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.


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:

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Actually Innocent? We Don't Give a Damn.

This is a short post. I haven't posted in a year, so a lot of things happened that I didn't comment on. Here is a big one. In Connick v. Thompson (2011), the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even though a defendant was the victim of a prosecutor withholding exculpatory evidence, and a jury awarded him $14 million for the many years he spent on death row, he instead should receive nothing. You see, prosecutors are immune from lawsuits, and just because a prosecutor deliberately convicts an innocent man, withholding Brady material in the process, that doesn't mean you can sue his employer.

Here is a copy of the article from Enjoy.

Dennis R. Wilkins
The New PD Dude

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Another Update on William Richards, FVI00826 - Actual Innocence is a Sham

I posted more than a year ago about an excellent granting of a habeas corpus petition by Judge Brian McCarville. The defendant is William Richards. His case number is FVI00826. The essence of the case is that he was accused of murdering his wife by bashing her head in. After three mistrials, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Then he was able to obtain favorable DNA evidence, and show that there were serious with the evidence presented against him at his trial. I mean, serious. Like, they framed him. Oh, and an expert that was hot and heavy against him kind of fully recanted his testimony and/or it was all shown to be BS. Mostly anyway. One of the few times it has happened, and certainly the only time that I have seen it, Judge McCarville granted the habeas corpus petition. It is CERTAIN that if he is retried, he cannot be convicted. Not with what we now know.

Then, on 11-19-2010, the California Court of Appeal wrote and unpublished decision REVERSING Judge McCarville's excellent opinion. Appelleate Court Justice Hollenhorst wrote the opinion, and he was joined by McKinster and Richli. All three are right wing Republican tools. The opinion is as terrible as it is disingenuous. Here is my summary of the opinion:

Too bad, so sad. We don't believe your new "evidence." You may have fooled Judge McCarville, but you won't fool us. This new "evidence" should have been brought forward at trial, and in fact some of it was. So it isn't really new "evidence." And the jury didn't believe the defense then, so, again, too bad, so sad. Oh, and just because someone who is crucial to your conviction is later found to be a complete liar and kind of, sort of, mostly admits it, to some extent or another, again, too bad, so sad. You lose. Yeah, we suppose that "actually innocent" people are kind of, sort of entitled at least to a new trial. But not your guy. Oh, and did I mention that we think your new "evidence" isn't very good? Oh, and Judge McCarville didn't apply the correct standard. We could tell you the correct standard, but we are pretty busy up here, denying all your silly motions. The standard is something like: The new evidence must undermine the prosecution's entire case and unerringly point towrd his innocence. We realize this is an impossible standard, but we're going to hold you to it. Oh, and stop spending so many days on these stupid hearings for murderers, Judge McCarville - we're just going to crap on whatever you rule on anyway.

Oh, and there were a LOT of case citations - I'll spare you those. I suppose that I shouldn't get too indignant over this local travesty of justice, but I can't help myself. Let me clarify: I KNOW Judge McCarville. He isn't some bleeding heart liberal. He calls them mostly like he sees them, but like most judges in this county, he is pro-prosecution. Remember, they are all elected, and they don't get re-elected by letting people charged with crimes go free. If Judge McCarville spends the time to do a habeas corpus petition and grants it, you had better damned sure believe that that was the right thing to do.

The case is currently before the California Supreme Court. I don't expect the Court to reverse the Appellate Court. I have just about zero faith in the California Supreme Court on criminal justice issues. They are a mostly zombie-controlled, Republican-appointed bench. I met the Chief Justice recently and she seemed nice, but she is another former prosecutor plucked from convicting people and put on the bench. Some of the justices aren't too bad. I like some of Justice Kennard's opinions. Justice Werdegar too, sometimes. The newest Justice, who hasn't been confirmed yet, Goodwin Liu, is promising. But he is just one guy. I am giving the California Supreme Court short shrift here because they have written some awful opinions in the criminal defense world for about 16 years now, when Rose Bird was forced off the bench. If they reverse the 4th Circuit, Division 2, I will be amazed. I will personally sing their praises. But I fully expect them to follow Justice Scalia's dissent (joined by Justice Thomas) in In re Davis (2009) 130 S.Ct. 1, wherein Scalia stated: "This Court has NEVR held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is "actually innocent."

In other words: Fuck you. We don't care how "actually innocent" you may be. So long as you got a "fair trial," you will be punished. Period. Finality is king. Never mind whether witnesses recant their testimony. Who cares? By the way, the remedy in the Troy Davis case was to remand the case back to the district court for a new habeas petition, which everyone agreed was without any power. Said petition was promptly denied, and the denial was then affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit. Troy Davis is now getting closer to execution. He got his "actual innocence hearing," and he got to call various witness that showed 9 of 11 witnesses who testified against him at trial recanted their testimony. 9 of 11? Really? Would 10 of 12 have done the trick? How about if all 11 had recanted? The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Mr. Davis's appeal from the habeas petition denial. Here is a good discussion of where Troy Davis is at now:

The lesson here? Don't get convicted the first time. Because if you do, even if you can later prove you were actually inocent, to just about ANY degree of certainty, so long as you got a "fair trial," you're guilty. Period.

Dennis R. Wilkins

Oh, and I suppose that I am now the New PD Dude.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I was fooled

I admit it. I supported Barack Obama. I was fooled. He is a corporatist, and he does not have the interests of most Americans at heart. Don't get me wrong - I am a Democrat, a liberal, a progressive, and I can't stand any of the Republicans running. But I am really and truly disappointed in Barack Obama. I will vote for him come next November. I have to. Any of the Republican pinheads running will appoint monstrosities to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices Elene Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor have turned out okay for the criminal defense field. Not great, but it could have been a LOT worse.

But it will be with a sad and heavy heart that I will push the button for this man. He cares only about his campaign contributions, and he isn't interested in helping the poor, or even the middle calss. Hillary would have been better. Joe Biden wouldn't have, of course, but at least it would have been honest. That said, Biden would have protected unions. In fairness, I was pulling for John Edwards while he was putting it into that other woman, while his dying wife was, well, dying. So I've been fooled before.

All of that said, I can honestly say that as I have grown older, it seems clearer and clearer that our system is hopelessly corrupted toward the wealthy, and capable of only a minimum of fairness toward those seeking justice who don't have cash. More often than not, the poor who are charged with a crime get jailed and have to await a trial that stretches further and further out. The division isn't between guilt or innocence many times, but on whether the person charged is savvy enough to know the rules of the system. But overall, the system that I have seen, and keep seeing is blanketed with a hateful attitude toward the poor, a distaste for those of color, and most seriously, an anipathy towards the rule of law, the presumption of innocence and the requirement that DA's have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

I also see the Public Defender as an entity more and more under attack. Whatever my feelings toward a particular administration, there is a constant and growing fear that the Public Defender will be outsourced to those who will do the job far cheaper, and with just about zero care for clients.

I will talk later.

Dennis R. Wilkins
The Guest Blogger
Public Defender Dude