linked article across the pond) Nigel Scott (twitter:  @gronff), for the hat-tip.

Let’s hope this all works out correctly for Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and the Italian justice system.  Come on.  I know we can do it.

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Anachronism

Maybe we’re talking about the death of the suppression motion.  Although it was never more than a zombie anyway, eating the brains of judges, lawyers, cops and probably the general public, too.

It’s been a staple of criminal defense practice in the United States for more than 40 years:  evidence against the defendant is illegally obtained by police and his lawyer moves to suppress it, so it can’t be used against him, sometimes leaving the government with no evidence with which to convict him.  A pretty neat trick, I suppose, in the half dozen or so cases - nationwide – where it actually happened in all those years.

I exaggerate.  There were probably more than 20.

One reason such motion were never granted is that a ruling in favor of suppression would come only after the court held an “evidentiary hearing” to determine if, in fact, the evidence was illegally obtained by police.  And the police learned what sorts of things they would have to testify to in order to defeat the suppression motion, such as that the evidence was “in plain view” so there wasn’t really a search, or that it was dropped, or that it would inevitably have been discovered anyway, or that they acted in good faith, or that it was the product of a search incident to lawful arrest, or an inventory, or that the cop had x-ray vision and couldn’t help seeing it.  And the cop would be believed even if he was often lying and the suppression motion would be denied.

Scott Greenfield, in yet another invaluable service to the legal profession, has managed to prompt a federal judge to offer his unvarnished views on this song and dance.  Which is great.  It’s great to know how hopeless it always was, this whole suppression business:  most defendants are guilty (duh); only one side of the story is told at the suppression hearing, since the criminal defendant almost never testifies; judges have an authoritarian bent (duh); a judge’s experience is that cops are more honest than criminal defendants.  Who again, as an empirical matter are likely guilty.

One very interesting interlude is that SHG makes reference to an old case out of New York from the heyday of suppression motions, circa 1970, People v. McMurty.  In that case the defendant took the stand at the suppression hearing, said he possessed and sold drugs and in that regard he was an experienced criminal, and that he would never “drop” drugs out of his pocket like the officer said he did because he knew that otherwise the cop would have to conduct an illegal search of his person to find them.

And the judge in the case was troubled, finding the defendant credible but also the cop and of course suppression was denied.

So we marvel at the perversity of it all.  A defendant waives his right to not be made a witness against himself by taking the stand, admits everything truthfully, and relies upon the law as it was at the time, and upon the sound judgment of the trial judge, to make the prosecution go away because despite the outcome there, the only reasonable credibility determination would have had to favor the defendant.  He confesses to the crime he’s accused of in open court because under the law if he is believed the evidence of his crime would have to be suppressed.  Of course, whether the prosecution could proceed on different evidence – namely, the evidence the defendant himself gave at his suppression hearing by testifying – is a question the court didn’t consider because it denied the suppression motion anyway.

Ugh.

No matter how we construct the law to make the process, for want of a better term, a fair game, the mind will recoil at the thought of the factually guilty escaping punishment because of the game’s rules, just as it will recoil at the factually innocent being punished at all.

Then, in the comments, the beginnings of an SHG epiphany:

So you’re exactly right: the outcome is pure cynicism, as some judge lectures them about being a law-abiding citizen and obeying the law, immediately after the cop lies through his teeth and sneers at the defendant. And we wonder why they won’t behave the way we want them to.

 

More than three years ago, I put up a little post about the morally corrosive influence of the Supreme Court’s 4th amendment jurisprudence from the 1960′s on the whole system – but especially on the police - flowing from Mapp v. Ohio.  I had SHG in mind then, not really personally but as sort of a representative sample of criminal defense lawyering of the post-Mapp era.  One of the many discussions that should be taking place among lawyers on the subject of why the system so often gets it wrong is detailed in that post.

And now, with a slightly different take, in one of SHG’s posts.

Maybe I shouldn’t say ‘slightly’ different, because when it comes to offering any kind of solution the slight difference becomes a giant chasm.  And as regular readers know, I am loathe to make criticisms without offering solutions, however much of an outlier it might appear to make me.

SHG rightly laments the pure cynicism.  But you can’t get much more of a cynical result than defendants saying they are guilty and demanding to escape punishment for technical reasons, as in People v. McMurty.  To overcome cynicism there has to be some devotion to truthfulness and other virtues, if only in the breach.

Somewhat ironically, I would like to trust the police as much as the next guy – well, maybe not as much as Judge Kopf.  But still.  The rules of the game that we set up should not, therefore and in my opinion, reward vice and punish virtue.

My suggested solution will have to await another post.  It’s Easter, after all and I have to attend to other matters.

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A Note On The Profession

Two seemingly unrelated pieces from legal blogs I follow:  this one from Scott Greenfield and this one from The Irreverent Lawyer

Of course I gave it away by writing “seemingly”.  Obviously, I’m now going to tell you how they are related, at least in my mind they are.

Greenfield is critiquing the latest gimmick proposal by Chief Judge Lippman to coerce require pro bono services out of would be lawyers.  That is, people who are not lawyers yet.  Law students, say.

Greenfield, as is so often the case, is both right and wrong:

The provision of legal representation to the poor is not a lawyer problem. It’s not a judge problem. And it’s most assuredly not a law student problem. It’s a societal problem, and each effort to tweak the system to alleviate the building pressure saves society, and its elected representatives, from the nasty duty to deal with it.

But let’s come back to that quote.

Irreverent is pointing out that it’s an absurd devaluation of what remains a fairly vigorous vetting process to behave as if anyone, vetted or no, can basically practice law without consequence.  Yet that is how things are, almost everywhere.  He quotes attorney Karyl Krug:

“Foolishly, I thought I would have to have a license in Arizona to call myself a lawyer in Arizona state court. I paid in excess of $2000 and went through a rigorous criminal and character background investigation lasting 6 months to get my Arizona law license. But it turns out that everybody, including the trial courts in the county with the biggest glut of death penalty cases Arizona has ever seen, can and did call whoever they wanted to a lawyer, with no criminal or other penalty whatsoever.

Now, I suppose there are big problems with enforcing the prohibitions on the unauthorized practice of law.  The libertarian in me abhors the idea of more criminal prosecutions.  I mean, enough already.  On the other hand with  civil litigation (private) enforcement you’re just going to wind up suing the judgment proof which, you know, nobody does.  Ugh. 

Regulatory enforcement?  Take a look at how attorney grievance committees work and let me know what you think.

But let’s not kid ourselves that there isn’t a real problem.  I have found myself on more than one occasion “competing” with “legal advice” from laymen to clients or prospective clients that is utterly bizarre, along the lines of taking the position that outcomes would be different if you just spoke the magic words to the court.  Something to do with the Queen of England and gold fringes on the flag in the courtroom.  Others have had similar experiences.  But I attribute this to too many – far too many – outcomes that make no sense and can’t be explained rationally other than to say that the courts favor the powerful.  People quite understandably will not accept such an explanation, and when they get done with their increasingly bizarre and insane explanations they will turn to violence.  If nothing changes, that is.

And how are things going to change?  Well, the profession has to do it.  There isn’t anyone else.  And it’s only reasonable to expect that those on the receiving end will have to lead the way.  That means criminal defense lawyers.  And personal injury Plaintiff lawyers.  When the judge denies your criminal defendant’s well-reasoned motion to dismiss for no good reason in the face of some garbage form opposition from the DA’s office; or when the judge grants insurance defense counsel’s motion for summary judgment for no good reason other than that he thinks no one will make a fuss…..well, make a fuss.  A big one.

So here’s where Greenfield is wrong.  The gap in legal service to the poor is a lawyer problem and very much a “judge problem”.  A lawyer, almost any lawyer, would be able to make a living or even do quite well if judges actually followed the law and applied it even-handedly.  Because if they did that, the little guy would win with some frequency,* whereas as things stand now a judge might pay lip service to how valuable your services are by tossing off a phrase or two about it when he screws over you and your client (that’s a common practice), but he’s still screwing over you and your client and rendering your knowledge of the law and your skill in using it and arguing it worthless.

And this change in judicial behavior would also have the salutary effect of doing justice, righting wrongs and making adjustments in wealth from those who have cheated or lied or worse, to those who have been victimized by that – and their lawyers, too.

This is what the rule of law is supposed to accomplish.  When you have it.

And then the pro bono thing tends to take care of itself.  And the citizenry is less liable to be taken in by charlatans that claim to be lawyers but aren’t.  And the citizenry recovers at least some modicum of respect for lawyers and the legal profession because things work a little bit more like they are supposed to, because when they don’t people tend to blame lawyers even though judges are the real problem.

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*  There’s a whole legal industry to be made opposing foreclosures and evictions.  Without making the case in this post, it seems to me none of the big banks should be entitled to foreclose on anyone; and that people being evicted for non-payment are being denied equal protection of the laws.  The arguments in support of both propositions are sound and not difficult.  What’s difficult is getting judges to yield to sound arguments when that means they’d have to tell the powers that be:  “You lose.”

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Sea Change (Updated)

Last week, a three judge panel on the 7th Circuit came down with a split decision in the matter of Fields v. Wharrie.  Judge Posner wrote the majority opinion and Judge Sykes dissented.

Like almost all the due process cases that we have been interested in here recently at Lawyers on Strike, Fields is an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and primarily deals with issues of prosecutor immunity from suit under that statute.  But when you rule out “absolute” immunity as the 7th Circuit did here, and begin to consider “qualified” immunity, as the 7th Circuit also did here, you reach the question of whether there is a constitutional violation triggering section 1983 at all.  Don’t ask why, it’s not important.

What is important is that in reaching this very big constitutional question at issue in Fields that shouldn’t be a big issue at all – that is, do prosecutors and/or police violate a defendant’s right to due process of law when they deliberately use perjury and fabricated evidence to prosecute him? – you have Judge Posner answering one way – that it is a violation of due process of law – and Judge Sykes answering the opposite.

Now, neither one of them has anywhere near as good a handle on this issue as we do.  See here and here and here and here and here and here and here.  It’s not that I blame them.  I spent two years of the last ten being completely incredulous at the thought that this was a big issue myself.  And I had a case where they had put a knife to my client’s throat and raped her, and by thereafter framing her for prosecution they were trying in effect to murder her (18 year old high school girl, no criminal record) through self-harm, so the issue was staring me right in the face from early on (well, relatively early).  Meaning that I had a great deal at stake in it, whereas these federal judges don’t.

Anyway, I figured once I had shown what happened to her, my job was done.  It took a long time to sink in that there were some warped individuals out there calling themselves judges and lawyers that didn’t believe such official conduct violated anyone’s rights, and that I would have to spend well, pretty much a decade of my life trying to dispel that idea as well.

But let’s move on.  Because something is plainly afoot in the country’s federal appellate courts.

Judge Posner is one of those federal court of appeals judges that are almost like a Supreme Court Justice because he is so well known and respected.  And it appears that he now gets it, in more ways than one.  Because not only has he seen this due process issue and come down on the right side of it, he has gone on from there and thought about the question of how this absurdity could ever have been argued in the first place, and he is treating the formerly highly favored litigants’ attorneys who have made such arguments with a rather harsh skepticism that would have been unthinkable from any federal judge even a year or two ago.

That is the significance of an earlier decision he penned for a different three judge panel just a few months ago, Julian v. Hanna.  Read the opinion.  He excoriates the formerly favored litigants’ attorneys.  He says their omission of citation to a well known case that didn’t support their position was “inexcusable”.  He said they exceeded the boundaries of “responsible advocacy”.  And then he decided squarely against the formerly favored litigants, reversing the District Court in the process with a unanimous opinion.  Then a few months later – that is, last week – he has flushed Judge Sykes out of hiding and made her go on the record with an indefensible opinion in dissent saying, in effect, that deliberately using perjury and fabricated evidence to prosecute someone doesn’t violate their right to due process.

The stage is now set.  All it needed was an explicit disagreement among the appeals judges.  This due process issue is now ripe for Supreme Court review.  That review has almost happened twice within the last year or so, and now it is sure to happen soon, quite possibly on the Fields case itself.

But the broader implications of Fields are equally significant.  Judge Posner’s epiphany has surely not occurred in a vacuum.  A judge on South Carolina’s Supreme Court told a gathering of prosecutors – a gathering of prosecutors! – that they’ve been indulged too much for too long and that it’s over and that if they keep it up there will be consequences.  To them.

Less than two months ago the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd circuit smacked the New York State Attorney General’s office for refusing to see an obvious 8th amendment problem.

Just two weeks ago, the first en banc decision coming out of the 2nd circuit in about two years held that prosecutors might be held liable for horrifying perfidy in obtaining a conviction even where their victim had pleaded guilty.

All of these developments would have been unthinkable even three years ago. 

This is what a sea change looks like when you’re in the middle of it.  No one really notices at first, or at best only a few people.  It’s only in retrospect that the certainty of it all becomes apparent to most people.

But the certainty is there from the beginning.  There is no doubt about what is happening, finally, among some judges in this country. 

It is a very, very good and encouraging development for those who are concerned about the rule of law.  Just my two cents, of course.

And Judge Posner’s.

UpdateScott Greenfield notes another example.  I kid you not, this stuff never used to happen.  Never.  You never heard a judge on the record excoriating prosecutors.  Hell they would only rarely do that to defense lawyers.  It’s like a memo went out somewhere, iohno.

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Ugh.

The depth of the insularity required to pen this little op-ed on the SCOTUS blog is impossible to fathom.  The author seems completely unaware of the world outside of Harvard Law School graduates, the Solicitor General’s Office and the Supreme Court.  The burning question she is addressing is:  should the government’s counsel before the Supreme Court – that is, the Solicitor General’s (SG’s) office – be favored only in those cases in which they have a direct interest, or should the SG be favored in as many cases as possible, even where their interest is much more attenuated?

Thus the title of the article:  “Too Much Of A Good Thing?”  Apparently, some of us just can’t get enough of the SG.

The SG, notes the author, “…has been an enormously successful litigant”.  Put another way, the government most often wins in its own courts. 

Duh. 

But let’s pretend: 

Given the high quality of the SG’s work in general, and the apparent helpfulness of the SG’s amicus briefs, many observers seem to approve of the status quo, and applaud the SG filing numerous amicus briefs, and their influence on the Court.

She couldn’t possibly believe the drivel she’s admiring here.  She went to Harvard herself.  She’s not stupid; she just thinks her audience is. 

But alas, she just echoes it all in her own piece:

…many scholars have lauded the SG’s active role in Supreme Court litigation, noting that the SG is an expert and unbiased source of information for the Court.

That “many scholars” feel that way is a great argument for a complete overhaul of legal education, especially if they also feel that “…the SG is an expert and unbiased source of information.”

I’m sure the SG’s office delivers high quality work.  So do many other litigants’ counsel.  But there’s something else to consider:  they’re also wrong a lot

Once Justice Stevens went on a little bit of a tirade about the favoritism the Supreme Court shows to the government

This Court has a special obligation to administer justice impartially and to set an example of impartiality for other courts to emulate. When the Court appears to favor the Government over the ordinary litigant, it seriously compromises its ability to discharge that important duty…because I am so firmly opposed to the Court’s favored treatment of the Government as a litigator, I would dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.

He was writing in dissent, of course.

Isn’t it odd that in our system of justice, it’s an open secret that at least one kind of litigant is heavily favored in the nation’s highest court?  You would think that a candid admission that one litigant is to be favored over all others might generate a little heat out there in flyover country; but then the fact of it is hardly reported at all.

But whether people are aware of it or not, the SCOTUS relationship with the SG’s office is a big problem.  In childish terms that might actually be appropriate in this context, judges on other courts will see the SCOTUS playing favorites, and who they’re playing favorites to, and do the same thing, with the same litigants, or types of litigants.

And that winds up explaining a lot.  Although would that it were otherwise.

 

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Insultingly Short And Remarkable – Another Parable of Prosecutor Perfidy

It’s a Good Thing that every once in a while the New York Times takes up the subject of lying and cheating prosecutors.

Today’s installment is one Ken Anderson.  Curiously, a full news report about Mr. Anderson appears across the pond.

So we can add Anderson’s name to our gallery of “rogue” prosecutors.  He joins such luminaries as Michael McFatridge and Tom Moran.  Like Moran, Anderson went on to become a judge.

Ugh.

Anderson gets 10 days in jail, a $500 fine and 500 hours of community service.  His victim, undoubtedly one of many unknown others, got 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.  Thus the Times’ characterization as “insultingly short”.  According to the Innocence Project, he is the first prosecutor in the nation to be jailed for withholding exculpatory evidence.  Thus the Times’ characterization as “remarkable”.

Are there a lot of prosecutors like Anderson?  I think not.  Are there more than we would like to admit?  Yes.

One thing that should occur is a complete review of every single conviction Mr. Anderson obtained when he was a prosecutor.  And every single conviction occurring while he was a judge – for 11 years, apparently.  But there’s no indication anything like that is going to happen.

The damage from even one wrongful conviction is incalculable.  Because this is so, we have a whole “system” the purpose of which is to prevent them from happening.  That system is failing, and apparently has no clue how to right itself.  In the Navy, a system wide failure so fundamental and of such magnitude would probably result in a service wide “stand-down” to recalibrate and re-assess.

Here’s a little factoid that brings no comfort:  the United States Department of Justice has a Grand Jury Manual that is used to train federal prosecutors.  Here is how that manual addresses the “issue” of the deliberate use of perjury by prosecutors to obtain an indictment:

A few courts have dismissed indictments because of prosecutorial abuse before the grand jury on due process grounds. Dismissal on due process grounds is rare because most courts view grand jury proceedings as outside of the scope of the due process clause, the indictment being a mere technical instrument to bring on the trial.  A very few courts have dismissed indictments on due process grounds because of the knowing use of perjured testimony.  However, the weight of authority in this area is that dismissal, if justified at all, is only justified in flagrant cases.

(citations omitted)

The not so subtle message of the Department of Justice Grand Jury Manual, then, is that the deliberate use of perjury before a Grand Jury by a prosecutor is no big deal, and does not warrant dismissal of the resulting indictment as violating the accused’s right to due process of law.

Two very important observations must be made here.  First, the manual is wrong on the law.  The “weight of authority” – indeed the unanimous authority – was, is and always has been that the deliberate use of perjury by prosecutors at any stage of a criminal prosecution violates the accused’s right to due process of law.

But second, and perhaps more importantly, deliberately presenting perjured testimony is not only unethical conduct for a lawyer, any lawyer; it is also criminal conduct.  For anyone.

Thus one begins to wonder just how many prosecutors are – well, warped.  And how they got to be so warped.  As in, you know, what the hell happened?  Is there a back story to all this?  There has to be.

And there is.  There are some particulars that can be set forth in a blog post, and maybe some day I’ll get around to that.  But what is fairly required to really get to the bottom of it all is a full length treatise.  A book.  People may or may not be interested in such a book.  But they should be.  In any case, that project will have to await further developments already in process.

Sorry to be so cryptic, but prudence dictates a certain amount of discretion here.

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Perplexing

I follow developments in the justice system pretty closely.  At least I think so.  Certainly more than the average person, if only for the reason that it’s my bailiwick.

So how come this is the first first news I’ve heard or seen about this legislative effort?

Too late to do anything about it now, at least until the legislature reconvenes – which ordinarily is not something to look forward to, by the way.  Seems even the Innocence Project only got the memo a few weeks ago.

And so on.  Wrongful convictions, doncha know.

The lobby for the wrongfully convicted isn’t very organized, or effective.  Or funded.  That is, if it even exists.

Take a read about it, though.  This is a “reform” effort, and I don’t doubt that the proposals being considered – things like requiring full recording of suspect interviews and double-blind line-ups – would do some good.  But it’s not really even scratching the surface.  Not by a long shot.

At the risk of being accused of self absorption*, I have to nevertheless point out that if somebody wants to figure out why things too often go so horribly awry in the criminal justice system they need to make a full study of this case.  It had nothing to do with faulty eyewitness identifications or false confessions.  It wasn’t a “mistake”:  no one even remotely familiar with the evidence could possibly have believed in the accused’s guilt.  There is something much deeper – and much worse – that must account for it.

Close as I am to the whole thing, and knowledgeable about both the case and the relevant law as I am, I’m not sure even I could describe it too well to anyone, although I have this feeling I know what it is.  But it’s more like seeing through a glass darkly, I guess.

You have to keep your sense of humor.  In any case, consider this tidbit from Gary Craig’s article:

In response to questions, representatives of the District Attorney’s Association referred to a June 21 letter from Association President Cyrus Vance Jr., the New York County DA, to legislative leaders.

The letter notes that Cuomo’s proposals are the offspring of the New York State Justice Task Force, created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman largely to tackle the issue of wrongful convictions. The District Attorney’s Association backed those proposals for double-blind photo arrays and videotaped interrogations, Vance wrote.

However, he noted, neither the task force nor the District Attorney’s Association agree with mandated double-blind physical lineups. There was police opposition to the proposal, especially in New York City, where physical lineups are commonplace.

“There was police opposition.”  Well, there ya go.  Somehow “Innocence Project Support” and “Police Opposition” don’t cancel each other out.

This is a lot closer to the nub of the problem.

Notice, too, that the relevant “officials” involved in the official conversation in officialdom about all this are….District Attorneys and their “association”, cops and their “association”; and judges and their “commissions”.  The criminal defense bar is evidently too irrelevant to even be consulted, or for that matter even quoted in a news story about wrongful convictions.

This, too, is much closer to the nub of the problem.

Then of course you have the governor, yet another profile in political and moral courage:

“The governor would love to have this happen but he also wants all the interested stakeholders to come to an agreement,” he said.

See, if all the “interested stakeholders” come to an agreement the governor doesn’t have to risk anything by signing on.

And this is the official dithering that takes place in officialdom in the face of the otherwise distressing fact that New York is among the top three states in committing wrongful convictions, in a country where wrongful convictions are finally being recognized as a serious problem.  I say “otherwise” distressing because although normal people do find it quite distressing apparently it isn’t distressing enough to legislators and political “leaders” to so much as lift a finger over it.

And this, I think, is getting really close to the nub of the problem.

If you have rulers who would rather preside over a state that frequently and  willfully brands innocent people criminals, incarcerates them and figuratively – and sometimes literally – murders them, than make any effort to correct that behavior because it might cost them the tiniest pittance of political discomfort, then why would anyone be surprised that the state is number three in wrongful convictions?  The only surprise is that the state is not number one.

But don’t worry, we’ll get there.

The wrongful convictions, the systemic corruption in Albany, the radiant and glittering barbarism and lawlessness of Wall Street – it’s all of a piece, isn’t it?

It might help – a little – to tape police interrogations and put a safeguard or two into police lineup procedures.  But without some basic adherence to virtue among those holding the reins of power it will be just so much tinkering.

And that, I feel certain, is really really close to the nub of the problem

———————————————————————————————-

* We here at Lawyers on Strike are convinced of our own nearly perfect objectivity in this and many other matters, but understand that for others, and for various reasons, the idea of objectivity itself is an impossibility and thus all human conduct is at bottom explained only by self-interest (or other pathologies) and of course at that point any seemingly disproportionate conduct or emphasis by any person on anything within that person’s experience becomes susceptible of the accusation that such a person is “self-absorbed”.

Therefore, in this instance the “self-absorbed” accusation is essentially the product of circular reasoning, not to mention that if the denial of objective truth behind the accusation is inaccurate the accusation is also highly unjust and potentially destructive.

We make this point only for the sake of accuracy and truth, of course, which we are able to do because we do not regard such things as myths on the order of unicorns and fairies, though of course we also recognize, being objective, that for many others these are impossibilities and their consequent accusations are always, in the end, unanswerable.

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Re-thinking Jodi Arias (Updated)(x2)

So, passers by might have noticed an unusually large number of comments to my last post.

I post about a lot of things, but of course since this is mostly a legal blog, or “blawg”, cases with notoriety often receive attention.  Two years ago the world was abuzz with the Casey Anthony case, and I certainly did a lot of posting on that.  It took up a lot of time and I figured I probably wouldn’t go down that road again with another case.

So I hadn’t paid much attention to the latest in this line, the Jodi Arias case.  But lots of people were paying attention and it was the usual one sided news coverage and so on.

The people who came over here to comment discussed a lot of the details of the case and it appears that there were very strong evidence supported arguments that maybe Jodi Arias – who is now convicted of first degree murder – didn’t kill her boyfriend Travis Alexander at all, and that some other or others might have while she was present, and wound up not killing her as well.  This in fact was the story she originally told, but apparently no one believed her and by the time of the trial her lawyers were arguing self defense, taking the position that she did kill Travis Alexander.

Now, from a defense lawyer’s perspective, it’s very difficult to envision a scenario where you would opt for a self defense argument if you had a good argument that someone else “did it”.  One reason might be the judge.  Judges, who want to convict the defendant as much as the prosecutor, know how damaging to those prospects it can be if the defense offers another culprit when there is some good evidence to support it, so they will often refuse to allow any evidence of any other perpetrator to be admitted, under the rationale that it’s the defendant on trial, not someone else.

That’s completely illegitimate of course, but it often happens.

In any case, this blog’s format makes it difficult to keep track of comments to one post when there are so many, so here’s another post where people can comment and won’t have to scroll through hundreds of other comments to find the one they’re responding to.

Might post more on this later.

Update:  Actually I’ve been unfair to her lawyers.  The problem is the death penalty.  If you go with the third-party-did-it scenario, well then if the jury goes with it you get an acquittal.  But if they don’t they can only convict on the top count and they sentence your client to death.  But if you go with self defense and put her up there so they get to know her, you can ask for lesser convictions that don’t involve the death penalty and there’s evidence to support that.

That’s a legitimate strategy under the circumstances.   Sheesh.  What a lousy game.

Update 2:  I guess I should have seen this coming.  As if the government didn’t have enough advantages when prosecuting people, now there’s a move afoot to pass “Travis Alexander’s Law” to prevent criminal defendants from “trashing” murder victims.  Ugh.

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Casey Anthony’s Judge Belvin Perry

He reveals himself, once again, and shows why juries are so essential.

He’s playing every establishment card.  The prosecution “proved its case”.  He was “shocked” at the verdict.  The government had “better lawyers”.  How come they lost, then?  Oh, yes.  Baez won because he was like a “used car salesman”.

If he’s being honest, he should be disbarred for incompetence.  His “analysis” of the evidence isn’t just wrong, it’s breathtakingly ridiculous.  The prosecution didn’t prove its case and there was nothing shocking about the verdict, except that the jury managed to overcome Perry’s herculean efforts to browbeat everyone into convicting Casey Anthony.

If he’s not being honest but just playing to the crowd in the hopes of landing one of those lucrative reality TV contracts for tough judges, he should be disbarred for bringing the profession and the judiciary so low in pursuit of personal gain.

Just disgusting.  Ugh.

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Anybody Want To Strike?

So, it’s the Bronx.  And in the courtrooms of the Bronx, unlike almost everywhere else in New York State including Manhattan, regular people – not just celebrities – are acquitted of crimes and awarded substantial damages in personal injury actions with some regularity.  Seems to be something about the jury pool.

But there’s no jury at the Appellate Division, First Department, to which the losing party can appeal.

So this jury in the Bronx awards some guy over $2 million on an excessive force claim because the police tased him when he was having a seizure, and it’s pretty lucky under those circumstances the guy wasn’t killed.  And on the appeal the Appellate Division reverses, throws out the entire jury award and directs that the case be dismissed. (h/t Scott Greenfield)

Their rationale for doing this was, basically, they took exception to the jury’s reasoning.

Now as I have noted many times in earnest (most recently here and here) - and as one of my colleagues has better illustrated through his/her customary satire – when it comes to jury verdicts there appears to be a rather pronounced double standard in the intermediate appellate courts:

In Part I, I trace the origin and history of courts’ purported deference to jury credibility determinations. I say “purported” because, when it comes to important matters like money settlements, courts have no hesitation about setting aside jury verdicts. See Behemoth Leviathan RR Co. vs. The Widow Jukes (1920). It’s only in criminal matters that the jury’s sense impressions become sacrosanct.

To call it a “double standard” is, of course, putting it mildly.  It’s as if when a jury finds a criminal defendant guilty we wax poetic about the sanctity of the jury; but when a jury awards “too much” to some regular schmuck we’re practically delighted to second guess them.

Consider just this one aspect of such a ruling:  even if it is the Bronx, getting a jury exercised enough to award $2 million or more for a regular person takes a lot of doing by the attorney.  A lot.  No one who hasn’t done it could possibly understand what’s involved in any tangible way, and “no one” assuredly includes every member of the Appellate Division’s panel.

So one effect of the ruling is to generate discouragement and even despair among the Plaintiff’s bar.

And here’s another thing.  Just because a jury awarded $2 million doesn’t mean the Plaintiff can collect it, even if the appellate court doesn’t fuck with the verdict.  There might not be insurance available to cover it, for example.  Although in this case there probably was coverage, which is why the AD took such an interest and reversed, whereas in almost every other case where the favored litigant wins and the disfavored litigant loses the AD just mindlessly affirms.

That, too, lends itself to satire.

How does this go on in the appellate courts?  A very big part of the answer to that question is that the power differential between favored litigants (government, bank, insurance company) and disfavored litigant (non-famous, non-wealthy regular individual) is huge and there’s no way to bridge it.  No conventional way, that is.

Anonymous satire is all well and good, and we need to keep our sense of humor, but ultimately this is a classically corrupt court decision – and make no mistake that gross favoritism to the powerful is corruption, whether it’s conscious or not – that calls for a lawyers’ strike by the members of the disfavored litigants’ bar; that is, the criminal defense guys and the PI Plaintiff guys.

Unless and until the judges on the Appellate Divisions and elsewhere pay some price for their outrageous partisanship and toadying for the more powerful against the weaker there is no reason for it to stop.  Surely that decision deserves at least a one-day work stoppage and protest in the First Department.

You – we – have to make them pay.  We have a simple, easily accomplished, traditional and non-violent way to do that.  If we refuse to even try then the “system’s” continuing dysfunction is not just the Appellate Division’s fault.

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SCOTUS’ True Leanings

It is the common thread that ties all of the otherwise seemingly diverse rulings and ideologies together:  contempt for, or maybe fear of, freedom and equality before the law for what might be termed “ordinary” folk.  This was on display in a unanimous ruling issued earlier this week in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

The statute at issue, 28 U.S.C. 1350 (known as the Alien Torts Statute) is a model of elegant clarity and simplicity from an earlier era, namely the era right around our nation’s founding:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

The one line statute gets clubbed to death in 35 pages of “statutory interpretation“, and eventually of course it winds up not meaning what it obviously says at all; indeed it more or less means nothing after the SCOTUS is through with it.  Sort of like 42 U.S.C. 1983, which ostensibly deals with an entirely different sort of wrong but to the SCOTUS it’s the same issue:  how to keep down the rabble in fly-over country and their ilk anywhere else in the world with the temerity to come into a federal court – a federal court! – making outrageous demands.  Remember the scene from the Wizard of Oz when they finally get in to see the Wizard?

Bad Wizard, SCOTUS!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR64EF3OpA

Technically, the issue in the Kiobel case is whether the statute can be applied to conduct occurring outside the United States.  The obvious answer to that question is that this is precisely what the statute is for, and indeed it has no other intelligible purpose.  How the SCOTUS winds up deciding the opposite is illustrative.

First, let’s stipulate to the legion of cases dealing with questions of statutory interpretation wherein it is said that if the statute has a plain meaning, no further interpretation should be done.  The “plain meaning” thing is a favorite of conservatives in other contexts, such as when it makes a criminal defendant or a personal injury plaintiff or any other litigant who’s an individual going up against some institution lose; this time, however, the plain meaning of the statute favors the little against the big and so suddenly we don’t like “plain meaning” anymore.  Now we get to “interpret” the statute, which means we can rationalize throwing the little guy out of court, which is what we want to do in the first place because: a) little people are messy and unappealing; and b) if we open the courthouse doors to them they’ll clog up our dockets with their silly little concerns - like in this case, oh, genocide – when we have important criminal cases brought by the government that we have to address.

So how is this “interpreting” done so that it doesn’t seem to be the thought process I just described even though that’s what it really is?

Well, they start with this “presumption” on the first page of the opinion:

“[w]hen a statute gives no clear indication of an extraterritorial application, it has none,”

One might think that it’s a pretty clear indication that a statute has “extraterritorial application” if, without it, it’s unintelligible and without purpose – and of course you are never supposed to interpret a statute out of existence, that’s another rule of “interpretation” -but never mind that for now.

As support for this “presumption” the SCOTUS can go all the way back to 1932 and a case called Blackmer v. United States, but since the linguistic formulation of the presumption in Blackmer isn’t quite good enough for our purposes here – which is to screw the little guy – we’ve changed it in our oh-so-clever SCOTUS fashion.  See, Blackmer in referring to this presumption says: “… the legislation of the Congress, unless the contrary intent appears, is construed to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…” and if you read that in context it’s not clear that the 1932 SCOTUS is setting up any kind of formal “presumption” at all; it’s probably just stating the obvious matter of factly.

But again, never mind.  We have an agenda - remember?  – screw the little guy.

So we go up to 1949 and now the off handed musings of the 1932 SCOTUS are formalized into a rule of interpretation, but of course intellectual honesty was more common then so they didn’t change the wording:

The canon of construction which teaches that legislation of Congress, unless a contrary intent appears, is meant to apply only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, Blackmer v. United States, supra, at 437, is a valid approach whereby unexpressed congressional intent may be ascertained.

That case is Foley Bros. v. Filardo.

Then we bring ourselves up to 1957 and the case of Benz v. Compania Naviera Hidalgo, and the language of the “canon of construction” has not been altered, but the 1957 SCOTUS adds by way of explaining itself further:

And so here such a “sweeping provision” as to foreign applicability was not specified in the Act.[7] The seamen agreed in Germany to work on the foreign ship under British articles. We cannot read into the Labor Management Relations Act an intent to change the contractual 147*147 provisions made by these parties. For us to run interference in such a delicate field of international relations there must be present the affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed.

This language was dicta, summarizing the Court’s rationale not modifying the rule, but it sure came in handy as the Rehnquist SCOTUS began to come into its own in the 1990′s, with its barely disguised hostility to any ordinary-individual-initiated litigation, which apparently all belongs in small claims court, or maybe on Judge Judy, where the rabble can go and obtain whatever piddling relief they might deem themselves entitled to.  I mean, who cares, right?  We’ll let them sue each other.  Gives them something to do.

But again, we can’t come right out and say things like that, so we do a little mixing and matching:

In applying this rule of construction, we look to see whether “language in the [relevant Act] gives any indication of a congressional purpose to extend its coverage beyond places over which the United States has sovereignty or has some measure of legislative control.” Foley Bros., supra, at 285. We assume that Congress legislates against the backdrop of the presumption against extraterritoriality. Therefore, unless there is “the affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed,” Benz, supra, at 147, we must presume it “is primarily concerned with domestic conditions.” Foley Bros., supra, at 285.

The dicta of Benz gets combined with the rule of Foley Bros, and presto!  The “presumption” has acquired that draconian strictness pressed mercilessly down upon the rabble for which the Rehnquist court, Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon have become so widely admired.

It was 1991 and the case was EEOC v. ARAMCO.  That case dealt with the extraterritorial application of Title VII civil rights claims, a claim that would have failed under the older, less draconian formulation of the presumption anyway, but this is the Rehnquist SCOTUS and we’re really getting fond of applying really strict rules even when we don’t have to, as long as it permits us to tell the little guy ‘no’.

So now we’ve gone from 1932 musings, to a “rule of construction” and “presumption” by 1949 providing that “…unless a contrary intention appears…” US statutes do not apply extraterritorially to a tentative “..unless there is the affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed…” US statutes do not apply extraterritorially in 1991.  And this becomes how we do things.

And then by 2010 some poor slob is trying to sue an Australian bank in the wake of all that bankster perfidy, and of course we can’t have the rabble suing banks because we have our “policies” doncha know that this will all be handled by some “Troika” or other, and by this time we have our rationale “well settled” even though it’s a pretty major deviation from the original idea in 1932, but anyway it’s really handy and ladies and gentlemen I give you Morrison v. National Autrailian Bank.  And all the verbiage doesn’t really matter because the bottom line is, as it has been for so long now, that the bank wins and the little guy loses.

And so finally – and it had to come to this – the question becomes are we going to extend our illegitimate “presumption” so far that we will toss the rabble out of court even when the issue is human rights abuses under international law, which would seem to be specifically contemplated by the Alien Tort Statute when it mentions the “laws of nations”.  Of course this means, and the Plaintiffs in Kiobel alleged, things like extrajudicial killings, crimes against humanity, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and so forth.  The idea is that the international companies doing business (and having copious assets) both in Nigeria, where these things allegedly occurred, and the United States - to which the Plaintiffs fled and were in fact granted asylum – had a hand in these atrocities and by being forced to compensate the victims maybe they would think better of participating in such things and maybe even take some affirmative steps to ameliorate them, what with all the financial pressure of having to compensate victims and all.

In other words, this would be litigation having the salutary effects of compensating victims of human rights abuses and providing economic incentives to human rights abusers to stop being, well, human rights abusers.  And we have lots of lawyers in this country that need good paying work and maybe this would be good paying work for them so you kill two birds with one stone.

But this is the SCOTUS, and so obviously such litigation cannot be permitted.  This kind of thing is all handled by the State Department, just like financial institution corruption and wrongdoing is all handled by the Securities and Exchange Commission.  That way everything truly ‘important’ gets run through Washington, important referring to any sizable amount of money changing hands, or anything coming within arguable range of some DC determined “policy” or other which increasingly means pretty much anything, period.  Because Washington apparatchiks and wonks like Ilya Shapiro are really smart and they should run everything, along with the morons prestigious economists at the Federal Reserve.

And I’ll just throw in that the SCOTUS is obviously wrong here.  The Alien Tort Statute’s only discernible purpose is to authorize just the kind of lawsuit the Petitioners in Kiobel brought, that is, a tort occurring outside the US.  Torts occurring inside the US are obviously cognizable in some state or federal court anyway, so the way they’re reading it the statute is purposeless nonsense.  And, are they going to apply that same “presumption” the same way when the USG wants a criminal statute to have extraterritorial application?

Ugh.

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Required Viewing – The “Central Park Five”

Apparently to be aired on the PBS network tonight.

Maybe they won’t pull any punches here, which would be good because this is an important story.  The degree and extent of our system’s failure here is not, unfortunately, so much shocking as it is instructive.  I don’t know all the details.  It would be interesting to learn how anyone ever got to the bottom of it, after the system achieved its beloved “finality” and the jailhouse doors had been closed, locked and the key long since discarded.

Of course the kids were innocent.  Vulnerable.  And innocent.

I hope it turns out to be a parable.  About them, of course.  But especially about us.  I don’t imagine it’s going to be too flattering.  From everything I know, it shouldn’t be.

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The Essence Of It

The burden of proof on private plaintiffs in civil litigation is actually higher than it is on the government.

Don’t take my word for it.  A New York judge has written it all down.

“We recognize that it might be unexpected that we are dismissing a substantial portion of plaintiffs’ claims, given that several of the defendants here have already paid penalties to government regulatory agencies reaching into the billions of dollars,” Buchwald wrote. “There are many requirements that private plaintiffs must satisfy but which government agencies need not.”

……

Explaining her decision to dismiss the claims after the regulatory settlements, Buchwald said private cases must be“examined closely” to ensure plaintiffs are “properly entitled to recover and that the suit is, in fact, serving the public purposes.”

“The broad public interests behind the statutes invoked here, such as integrity of the markets and competition, are being addressed by ongoing governmental enforcement,” she said.

 

Not that I have any particular fondness for the Plaintiffs in the action, who are largely other shady Wall Street outfits like Schwab.

But to see a judge actually rule in the open that lawsuits will be subject to different standards and more scrutiny depending on who the litigants are?  It’s a gift, I suppose.  The truth seeps out when no one is looking.

 

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