Category Archives: Judicial lying/cheating

Sometimes by commission, usually by omission

Brady Follies – Propagating The Big Lie

This looks like a law review article.  But it isn’t.  It’s in a journal of “criminology”.  Criminology is a field of study undertaken primarily by law enforcement types, and it probably doesn’t matter to anyone but us but in our opinion it is not a proper field of study for a lawyer.  Too slanted in one direction.

In any case, published in 2011 the article is as revealing as it is wrong, once you get past its basic deceptiveness:  while seeming to bemoan prosecutor lying and cheating it is in fact giving them a lot more cover than they deserve, and more importantly a lot more legal cover than they actually have.

As we have repeatedly noted in these pages, the basic error – or sleight of hand, if you’re not in a charitable mood – is to conflate the Mooney line of cases with the Brady line of cases; that is, deliberate deception of the court (Mooney) with negligent or unintentional misleading of the court (Brady).

Here’s Mooney:

Petitioner urges that the “knowing use” by the State of perjured testimony to obtain the conviction and the deliberate suppression of evidence to impeach that testimony constituted a denial of due process of law…Reasoning from the premise that the petitioner has failed to show a denial of due process in the circumstances set forth in his petition, the Attorney General urges that the State was not required to afford any corrective judicial process to remedy the alleged wrong. The argument falls with the premise.

But here’s Brady:

We now hold that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.

Mooney was decided in 1935.  It has been unambiguously reaffirmed by the SCOTUS every time it was addressed: in Pyle v. Kansas (1942); Alcorta v. Texas (1957); Napue v. Illinois (1959); and Miller v. Pate (1967)

In contrast to Mooney, Brady (decided 1963) has been qualified, limited, distorted, exceptioned to death and rendered a dead letter.  And you don’t have to take our word for it.*

Yet somehow, all these qualifications and exceptions – such as a “materiality” requirement – that were later applied to the Brady line of cases also got applied to the Mooney line of cases, at least in the minds of many prosecutors.

And judges, if that’s not repeating ourselves.

Which as you’ll see further down, is more than a little ironic.  We could think of other words, too.

Anyway, there are really two lynchpins of this contention Brady = Mooney.  The first is this line out of Brady:

This ruling is an extension of Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U. S. 103, 112, where the Court ruled on what nondisclosure by a prosecutor violates due process…

And then this line:

The principle of Mooney v. Holohan is not punishment of society for misdeeds of a prosecutor but avoidance of an unfair trial to the accused.

From these slender reeds, criminologist types have argued: 1) that the deliberate use of perjury by a prosecutor to obtain a conviction violates due process only if it is “material”; and 2) the only use of perjury that counts in this context is use at trial.  Perjury can otherwise be freely – and deliberately – used without due process concerns.

I would call these arguments sophistry of a very low order, but I don’t want to flatter them.

For the first argument – often called the “materiality” requirement – it is certainly a concern in a Brady situation but it is never a concern in a Mooney situation, for the simple reason that the  materiality of the deliberately perjured or suppressed or fabricated evidence has been conceded in advance:  if the evidence didn’t matter to obtain the conviction, why did the prosecution deliberately perjure or suppress or fabricate it?

Put another way, the State is judicially estopped from even arguing that the evidence they deliberately perjured or suppressed or fabricated to get their conviction didn’t matter.  It’s more than a little embarrassing that judicial estoppel must be applied to state officials as opposed to, say, ambulance chasing TV lawyers, but there it is.

Moreover, what is the line of reasoning here? That if Brady “extends” Mooney and has a materiality requirement then Brady must also limit Mooney by extending the materiality requirement to Mooney? That is a non-sequitur, and a particularly unwholesome one at that.

As to the second argument, not one of the cases in the Mooney line ever suggested that the deliberate use of perjury, etc. counted as a due process violation only if it occurred at a trial; indeed they said it counted as a due process violation if it was used “to obtain a conviction”.

Here’s Pyle v. Kansas:

Petitioner’s papers are inexpertly drawn, but they do set forth allegations that his imprisonment resulted from perjured testimony, knowingly used by the State authorities to obtain his conviction, and from the deliberate suppression by those same authorities of evidence favorable to him.

Here’s Napue v. Illinois:

First, it is established that a conviction obtained through use of false evidence, known to be such by representatives of the State, must fall under the Fourteenth Amendment

Here’s Miller v. Pate:

More than 30 years ago this Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot tolerate a state criminal conviction obtained by the knowing use of false evidence.

But all this aside there is even better – conclusive, really – proof that the Mooney line of cases, though related, is separate and distinct from the Brady line: Miller v. Pate is 1967** – that is, it post-dates the 1963 Brady case – and while it cites Mooney and Pyle and Alcorta and Napue it never cites Brady.

Thus when the criminology article goes on and on about how we really, really should have a more “protective” “materiality” requirement to discourage prosecutor lying and cheating it is actually making an allowance for prosecutor lying and cheating that never existed in the first place (and God willing never will exist):

Nine years after the Brady decision, the Court established the materiality standard for determining a constitutional violation in the context of a prosecutor’s knowing presentation of false testimony in Giglio v. United States

Giglio (1972) did no such thing.  In the first place, Giglio was fundamentally a Brady case:

We granted certiorari to determine whether the evidence not disclosed was such as to require a new trial under the due process criteria of Napue v. Illinois, 360 U. S. 264 (1959), and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963).

In the second place, the only significance of Giglio was to impute the knowledge required for the “knowing” use of perjury to any attorney in the prosecutor’s office.  The intra-office assignment of a different prosecutor for the trial meant the case didn’t squarely fall within Napue, because the trial prosecutor didn’t know of the promise of leniency to the witness and thus did not act in bad faith, but Brady still applied because the promise of leniency still had to be disclosed:

The heart of the matter is that one Assistant United States Attorney—the first one who dealt with Taliento— now states that he promised Taliento that he would not be prosecuted if he cooperated with the Government… Moreover, whether the nondisclosure was a result of negligence or design, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor. The prosecutor’s office is an entity and as such it is the spokesman for the Government. A promise made by one attorney must be attributed, for these purposes, to the Government.

From this mess there, the criminology article then cites the 1976 case of US v. Agurs.  But Agurs is a Brady case.  This is out of the first paragraph:

The question before us is whether the prosecutor’s failure to provide defense counsel with certain background information about Sewell, which would have tended to support the argument that respondent acted in self-defense, deprived her of a fair trial under the rule of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83.

The article then gets deeper into the “materiality” issue and goes on to cite United States v. Bagley (1985).  But the first paragraph of that case says:

In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, 87 (1963), this Court held that “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or punishment.” The issue in the present case concerns the standard of materiality to be applied in determining whether a conviction should be reversed because the prosecutor failed to disclose requested evidence that could have been used to impeach Government witnesses.

Yup.  Bagley is a Brady case, not a Mooney case.

Finally, the article throws a bone to those victimized by prosecutor lying and cheating by eschewing the “materiality” test of Kyles v. Whitley (1995) as being too lenient with prosecutor lying and cheating.  But of course, in the first paragraph of Kyles:

After his first trial in 1984 ended in a hung jury, petitioner Curtis Lee Kyles was tried again, convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death. On habeas review, we follow the established rule that the state’s obligation under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963), to disclose evidence favorable to the defense…

Kyles is a Brady case.

To recap, there is no disputing that there is a materiality analysis and requirement before a Brady violation is held to result in a reversible due process error, because strictly speaking a Brady violation is not deliberate; but there is no such “materiality” analysis and requirement for a Mooney violation because a Mooney violation is always deliberate.  The article is arguing for a more “protective” materiality “test” that doesn’t apply to Mooney violations in the first place.

Parenthetically, it’s worth noting that what really underlies the Brady “extension” of Mooney was the realization, in 1963, that it’s virtually impossible – or at least extremely, extremely rare – for a wrongfully convicted person to actually prove that prosecutor misconduct was deliberate – not everyone gets lucky like Napue (or we) did – so they relaxed that scienter requirement in Brady.  Accordingly, it is perverse beyond words, really, that this effort by the SCOTUS to extend the reach of the “principle of Mooney” has effectively restricted it instead.  As we’ve noted before, though, one of our favorite SCOTUS justices – Whizzer White – presciently anticipated such problems when he concurred in the Brady case itself:

In my view, therefore, the Court should not reach the due process question which it decides…The result, of course, is that the due process discussion by the Court is wholly advisory…In any event the Court’s due process advice goes substantially beyond the holding below. I would employ more confining language and would not cast in constitutional form a broad rule of criminal discovery.

So, among other problems with it, Brady becomes a cautionary tale about appellate courts roaming beyond the confines of questions the case before them actually presents, into “advisory opinion” territory which, in the US at least, is a no-no.

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* The degree to which the criminal defense bar has itself succumbed to this same confusion, to some extent evidenced by SHG’s post, is a very large subject for another time.

**  Milller v. Pate is almost amusing. In convicting the defendant of murder at this trial, the prosecutor paraded before the jury en exhibit characterized as “blood-stained shorts”. The blood stains were actually red paint.

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Death Threats. Harassment. Obsession. (Amanda Knox)(Updated)

So a British tabloid that has been fanning the flames of the frenzied mob for eight years now reports that the FBI is investigating some of its readers.  Pretending to be neutral at this late date, after years of smearing and base casuistry masquerading as ‘journalism’.

The FBI can investigate away, and contrary to the impression given by the article, not all the lunatics are in the UK; there are plenty of people in the US who are driven mad by high profile acquittals, especially when the beneficiary is a pretty young woman.

We suspect this will go on for quite some time.  Our standing recommendation to the exonerated is to live as obscurely and remotely as possible in a country other than the one that convicted you in the first place.  Of course this reasonably requires the exoneree to be independently wealthy.  And that is exactly what those responsible for the wrongful conviction are obligated to ensure:  that their victim be made independently wealthy.

Wealthy or not, the exoneree will live out a substantially diminished life.  There’s no fixing it.  But leaving an exoneree to fend for herself, defenseless, in a world in which so many want to see her suffering or dead is literally excruciating and utterly unconscionable.

If you let loose the dogs of war in error, there’s no going back.  Prosecutors should think hard about what they set in motion when they file charges.

Update:  Radley Balko points out that we’re very, very lousy at compensating those we have injured through major malfunctions of the criminal justice process.  That has to improve.

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The Sad Fate Of Amanda Knox (Updated)(x2)

How is it possible, in an age where human intelligence has produced wonder after wonder, to have a murder case where guilt is determined by the “reasoning” level of a moron?

I was reading an article recently about the legal profession and the appalling lack of quality in reasoning that prevails.  Often, court opinions are little more than screeds of heavy rheotric that ignore evidence that obviously – and often definitively – undercuts the desired result.  They are frequently comically disingenuous.  Or at least it would be comical is someone’s life didn’t hang in the balance.

So the “Nencini” report re-convicting Amanda Knox contains a discussion of 2 phone calls AK made to Meredith Kercher’s phone the day after her murder but before the body was discovered  that lasted only a few seconds.  Nencini then draws the inference that these phone calls were not genuine, that they were designed to deceive the investigators, that they were so short because Amanda Knox never expected Meredith Kercher to answer because Amanda Knox already knew Meredith Kercher was dead.  And the only reason she could know that was she had participated in the killing.  Let me quote here from the Nencini report as excerpted in a “guilter” blogger’s article:

“The telephone call made [by Knox] at 12:11:54 pm to the English service of the victim lasted 4 seconds. Perhaps not even the time to repeat the first ring.

Knox should have been affected by a certain anxiety in calling Kercher’s telephone services. Filomena Romanelli let the defendant’s telephone ring for 36 seconds the first time, and the second for a good 65 seconds; an insistence which appears normal. But that did not happen when Knox called… these are two calls that barely registered [and this] has only one plausible explanation:

There was no concern at all in the mind of Amanda Knox when she made the two calls to the young English woman, simply because she knew very well that Meredith Kercher could not have answered the calls; calls which had to be made because Filomena Romanelli insisted, but which the defendant knew were useless. Nobody would have been able to answer those calls; let alone poor Meredith Kercher whom the accused knew was lifeless, locked in her own bedroom.”

The problem is that there was a much longer phone call from Amanda Knox to Kercher’s phone earlier – at 12:07 PM – so long that Kercher’s phone – that had been tossed into some bushes and would otherwise have been lost – rang and rang until it was found.  And this phone call also occurred well after Kercher’s murder, but before the shorter calls.

To a sane and reasonably intelligent person, then, the earlier, longer phone call rules out making the incriminating inference from the later calls.  In other words, Nencini is either not sane or not intelligent.  Or, I suppose there is a third possibility:  he’s not honest.

So Amanda KNox’s fate at this point has rested with a man who is either crazy, or stupid, or corrupt and dishonest, and there’s no other alternative.

So appalling.

Update:  From CNN’s report this morning:

But the high-profile nature of the case and the controversial evidence prosecutors have built their argument on makes Knox’s extradition anything but certain.

“Controversial” evidence? That’s what stupid evidence and unfounded argument are to the media – as long as those are offered by police and prosecutors.  Judges aren’t the only apparently reason-challenged players in this drama.

Update 2:  After 9 PM in Italy and no word yet.  If this was a jury deliberating over here, might start thinking about whether they’re hung, but I don’t think that’s possible here.

Update 3:  An apparently unexpected acquittal.  Good on the Italians. Of course, if twitter traffic was any indication, there are millions who will never let go of it.  But for now, while the whole thing is still terribly sad, Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend can enjoy at least some peace.  And maybe Meredith Kercher’s survivors, too.

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Filed under Judicial lying/cheating, Media incompetence/bias, Uncategorized, wrongful convictions

Wrong

A while back an old lawyer I know was quoting an even older lawyer, to the fanciful effect that obtaining a criminal conviction is a well-nigh impossible task, what with the insuperable burden of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – and the requirement of convincing 12 people unanimously.  The prosecution, it was concluded, should never win a case.

A sentiment contrary to observable fact, when one considers that prosecutors almost always win convictions.

Is this a problem?  Why, yes indeed it is.  There’s a fairly simple, though not entirely verifiable, statistical reality at the bottom of the criminal justice system in the United States:  the input – that is, what the relevant ‘law enforcement’ agency sends in for ‘processing’ – is correct or substantially correct about 75-80% of the time.  The whole purpose of the processing – that is, all the prosecutors, lawyers, judges, jurors, trials, appeals, post conviction collateral proceedings and so on – is to catch that other 20-25%.  All of it.

The system does a terrible job of this.  Absolutely terrible.  Abysmal.  And as a result, and other than war, this is the most immediately frightening and destructive thing the government does:  prosecuting people for crimes.

Why?  What’s wrong?

Let’s get back to that Department of Justice Grand Jury Manual thing.  You know, the guide book for federal prosecutors presenting cases to Grand Juries, not to obtain convictions but to obtain indictments, which in general must precede a conviction, which in turn are readily obtained by prosecutors, nationwide.  We talked about this before.

In 1983 the manual dealt in a rather cursory way with the “due process” problem of prosecutor misconduct in knowingly presenting perjured testimony to a Grand Jury.  It was a cursory treatment because the mostly unambiguous instruction was that indictments obtained with such testimony would be dismissed, citing the 1974 case of United States v. Basurto, 497 F.2d 781 (9th Cir., 1974):

Importance:  In Basurto, prosecutor did not become aware of perjury until after indictment (but before trial); indictment was still dismissed.

 

By 1991, though, the DOJ Grand Jury Manual said this:

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.

 

What happened between 1983 and 1991?  Well, one thing that happened is that we elected Reagan POTUS and got Ed Meese as Attorney General.  Then we got some very prosecutor-friendly Supreme Court Justices:  O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy.

But there’s more to it than that.  After all, had the law changed?

No.  Prosecutors don’t get to deliberately use perjury to obtain a conviction.  I suppose you could respond that no one said they couldn’t deliberately use perjury to obtain an indictment, but what are they going to do with the indictment thus obtained?  If they can’t get a conviction with it, the only thing to do is dismiss it, right?

But let’s back up a bit further, to the “due process revolution” of the Warren SCOTUS.   By most accounts the revolution had run its course by 1969, but 45 years later it remains “controversial”.  Wikipedia says so.

Why the controversy?  “Conservatives” complained about “handcuffing the police” with all the procedural rigmarole.  Did they have a point?  Yeah, maybe.

A crumb, a morsel.

Nah.  On to larger issues.  Let me get too abstract for just a moment, because at the moment I can’t think of any entertaining or creative way to express the particular thought I am thinking.

We have procedures, but the procedures are not about themselves, obviously.  They are about the “substance”.  The substance-procedure distinction is one of those large ideas.  You would think it doesn’t come up very much, but you’d be wrong.  Thus one of the most contentious areas of the law is “substantive due process” which you may notice, based on what I just wrote, is something of a contradiction in terms (Justice Scalia specifically called it an “oxymoron”) because substance can’t be procedure and vice versa, but “substantive” = substance and “process” = procedures, so substantive due process ought to prompt nothing but eye rolls, but it doesn’t.  And it shouldn’t.

Why do I say that?

The show trial courts of Stalin’s Russia followed their procedures pretty well, by many accounts.  But there was no “there”, there.  No substance.

I guess one way of putting it is that the purpose of procedures is to make the substance intelligible and orderly, but if the substance can’t be made intelligible in the first place because, say, it’s all phony made up crap then crossing all the procedural ‘t’s and dotting all the procedural ‘i’s doesn’t matter.

Or, put another way, the procedures serve the substance and are subordinate to it.  You can have substance without the procedure, but you can’t have a meaningful procedure without the substance.

So what is the real and more thoughtful objection to the Warren Court “due process revolution” – more thoughtful, that is, than saying it “handcuffed” the police?  Just this:  that it inverted the natural, rational hierarchy and made procedure superior to substance.  As I’ve said before, I’m not the only one who has pointed this out.

I recently came to Justice Scalia’s defense – not really, but it might have seemed that way – in a comment over on Turley’s blog, when another commenter was excoriating the apparent Scalia position that the execution of a factually innocent person who had received all the procedures the Constitution provided was okay with him.  But I summed it up this way:

  1. People are justified in being appalled at the idea because ultimately Scalia is wrong, and wrong in a serious matter. But it’s also a symptom of the larger problem that the justice system has been too good at abdicating its essential functions, one of the most prominent of which is to ensure the innocent are not punished. The reason a meritorious innocence claim winds up in federal court on habeas corpus in the first place is that the state courts have failed in this essential function. The idea that the federal court should just punt it back to the state that has already failed is fatuous. Somebody has to be responsible in the end, and in the end on a matter like this the federal system must act as the failsafe. That’s my opinion, probably not Scalia’s, although he wasn’t directly confronting the question there. As far as it goes, he was merely stating a fact: the SCOTUS has never ruled that the constitution forbids the execution of a ‘legally” guilty, but factually innocent person.

Everybody makes mistakes.  But it’s a special type of mistake when we refuse to recognize it as being mistaken, even when it’s obvious.

I’m bringing all this up because there was a post the other day on SJ to the (also fanciful) effect that what ails the justice system is shitty defense lawyering.  And so presumably this can be fixed by good defense lawyering, which means SHG and his friends and his spawn, if any such there be.

There may be some shitty defense lawyering out there.  That was hardly the point of the article SHG cited – which had more to do with funding indigent defense, not lamenting its poor quality – but it’s SHG’s point all the time.  Too often, really:

That’s where Jeff picks up the story, and why Jeff rightfully puts the blame on the last person standing between the government and the defendant.  Even if every other player in the system fails, the burden remains on the defense lawyer to make up for it.  Sucks, I know, and a very heavy responsibility.  It’s too much for most lawyers, which is why most lawyers have no business standing in the well of a criminal court.

 

“Jeff” didn’t single out defense lawyers for “blame”.  That’s a distortion, and overall SHG’s take on the whole thing seems a bad case of confirmation bias.

But forget the article.  The SJ post is just another variation on a very tired theme:  SHG, or lawyers like him, are the solution to what ails the system.  This is wildly implausible:  the change in the DOJ Grand Jury Manual from the 1983 version to the 1991 version; the explosion of criminal prosecutions and the US prison population; the near certainty of conviction at trial with conviction rates exceeding 95%; the vanishing trial and ‘trial tax'; the futility of appeals and post conviction remedies; the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

SHG probably started out practicing law right around 1983.  Does he, and more specifically his professional self-concept, bear any responsibility for these deleterious systemic developments, all of which occurred on his watch?  If he doesn’t bear at least some small share, who would?

Beyond that, is performing the same act over and over going to yield a different result?

Innocence does not matter.

Our job is only to defend.

We game the system to ‘win’, every single time.

There is no such thing as justice, or truth.

 

These are essentially a sales pitch (to potential clients), with a kernel of thoroughly impoverished pseudo-philosophy (“everything’s relative”) woven in.  So you posture this way and maybe it gets you a few clients and you do a good job for them – although most of the time that doesn’t make much difference – but the result to the system as a whole is – well, what I just told you.

Has it been worth it?  You have the occasional acquitted client, I’m sure.  How many others have been convicted who otherwise would not have been, though?  The statistics over the last 30 or so years suggest the numbers may be substantial, but ultimately that’s one of those questions we’ll never be able to really answer, but nevertheless deserves a little thought.  Maybe more than a little.

The elevation of procedure over substance leads directly to institutional and systemic incoherence.  Like war and pestilence, institutional incoherence can have short term benefits for some.  But if you’re one of those few, don’t expect admiration and respect from the much larger group of people on the receiving end.

Not that that’s the main point.  I don’t know.  Let’s see if I can drive the point home, starting with  a post from a few years ago on SJ:

True believers usually end up having problems as a criminal defense lawyer.  When people push the “factual innocence” button, they almost always miss the boat.  We don’t defend because our client’s are innocent.  We defend because they are accused.  Our job is to test the government, not to do justice…The prosecution side, including the police, exist to do justice, and justice means both substantive and procedural.  They are equally responsible for keeping innocent people out of jail as putting the guilty in.

 

That’s the familiar little ditty played over and over on SJ.  And elsewhere.  But SHG and the SJ posse are keeping some dubious company:

Investigators believe Witherspoon then raped the girl who was not conscious enough to stop the attack.  Witherspoon has hired well-known defense attorney John Parrinello to defend him.

Thursday, Parrinello revealed a potential line of defense in the case. He said prosecutors will have a hard time proving Witherspoon used Ambien to sedate the girl.

“None was found in her system,” said Parinello, “and if there were any sexual activity between the two, it was purely consensual.”

Livingston County District Attorney Tom Moran said, “Mr. Parrinello and I have totally different ethical responsibilities. Mine are to seek justice; his are to do everything humanly possible to get his client off.”

 

This is from a local Channel 13 news interview (scroll way down, about 7/8th of the way to the end, to see the actual story) dated September 30, 2004.

Notice how Moran – who’s a psychopath, by the way, but that’s another subject – is using the very same ideas – indeed the very same words – expressed by SHG to discredit another defense lawyer, and that lawyer’s case, and his client. 

Multiply 10 thousand fold, since of course Tom Moran and SHG are not the only adherents to the dogma.

It goes without saying – or should – that this whole outlook is a fairly recent affectation in the profession.  Consider this quote, dating from the 1940’s and obtained second-hand from a 1999 Fordham Law Review article:

 

The difference between the true lawyer and those men who consider the law merely a trade is that the latter seek to find ways to…violate the moral standards of society without overstepping the letter of the law, while the former look for principles.. within the limits of the spirit of the law in common moral standards.

 

Maybe that’s going too far in the other direction, but still:  we’re left with the disturbing question of how much the more recent affectation has contributed to the widepread collapse or at least demoralization of criminal defense lawyering, and the cascade of prosecution friendly developments that have characterized the criminal justice system since, oh, about 1980.

Again, probably about the same year Scott Greenfield began his legal career.

It’s a big and important question, methinks.

I won’t be posting for a while.  Busy.

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The Unserious Approach To Ferguson – And A Serious Solution

I’m sure Eric Holder has good intentions, as far as they go. 

We’ve seen this before:  civil unrest followed by the National Guard followed by a sop from Washington, usually in the form of some high profile visit or other.  Maybe by the President.  More often the Attorney General.

On his day-long swing through the area, the attorney general was welcomed warmly at every stop.  At Drake’s Place, a soul food restaurant located a few blocks from the scene of overnight clashes, Holder went table to table offering words of encouragement to some stung by the fatal shooting and days of unrest. 

“We don’t want the world to know that’s all that’s going on here,” said Viola Murphy, mayor of the nearby Cool Valley community.

“We can make it better,” Holder told her.

 

How are you going to “make it better”, Eric?  You’ve got some kind of magic wand you wave?

We’ve said this many times:  civil unrest is an indictment of our courts and our legal profession.  Another program or edict emanating from Washington, punctuated by a media saturated visit from a high ranking official, isn’t going to accomplish jack other than maybe quelling the immediate disorder.  For now.

The serious solution, or at least one serious solution, is very simple.  Norm Pattis alluded to it the other day:

What is not written in the Constitution is the legal doctrine the courts have fallen in love with and rely upon to keep police misconduct cases from going to trial — qualified immunity. This doctrine sprung from the fertile imagination of a judiciary sick and tired of presiding over civil rights cases. It is a product of a judicial revolution no one noticed, a revolution that has effectively closed the courts to ordinary people seeking justice.

 

We at Lawyers on Strike suggested this kind of serious solution more than two years ago:

Statutes can be amended by a simple act of Congress.

So if the people of the US ever recover their gumption, they might want to browbeat their federal legislators/congress-critters into amending 42 U.S.C. 1983 to provide a few things to counteract the execrable rulings of the SCOTUS.  Such as:

1) no immunities for public officials, including judges;

2) no statute of limitations;

3) no summary judgment permitted (F.R.Civ.P Rule 56 won’t apply)

4) Make it all retroactive.

 

It bears repeating:  we have a lot of lawyers who need work.  For a long time – too long – lawyer “work” with any cache or prospect of a prosperous living has meant to become a toady and tool of the powerful against the weak:  represent the bank, the insurance company, the government.

Even so, all the unemployed and underemployed lawyers are a great untapped resource out there, and Ferguson demonstrates once again – just like the Occupy movement did – that there’s an increasingly desperate need.  What’s not to like? 

A “litigation explosion”?  Meh.  The only litigation explosion that ever actually happened was a stupefying increase in criminal prosecutions and imprisonments.  All the rest was insurance company propaganda.  We should be ashamed of ourselves for being so thoroughly duped. 

Nevertheless, however simple this serious solution is, it’s not easy.  There are a lot of conflicting and powerful interests – police unions, for example.  And as a people we don’t do difficult too well anymore.  Or at all, it sometimes seems.

There is a basic lack of discipline, I think.  Mental discipline in the first instance is required to understand what a serious solution might be.  And then personal and behavioral discipline is required to implement the serious solution.

So in the meantime there are emotionally cathartic visits by the Attorney General to the trouble spot of the day, and then when we tire of that there is Kim Kardashian.  Until the next unarmed black teenager is shot to death by a police officer at one of those odd moments that makes it a triggering event. 

The undisciplined lurch from crisis to crisis, in between long periods of indifference and indolence.  If that’s what we have become then what happened in Ferguson is just random, episodic noise, fodder for a news cycle and little else.

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Moreland Commission

There’s a pretty major flap going on, considering it’s an election year, over a temporary “independent” commission appointed by Governor Cuomo, supposedly to “root out” corruption in the State’s capital.  The commission was headed up by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.  The commission was disbanded – some say “abruptly”, others say because it was “mission accomplished” – a month or so ago.

Last week the New York Times published a very detailed piece more or less chronicling gross interference with the independent (not) commission by the governor’s men.  This prompted a ringing defense of the commission and its independence (not) by Chairman Fitzpatrick in the form of a three page letter dated July 28th, which you can find here.

First, I encourage you to read Fitzpatrick’s letter.  Whatever its merits otherwise, it is typical DA bluster, long on rhetoric, short on specifics, and completely devoid of anything resembling reasoning.  It’s a screed from someone who seems to think that all he need do to dispose of accusations of corruption is to call them “absurd”.  Not one fact chronicled in the New York Times piece is even specifically denied, let alone refuted.

There’s a lot to say about all this, but not now.  In the meantime, it’s worth noting that some people whose opinions I respect believe this whole flap is orchestrated by the Clinton camp to damage Cuomo, a political rival for the 2016 presidential nomination.  And that may well be.  Multiple levels of perfidy and skullduggery are standard procedure in the political cesspool known as New York State.

But we’ll comment later on some larger aspects of all this, endeavoring to wed the macro to the micro, one of our favorite tasks over here at Lawyers on Strike.  We sometimes do a good job of that, and we sometimes don’t, but we do make the effort.

To be continued.

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Filed under financial crisis, Judicial lying/cheating, Media incompetence/bias, Striking lawyers, wrongful convictions

Shallow Reasoning

Maybe a better word is facile.  Or cynical.  Whatever the word, I think you can call what follows here intellectually and professionally irresponsible.  I quote at length from a 1994 opinion for the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago:

Here is the gist of the allegations, in the language of Buckley’s brief (footnote and citations to the record omitted):

The relevant portions of the complaint allege several separate acts of witness interrogation and coercion which occurred in the early stages of the investigation, including the repeated interrogation of [Alex] Hernandez [one of Buckley’s two codefendants], which led him to give obviously false statements which on their face inculpated Buckley; the use of reward money to coerce further false statements from Hernandez which again inculpated Buckley; and the interrogation of [Rolando] Cruz [the other co-defendant] and purchase of false inculpatory statements from him.Buckley alleges, in other words, that the prosecutors repeatedly interrogated two other persons, that the prosecutors paid them for statements inculpating him, that during the interrogations the prosecutors “coerced” them to finger him, and that the accusations Cruz and Hernandez leveled against him are “obviously false”.

The exchange of money for information may be a regrettable way of securing evidence, but it is common. So too with promises to go easy (the complaint alleges that a prosecutor implied that Cruz and Hernandez might escape the death penalty by talking freely). Buckley does not cite any case holding that this practice violates the Constitution. Concealing the payments at trial would have violated his rights; a defendant is entitled to know what the prosecutor paid for a statement (whether in cash or in lenience and related promises) so that he may expose to the jury the witness’s shortcomings and bias. Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 (1972); Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 79 S.Ct. 1173, 3 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1959). But Buckley does not allege concealment at trial, which would in any event be comfortably within the scope of absolute prosecutorial immunity under Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). His contention that the payments themselves violate the due process clause does not state a claim on which relief may be granted.

Coercing witnesses to speak, rather than loosening their tongues by promises of reward, is a genuine constitutional wrong, but the persons aggrieved would be Cruz and Hernandez rather than Buckley. Overbearing tactics violate the right of the person being interrogated to be free from coercion. Buckley cannot complain that the prosecutors may have twisted Cruz’s arm, any more than he can collect damages because they failed to read Cruz Miranda warnings (see 919 F.2d at 1244) or searched Cruz’s house without a warrant. Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 100 S.Ct. 2556, 65 795*795 L.Ed.2d 633 (1980); United States v. Payner, 447 U.S. 727, 100 S.Ct. 2439, 65 L.Ed.2d 468 (1980); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). Rights personal to their holders may not be enforced by third parties. Let us suppose the prosecutors put Cruz on the rack, tortured him until he named Buckley as his confederate, and then put the transcript in a drawer, or framed it and hung it on the wall but took no other step, or began a prosecution but did not introduce the statement. Could Buckley collect damages under the Constitution? Surely not; Cruz himself would be the only victim.

 

This is from the opinion of Judge Easterbrook – a Federalist Society darling like his circuit-mate Richard Posner – in Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 20 F.3d 789 (7th Cir., 1994) when the case was on remand from the Supreme Court [509 US 259 (1993)]. 

To be fair, before rendering this bit of circuit judge flippancy, Judge Easterbrook did complain that Buckley’s lawyers hadn’t been much help:

The Supreme Court found “unclear” the “precise contours” of Buckley’s claim that the prosecutors violated the due process clause “through extraction of statements implicating him by coercing two witnesses and paying them money.” ___ U.S. at ___, 113 S.Ct. at 2619. It evidently expected Buckley to elaborate on remand; so did we. Instead, Buckley simply referred us to the very paragraphs of the complaint that perplexed the Justices.

 

The point is that when a plaintiff in a section 1983 action, or for that matter a defendant in a criminal action, complains that authorities have coerced witnesses to falsely implicate him, the argument that this only tangibly harms the witnesses and not the (defendant) Plaintiff is unserious.  In this instance it is probably just more judicial backlash and fallout from those 15 years or so where suppression motions were occasionally granted.  Because one of the ways courts got around having to suppress things was (and still is) – as Judge Easterbrook notes above – to hold that the defendant doesn’t have standing to challenge a search if he didn’t own the house, or the car, or whatever where the drugs were found.

I mean, the obvious problem is that by any fair application of the concept of ‘standing’, a criminal defendant has standing to challenge the lawfulness of any evidence that the government intends to use against him.  To preclude him from objecting on standing grounds is silly.  Or would be if there was any humor in it, which when you’r e on the receiving end there usually isn’t.  It’s really an abuse of language and thought and the law, and on remand from the Supreme Court, no less, Judge Easterbrook does exactly that with the Buckley case.

What’s even more of a shame is that Buckley caught on in so many ways.  More:

Let us suppose the prosecutors put Cruz on the rack, tortured him until he named Buckley as his confederate, and then put the transcript in a drawer, or framed it and hung it on the wall but took no other step, or began a prosecution but did not introduce the statement. Could Buckley collect damages under the Constitution? Surely not; Cruz himself would be the only victim.

Again, this is flippant.  In the first place, let’s take a situation where authorities fabricate evidence but don’t don’t ‘use’ it in any way – not at the Grand Jury, or before a judge or magistrate on warrant applications or motions, or at trial.  Is it a non-problem, then?

It depends.  If its non-use represents a renunciation, an abandonment  of the whole effort to frame someone with ‘evidence’ you just make up or beat out of someone, then I’d agree it’s pretty much a non-problem.  On the other hand, if that effort continued but with different bogus evidence then clearly it very much is a problem, because the real problem is not just this or that incident but the whole thing, the whole tainted process.  You don’t have to analyze each pixel when the image is more than sufficiently clear.

It’s just sort of deliberately obtuse not to see this kind of thing, because you’re not really reasoning your way through something; rather you have a desired outcome and you’re just rationalizing.  Some people are capable of nothing but the latter.  And the worst thing about them is that they can’t even comprehend that others might be capable of the former.  So they assume others are just like them – that is, that all of their “reasoning” is really rationalization.

And a lot of these people are prosecutors or judges.  Or cops.

Shallow reasoning is a big problem in the law.  Abandonment used to be a defense to a criminal charge.  In fact it was very traditional, and a measure of how the law once conformed to notions of fairness and justice.

The abandonment defense was this:  you started to do some terrible criminal thing but then thought better of it, listened to your conscience and turned back to the right path.  You “abandoned” the crime, thoroughly renounced it before you completed it. 

That was a complete defense to a charge.  You’d be not guilty.

But then courts started holding – contrary to the Model Penal Code, which maybe we’ll discuss some other time – that abandonment wasn’t a defense to an ‘attempt’ charge, because you complete the ‘attempt’ by taking some tangible step towards committing a crime.  So in other words, you can’t abandon the effort to do something that’s already done.

There’s a certain logic to this position, isn’t there?  Except when you consider this:  abandonment can only apply to attempted crimes.  If you complete the crime, obviously it’s too late to abandon it; on the other hand, if you never did anything at all, there’s nothing to charge you with in the first place.  So if you say that ‘abandonment’ is not a defense to an ‘attempt’ charge you’re just being disingenuous and shallow.  Just come right out and say you don’t recognize abandonment as a defense at all.

But then you’d have to concede a radical departure from traditional criminal law in favor of prosecutions. 

We’ve had way too much of this kind of shallow reasoning, and we reap what we sow.  It’s a shame so much of it has come from Federalist Society judges.

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