The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

And You Thought You Had a Difficult Case.

In New Orleans, they do things FAST. And some of the details tend to get blurred. Read this newspaper article from New Orleans:

The gist of it is that Luhron Gorman was in New Orleans with a friend, and they were running from the police. At one point Mr. Gorman and friend went into someone else's house to hide, wherein the friend robbed that family at gunpoint. The friend got away with $60. Mr. Gorman was arrested 2 weeks after the crime from a crimestoppers tip, and he starts confessing. He says he had no part in THIS robbery. He merely went in to make sure his friend did not hurt the 97 year old resident, and he never displayed HIS gun. But he also confessed that he had stolen the gun that he had on him from somewhere else.

Mr. Gorman was tried for 4 crimes within 24 hours, among which is the home invasion robbery and the possession of a stolen firearm. Although it is not evident from the article how it happened, his attorney, Public Defender Jessica LaCambre, "tried unsuccessfully to stop the testimony" of Mr. Gorman. I assume that that means that she told him not to testify, and objected when he insisted on taking the stand, etc. It appears that Mr. Gorman felt it necessary to testify, against the advice of his attorney, and that he didn't do well enough in testifying to save himself from being convicted. The jury convicted him of everything. Mr. Gorman now faces 99 years for the robbery, and 10 to 20 for the gun. At some point Mr. Gorman accused his Public defender, Jessica LaCambre, of having an inappropriate relationship with the prosecutor (I don't know what that means, but it always sounds bad), and of failing, I guess, to negotiate him a better plea deal. The article speculates that Mr.Gorman did this to either get a mistrial or lay the groundwork for an appeal.

Look, Mr. Gorman sounds pretty guilty of SOMETHING, because he confessed to numerous things. And he likely slit his own throat when he confessed to the police. Who knows how much he hurt himself by testifying, often a difficult proposition. I don't know anything about Public Defender Jessica LaCambre, but I will assume that, as a PD, she was doing what she thought was right for Mr. Gorman, trying to dodge one or two icebergs on what was obviously the Titanic. I've been accused of having an inappropriate relationship with DDA's before by clients because, God forbid, I was talking to the DDA about their case when they couldn't hear (or someone else's case, for that matter). Clients facing years in prison may be a bit paranoid, or even a lot paranoid, but, WOULDN'T YOU BE? I mean, if someone you don't know, who you don't trust, who you don't pay, is defending you it is reasonable to distrust that person. And with the horror stories defendants tell each other (too many of them true) about overworked PDs with no time, no experience, no compassion, no competence, it is all understandable. I don't know if Public Defender Jessica LaCambre, Mr. Gorman's PD, did anything wrong here. But I can say, WITH CERTAINTY, that this was a difficult case, a difficult client, difficult facts, and no client control. Bad day for the attorney, worse day for the client. I think we've all been there.

But.

Here's the things that interested and bothered me about the article. 1) The article states that the (bad) verdict capped off a contentious "Daylong trial." Really? All this was in a single day, so large a day that it had to be "capped off?". I don't know how things work in New Orleans, but wasn't there other things she could have done? If Mr. Gorman was going to testify, was there some mental defense that might have been pursued? Were there perhaps some legal flaws with the confession? Wasn't there SOMETHING that would have militated more than one day of trial? If 1 day is all that it takes in New Orleans to get, in essence a death sentence (by incarceration), then this is a bad jurisdiction indeed. That is a freight train that moves WAY TOO FAST. I my guy's getting that much time, I will make the DDA will earn it, thank you very much. And earning it means taking more than one day.

2) The jury convicted Mr. Gorman of the home invasion robbery by a vote of 10 to 2. The robbery that's going to get him 99 years. 10 to 2. 99 years. DO YOU HEAR WHAT I AM SAYING?!? A non-unanimous jury gets him 99 years? That's outrageous!!! What the fuck?!? And maybe Mr. Gorman had something going here, because two jurors surely DID buy what he was saying. I am being a little petty here, but maybe Public Defender Jessica LaCambre might have devoted a wee bit of time challenging this rigged procedure. It boggles my mind that a guy can get 99 years from a non unanimous jury. Oh, and since this was a grueling daylong trial, perhaps more time might have been spent picking the jury. Pure speculation here, but since Mr. Gorman is Black (his photo is in the article), and since New Orleans went through massive racial changes in its jury pool after Katrina (lots of African Americans left New Orleans after Katrina), maybe, just maybe, there were some Batson v. Kentucky issues here worth exploring? It's speculation, but I'm willing to bet 10 to 2 that I am right.

3) At one point Mr. Gorman was removed from the court because he was "disruptive," probably because of all those accusations he made against his Public Defender. According to the newspaper article, no explanation was given to the jury for his absence from the courtroom. Later, during that same (grueling) daylong trial, he was brought back into court so that he could be ID'd by the victim, after which Mr. Gorman testified. That sure doesn't sound right to me. Seems like there should have been a mistrial here, or at least a really strong admonishment by the judge.

Dennis R. Wilkins
The New PD Dude

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Connick v. Thompson (2011) and Arizona v. Youngblood (1988) - Linked in Outrage

I wanted to add an issue that I did not address in my last post about Connick v. Thompson (2011). To clarify, the facts of Connick v. Thompson are that D was convicted of an armed robbery. Later, D was prosecuted for murder, and D elected not to testify at his murder trial because of the prior robbery, and the fact that it could be used to impeach him. The robbery was used to elevate the murder to a death penalty case. It turns out that D didn't do the original robbery, and the DA knew it - they had overwhelming evidence that the robbery was committed by someone else, but they did not turn that evidence over to the defense. Blood from the perpetrator had been found, and the crime lab tested it, and found that the blood type was B. D's blood type was type O. The DDA never told the defense attorney about the blood of the perpetrator that was found and even tested, and the defense never knew to ask. The DDA had the completed test in his trial folder, showing that the perpetrator had type B blood, when the robbery trial began. No evidence was ever shown that the DDA knew what D's actual blood type was.

D was sentenced to death. After serving 18 years behind bars (He was very close to being executed at one point), D found out about the withheld evidence. With it, he was able to get both his murder and robbery convictions reversed. Because the evidence was so weak on his murder case, he was acquitted when the DA retried him. The robbery case was dismissed outright.

Thompson sued the DA's office, claiming that the DA deprived him of his civil rights by falsely prosecuting him, specifically, that the prosecuting DDA, as well as 3 other DDA's, knew about the withheld evidence, knew that it was exculpatory, knew that it proved another person committed the robbery, knew that that greatly impacted his murder case, but they deliberately withheld the evidence. The lawsuit was very successful. The jury sided with Thompson, and awarded him $14 million, one million for each year he was on death row.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Thomas, reversed the lawsuit, and basically said that Thompson could NEVER succeed based on the facts of the case. Thompson had never shown that the DA ever knew about the withholding of evidence. The defense had never shown a "pattern of Brady v. Maryland (withholding exculpatory evidence) violations," required by the court to establish liability for the DA's office. In other words, the Court required Thompson to show that the DA had known about a pattern and practice of disregarding Brady duties and then failed to train the DDA's to properly comply with Brady duties. The fact that the New Orleans DA had had 4 other cases reversed for Brady violations was insufficient to show a failure to train the DDA's. Fun fact: Thompson never sued the DDA's who committed these egregious acts because, as the US Supreme Court has ruled before, individual DDA's working for the DA's office cannot be held personally liable for their acts. Final result for Thompson - he was framed by 4 different DDA's, spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, and he got ZILCH, even when a jury of New Orleans awarded him $14 million.

Here's why I write this post. In Justice Scalia's concurring opinion, joined by Justice Alito, Scalia wrote that, essentially, Brady material is purely that which is known by the prosecutor to be "favorable to the accused." In particular, because the DA had a blood test in this case that fixed the blood type of the perpetrator as type B, because the DDA did not know that D's blood type was type O, the DDA did not need to disclose it. In other words, when the prosecutor knows that there was blood taken at a crime scene that is likely from the perpetrator, and the police have had the crime scene test it, the DDA has no duty to turn it over UNLESS the DDA knows that D has a different blood type.

But here's the kicker - Scalia then quotes Arizona v. Youngblood (1988) 488 U.S. 51, 58, for the proposition that the prosecution team need not do ANY testing or preserving of evidence, and can only be dinged when the withholding is done in bad faith. Youngblood was a terrible decision, 6-3, that Scalia had joined. It turns out that it was a really, REALLY bad decision. You see, Larry Youngblood, the man with one eye who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a young boy for 3 days, and then convicted despite the fact that police failed to even TRY to get the semen evidence examined and instead had it "spoil" because they failed to refrigerate it, thus preventing Larry Youngblood's attorneys from having it analyzed themselves, yeah, THAT Larry Youngblood.

You see, after Larry Youngblood was convicted, the Arizona Supreme Court realized this was wrong and reversed his conviction, and let him go. Well, the U.S. Supremes stepped in, reversed the Arizona Supreme Court, and had Larry Youngblood sent back to jail. Although the majority opnion was not as obvious as Justice Stevens in its dislike for Larry Youngblood and the obviousness of his guilt (read Justice Stevens' opinion - it really is that bad. He basically says that, although he has misgivings with the majority opinion and the rule it was laying down, Larry Youngblood got a really fair trial and he was certainly guilty.), it is still pretty bad. The gist is: Hey, police are busy, they have no duty to help defendants and acquire evidence at the scene, or test it, or do much of anything to help the defendant because, well, we have a pretty busy system here. We can't go around questioning everything, especially convictions like these. So long as the police didn't CLEARLY have it in for Larry Youngblood, and they were just doing business like they always do, then Larry Youngblood is out of luck.

In 1998, Larry Youngblood got out of prison. Poor guy, while he was out of prison after the Arizona Supreme Court had temporarily freed him, he robbed someone of some stuff. With the extra time from the rape that he was convicted of, he didn't get out of prison until 1998. When he got out, he was sort of busy (and a little pissed off), and he failed to register as a sex offender. He was prosecuted for that, and his original attorney from his rape case, convinced of his innocence, handled the case again. This time, with new DNA techniques not available in the 1980's, Larry Youngblood was excluded as the rapist. Got that? It WASN'T him. It was another guy, someone who was in prison in Texas and who later pled guilty to the rape. Larry Youngblood dies in 2007, a broken man. From the state of Arizona he ZERO in compensation for his years behind bars. Here's the story: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/03/nation/la-na-court-innocence-20110403

Let me clarify my outrage. Justice Thomas and 4 other justices shit on Thompson and kick out his lawsuit. They tell him that, despite the fact that he was pretty much framed (I don't know what else you call it) on a robbery, which directly resulted in him getting the death penalty and sitting 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, despite the fact that when retried he was found not guilty of the murder (the robbery was outright dismissed), despite the fact that he sued the DA and got a jury to agree with him and give him $14 million dollars, he gets NOTHING. You see, the DA didn't know what his staff was doing, and it isn't his fault that they had no idea what exculpatory evidence even is. Oh, and dn't bother even TRYING to sue the 4 DDA's who saw the blood test results, knew what they meant and how exculpatory they were, yet refused to disclose them. You see, those guys are all immune from lawsuits because they were DDA's. Then, in the concurring opinion to this travesty, written by Scalia and joined by Alito, Scalia basically says, hey, what are you guys in the dissent talking about? This wasn't even Brady evidence, you see, and the DDA didn't even HAVE to disclose the blood test, because no one ever showed that he KNEW that it wasn't defendant's blood type. Yes, the police collected the blood. Yes, the police knew that it cmae from the perpetrator. yes, the crime lab had it tested. But, apparently, the DDA who prosecuted the D never bothered to find out what D's blood type was, and certainly never told the defense about said evidence. Scalia then quotes a rule which fucked a guy back in 1988 and laid down a bad broad rule to prevent the "obviously guilty" from requiring the cops to, you know, do their jobs. But Scalia never even mentions or alludes to the fact that in the very case in which that bad broad rule was laid down, that "obviously guilty" defendant, Larry Youngblood, was actually innocent.

BTW - For whatever it's worth, and it probably is worth little, both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Youngblood are black, and poor. I honestly believe that the latter fact is a LOT more important than the former, but that is how I see it. I have no problem calling our justice system racist, but they ar much more fervantly and militantly against the poor.

They have no shame. They really, honestly, truly, have no shame.

Denis R. Wilkins
The New PD Dude