What's Up in the 8th
Two weeks worth of cases to look at, mostly criminal, so let's get to it.
One of the problems with the Cuyahoga courts handling 25,000 criminal cases a year is that some judges tend to speed the process up by taking shortcuts. One of the favorites is the "group plea," similar to the one shown here. Whoops, that's a picture of a mass marriage performed by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. But you get the idea: the judge will take the bench, a group of defendants from disparate cases sullenly arrayed before him, waiting to be advised en masse of their rights and to consent to the deals that have been brokered that morning on their behalf.
It's easy for the some of the constitutional niceties to get lost in the process, and that's what probably caused the reversal in State v. Hudson. That, and the fact that the defendant was on the mental health docket, and the trial judge spent virtually no time in the hearing on the motion to withdraw the plea, other than to note that the defendant had been found sane and competent.
Other defendants attempting to get pleas vacated didn't fare as well. In State v. Rodriguez, the court rejects a murder defendant's claim that the trial judge didn't explain the elements of the offense or the available affirmative defenses, holding that this isn't required unless "the totality of the circumstances shows that the defendant does not understand the charges." And in State v. Pruitt, the defendant climbs up the appellate ladder for the third time. His sentence was vacated the first two, once for Foster correction and the second for failure to properly impose post-release controls. This time he claims the judge should have granted the motion to vacate his plea that he filed after the second remand. The court says no, following the general law that a defendant can't file a motion to vacate a plea on a remand.
In the civil sphere, a somewhat unusual situation arises in Davis v. Tops Mkts., a slip and fall case where the plaintiffs had asked for additional time for discovery to respond to a motion for summary judgment. The judge had given them until February 11, 2008, noting that there would be "no further continuances." When the plaintiff's brief in opposition hadn't been filed by February 20, he dismissed the case. The plaintiffs filed a motion under Rule 60(B)(5) to vacate that judgment, and the court holds that the trial judge abused his discretion in denying it. There's some stuff in the opinion about problems the parties had in completing the necessary discovery, but this is about as expansive a reading of the remedial nature of Rule 60, and of abuse of discretion, as you're likely to find.
Back to criminal law, there was the usual bevy of search and seizure cases, one of which I'll discuss tomorrow. In State v. Rodgers, the defendant's girlfriend had gone to prison, but given her sister a power of attorney to take care of her kid and watch her apartment. When the sister went over to check on the latter, she found the defendant had broken in and was smoking dope. She called the cops, who entered the apartment, arrested the defendant, and seized the drugs. All that gets upheld on the theory that the sister could consent to the police search.
The difference between informants and anonymous tips, and between reliable informants and the other kind, are the central feature of State v. Ruffin. The informant there had tipped the police off to a drug deal he said would occur at a particular location, providing the cops with the license plate and the number of occupants. They take it down, and find somewhere north of 100 grams of crack. As I've mentioned before, this kind of tip, if provided anonymously, wouldn't do the trick; the cops have to be able to corroborate some incriminating aspect of the tip. The key here is the informant's record of reliability. Last year, in State v. Alexander, the court affirmed the suppression of the evidence under a virtually identical fact pattern. Here, they affirm the denial of the motion to suppress. Why? Because here, unlike in Alexander, the informant had a record of reliability.
The state fares worse in State v. Hope, where the police spot two individuals "nodding their heads, waving, and walking back and forth" on corner in "high drug area." The defendant doesn't happen to be one of them, but he's close enough, and when the police approach, the other two skedaddle. The cops stop him and ask him if he has any weapons, he helpfully replies that he does, and so they frisk him and find a gun. The court finds that these facts wouldn't give rise to a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity anywhere this side of Pyongyang. Well, they didn't say that, but it's a good line, and if any of the judges want to crib it for an upcoming case, be my guest. Knowing most Cleveland cops' lack of so much as a nodding acquaintance with the 4th Amendment, Lord knows there'll be the opportunity.