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November 2010 Archives

What's Up in the 8th

The 8th District churns out 29 decisions by Wednesday, then heads off to the buffet line to leave me to wade through them.  I (and you, shortly) learn that Ivan Djukic's journey through the legal system comes to an end, John Russell gets a new beginning to his, and Johnny Garcia is yet another beneficiary of the woeful state of training in 4th Amendment procedures provided to Cleveland police officers.

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Case Update

After Jason Pepper's 2003 plea in Federal court to conspiracy to distribute amphetamines, the judge gave him only a 24-month prison sentence, as opposed to the 97-121 months recommended by the sentencing guidelines, because of his cooperation with the authorities and his lack of a prior criminal record.  The 8th Circuit reversed that, but in the meantime, Pepper completed his sentence, married, got a job, got straight A's in college, and stayed drug free, so the trial judge again gave him 24 months, this time citing his post-sentence rehabilitation.  Again, the 8th Circuit reversed, telling the judge not to consider that.  On remand, a different judge gave him a 65-month sentence, and a week from today, the US Supreme Court will hear argument on whether post-sentence rehabilitation is a proper factor to consider in sentencing.

I haven't read the briefs (but if you want to, here they are), so I don't know what the law is on this, but I know what it should be.  I don't like saying that, because it smacks of results-oriented decision-making, and I don't normally like it when it's obvious that a court decided the outcome it wanted to reach, then formulated the reasoning -- such as it was -- to arrive at that outcome.  But I've always believed that the overriding purpose of law is to achieve a fair result, and whatever the arguments on this, Pepper has the better one.  We'll see if five people who matter a hell of a lot more to Jason Pepper than I do agree.

Nothing else in D.C., and nothing of note in Columbus, so let's head over to the courts of appeals, where the 2nd District had a particularly prodigious week...

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A long and winding road

On August 28, 2004, Evelyn Rivera and her husband,  Adam Pabon, saw a man beating a woman, whom they recognized as a neighbor, outside their house.  Rivera called 911, and the assailant took off when the police arrived.  The victim told Pabon that the guy who beat her was her former boyfriend, Luis Colon; she told the police officer who responded to the call that she had lived with him for about two years, but they'd separated six months ago.

The victim didn't show up at Colon's trial a month later for domestic violence.  No matter; the court allowed the statements to Pabon and the police office as an "excited utterance."

Colon was convicted, and sentenced to 30 days in jail.  Three weeks ago the 6th Circuit ended Colon's odyssey through the criminal justice system by concluding that the admission of those statements didn't violate Colon's confrontation rights under Crawford v. Washington.

Continue reading "A long and winding road" »

8th District Roundup

Rule No. 1 for trial attorneys is:  Make sure to preserve your record.  Failure to object normally dooms an appeal, limiting the reviewing court to the extremely vigorous "plain error" standard.  By luck or design, though, the trial attorney's failure to object in State v. Banner to the state's introduction of evidence regarding an offer to allow the defendant to take a lie detector test probably resulted in the reversal of defendant's conviction of several counts of child rape, and his sentence of 35 years to life.

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Case Update

The US Supreme Court comes down with its first real decision of the year in Abbott v. US(A week earlier, in Wilson v. Corcoran, the Court had issued a brief per curiam opinion reminding federal courts that habeas relief was available only for violations of federal law, not for improper state court interpretations of state law.)  Abbott was convicted of drug trafficking, and had a gun at the time of the crime, which earned him a 15-year minimum sentence as a felon in possession and a 5-year minimum under 18 USC 924(c)(1), which prohibits using or possessing a gun "in any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime."   The latter statute provides that the 5-year sentence has to run consecutively "except to the extent that a greater minimum sentence is otherwise provided by [924(c) itself] or by any other provision of law."   Every court has narrowly construed "any other provision of law" to mean one that "embodies all the elements of a 924(c) offense," and the Supreme Court unanimously agrees.  The Court acknowledged that "Abbott and Gould [the defendant in a companion case] project a rational, less harsh, mode of sentencing.  But we do not think it was the mode Congress ordered."  Well, duh.  Why would anyone think that Congress would prefer a "rational, less harsh mode of sentencing"?

The bright spot here is that Doc Berman, over on Sentencing Law & Policy, sifts through Abbott's entrails and argues there's some support in it for applying the new Fair Sentencing Act's provisions for crack sentencing to pending cases.

Down in Columbus, nothing other than announcements, including the dismissal of several cases for missed filing deadlines, so let's see what happened in the courts of appeals...

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Friday Roundup

Talkin' about a revolution.   It's been 35 years since the Justice Center opened here in Cleveland, housing both the county's common pleas court and the city's municipal courts.  I've chronicled its failings before, like in this post from earlier this year.  (The one about the Justice Center is the second story down.)  But the Powers In Charge really outdid themselves on Wednesday.

As I mentioned in the earlier story, 9:00 AM is when it's happenin' at the JC:  the masses descend upon the building for their pretrials, arraignments, traffic hearings, or whatever, where they're funneled into a line to go through a solitary metal detector at each of the two entrances.  Employees and lawyers are spared this process:  we simply walk past the detector and hold our ID up to a scanner, then go on our way.

Until Wednesday.  I was scheduled for trial -- which, in Cuyahoga County, means that there is at least a 10% chance that it will actually be held -- but despite those daunting odds, decided to get there about 10 minutes before that.  At which point I found that the scanner was closed down:  now, all empl0yees and attorneys had to go through the metal detector, just like everybody else.

In the immortal words of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, "What a fuckin' nightmare."  I had to wait in line for 30 minutes  to get through the detector.  Several lawyers just left, secure in the knowledge that in this county, a "9:00 Pretrial" in a criminal case means "show up sometime before noon."  Several people didn't take kindly to the new procedure, and the deputies actually handed out several tickets for disorderly conduct to those they felt were too strident in their complaints.  The disembarkation from the Titanic after it hit the iceberg was done in a more orderly fashion than this.

And in addition to being a nightmare, it was a disaster.  My client didn't get up to the courtroom until 10.  It didn't matter, because the judge was in trial with another case.  And that didn't matter, because three of the jurors in that case didn't get through until more than an hour after the trial was supposed to start.

This isn't going to be the way it is done from now on, we found out; this will only be instituted on a random basis.  How random?  Don't know; some deputies told me it would be once a week.  And, of course, since it's random, you don't know which day it's going to be:  you could come over to the Justice Center for your 9:00 pretrial, only to find out that the dice had come up snake eyes and you should've been there 45 minutes earlier to avoid standing in line.  My guess is that a couple more "random" procedures like this, and the one after that is going to resemble the storming of the Bastille. 

I suppose it could be worse.  Back in 2005, the Ohio legislature passed the state's version of the PATRIOT act, and included a requirement that anyone doing business with the state had to sign a certification that they were not giving material aid to any terrorist organization.  The minions at the Bellefontaine Municipal Court, apparently concerned that attorneys were working hand in glove with al Qaeda to replace the government of our Founding Fathers with an Islamic caliphate, mandated that attorneys who wanted to sign up for appointment for indigent counsel had to sign the form.  Even the Supreme Court found that was a bit over the top, and granted a writ of prohibition.

In other news.  Actually, I guess I shouldn't complain too loudly about what happened at the Justice Center.  The new procedures adopted by the Transportation Security Administration for screening at airports -- the "full body scanner" and the more intrusive body search -- has generated a firestorm.  And whereas previous firestorms would result in something like, oh... the storming of the Bastille (supra), now it just results in lots and lots of people blogging about it.  Or sending out press releases; as the always entertaining LegalBlogwatch tells us, a group called "Americans for Truth About Homosexuality" -- and I can't think of anything I am more desperate to learn the truth about -- has scoffed at Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano's assurance that the patdowns, which will now have agents venturing into previously forbidden areas, such as the genitals and breasts, will be performed only by "same-gender" personnel.  What if, the ATAH points out, the agent is gay?  The ignominy of having to stand in line for an hour, take off your shoes and belt, dump your keys and change into a bin, would only be deepened by the horrr of realizing that the burly agent working his fingers inexorably toward the family jewels is deriving some secret pleasure from it.

Like when he uses Mae West's line, gives you fashion tips, or starts humming "Over the Rainbow."

Continue reading "Friday Roundup" »

The CSI Effect

We tell jurors that they can't do "independent" research:  look up stuff on the Internet, go the scene of the crime, read newspaper accounts about what happened.  Well, if you've got jurors who recognize this guy's picture, or have the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" as the ringtone on their cellphones, they might need some special instructions, too.

The Ohio State Bar Association certainly thinks so; back in May they came up with a proposed jury instruction intended to curb the influence of legal and forensic TV shows.  Ominously entitled "Warning on Outside Influence," it cautions that "misleading outside influences" include "popular TV shows" like Law and Order or Boston Legal, as well as "shows such as CSI and NCIS, which present the use of scientific procedures to resolve criminal investigations."  Noting that these shows "are not subject to the rules of evidence and legal safeguards that apply in this courtroom, and are works of fiction that present unrealistic situations for dramatic effect," jurors are told to " put aside anything you think you know about the legal system that you saw on TV."

This is supposed to counter what's been termed the "CSI Effect":   supposedly, such shows have indoctrinated jurors to believe that every prosecution, no matter how sundry, must result in a host of forensic scientists marching to the stand, and if that doesn't happen, the defendant should be acquitted.  

What's been termed "the CSI Effect" is hardly the first time that entertainment has influenced jurors.  The "Perry Mason Syndrome" was the name given to jurors' reluctance to acquit unless the defense attorney got the state's key witness to confess in cross-examination.  (The show had another effect:  lawyers weren't allowed to approach witnesses at that time, but to get both Mason and the witness in the same frame, directors had Mason walk over and lean on the witness rail.  Actual jurors began to expect attorneys to do the same thing, and thought they'd done something wrong when they didn't.)  And "Oprahization" was the name given by Attorney General Dan Lungren to the tendence of jurors to fail to hold the defendant responsible for his crime because of his own victimization, such as childhood abuse.

There's an abundance of anecdotal evidence to support the existence of the effect, and the prosecutor of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, certainly thinks it's real:  in an article he wrote for the Yale Law Journal, he claimed that a survey he did showed 38% of his prosecutors believed they'd lost at least one case because of a lack of forensic evidence, even when they thought the other evidence was sufficient to convict, and that

in about 40% of these prosecutors' cases, jurors have asked questions about evidence like 'mitochondrial DNA,' 'latent prints,' 'trace evidence,' or 'ballistics'--even when these terms were not used at trial.

Reliance on anecdotal evidence, especially that supplied by adversarial participants in a trial, is problematic; blaming a loss on a factor over which you have no control is a standard rationalization process in virtually any contest.  And the unreliability of recollection in general was borne out by one study, where the author quizzed assistant district attorneys at a seminar about whether they'd suffered a "CSI effect" -- a jury "wrongfully acquitting" where there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but lack of forensic evidence -- and asking them to identify the case.  He'd intended to then go back and research the individual cases for an alternate explanation.  A problem:  19 of the 20 cases identified by prosecutors had resulted in a conviction.  The author then conducted a series of mock trials to determine whether there was any measurable difference in acquittal rates, or reliability on forensic evidence, in CSI watchers v. non-watchers.  Like this study and this one, the author couldn't detect any.  To be sure, some studies, like this one, suggest that there may be an overall trend among jurors, not limited to just CSI watchers, toward expecting a greater degree of forensic evidence.  But studies haven't shown a greater unwillingness to convict unless that forensic evidence is provided; indeed, if there was such a tendency, it would have shown up in increased acquittal rates over the past several years, and that hasn't happened.

In fact, it may be that the effect cancels itself out:  for each juror who demands more scientific evidence in return for his guilty verdict, there's another who believes that scientific evidence is infallible.  After all, when's the last time you heard Horatio admit, "Jeez, we screwed the pooch on this one, huh, guys"?  Tell a jury that the defendant's fingerprints were found in a burglarized apartment, it's Game Over.  As Brandon Mayfield can tell you, that's not the case:  he spent two weeks in jail because FBI fingerprint "experts" mistakenly identified his prints as being on a plastic bag containing detonator caps found at the scene of the 2004 Madrid bombings.  The central tenet of fingerprint identification -- that no two people have the same fingerprints -- has never been validated, nor has the practice of declaring a match if there are eight to sixteen points of similarity (out of 35 to 50 possible) between two sets.  In fact, as one commentator put it, the verifiability of fingerprint identification rests on the circular logic that "it is verifiable because [fingerprint technicians] use it."  Similar questions have been raised about the accuracy of ballistics, hair analysis, and hand-writing identification.  In fact, a large reason for the Supreme Court's decision last year in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, holding that scientific evidence was testimonial under Crawford, and therefore required confrontation of the person who actually performed the tests, was an amicus brief by the National Innocence Project detailing the inaccuracies of supposedly "reliable" forensic evidence. 

Still, if the OSBA thinks it's necessary to tell impressionable Ohio jurors not to believe everything they see on TV, I don't have a problem with it.  As long as they're also told not to expect miracles when I cross-examine the state's key witness.

Continue reading "The CSI Effect" »

Harmless error

Here are the facts in last week's 8th District decision in Middleburg Heights v. Bunt:  Bunt and his wife met Kellie Greene, the mother of K.M., a 14-year-old boy, as a result of K.M. and Bunt's stepson being in the same bowling league.  Greene later confided in the Bunts that K.M. was having problems in school, especially with assignments.  Bunt offered to help draw up a computer program that would help keep track of them, and would work with K.M. to do that.  After a meeting, the four agreed on that plan.  In her statement to police, Greene acknowledged that she had sent K.M. to Bunt for "discipline," and that's pretty much what happened:  Bunt paddled K.M. about 60 times, leaving him "sore and in tears."  At trial, K.M. testified that Bunt offered him a choice:  "use a paddle and keep my underwear on, or bare hand, but it would be with my underwear off."  He hadn't mentioned that in his statement to the police.

On that basis, the jury convicted Bunt of assault and sexual imposition, the latter offense, despite being a third degree misdemeanor, requiring him to register as a sex offender for the next 15 years. 

Convinced of Bunts' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?  Probably not, especially about the sexual imposition charge.  But there's more.

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8th District Roundup

Sometimes, I think the 8th District's decisions give a better glimpse of life in Cleveland than can be found in a travel guide.  And lest you think that Cleveland doesn't merit mention in a travel guide, Frommer's doesn't share that view; it breathlessly informs us that "this underrated city's abundance of locally owned restaurants is also helping Cleveland burnish its reputation as the 'epicenter of the Midwest food scene,' in the words of the Chicago Tribune."  Indeed, back in 2007, Cleveland's own Michael Symon won the Food Network's "Next Iron Chef" contest. 

In State v. Gillenwater, we learn that Steve Moree also possesses extraordinary culinary skills:  the police claim he's "the best cook of crack cocaine in Cleveland," with people coming from miles around to have him cook their cocaine.

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Case Update

The big oral argument this past week in DC was AT&T v. Concepcion, which involves the question of whether a California court ruling that a provision in AT&T's cell phone contract was unconscionable because it barred class actions violated Federal arbitration law.  I'm somewhat torn about this; on the one hand, class actions are among the most abused forms of litigation.  On the other, businesses have inserted arbitration clauses into consumer and employment contracts with increasing frequency -- as this Hooters waitress found out -- and such clauses give them inordinate ability to avoid the consequences of their misdeeds:  you're much more likely to get a lawsuit if you steal $3,000,000 from one person than if you steal $10 from 300,000, at least if the 300,000 have to file separate lawsuits.

Down in Columbus, the talk was political, not legal.  In the election for Chief Justice, Maureen O'Connor trounced Eric Brown, whom Governor Strickland had appointed to the position after Tom Moyer's death this past summer.  That leaves O'Connor's seat vacant, and Strickland, despite his lame-duck status -- he was another victim of the Republican onslaught two weeks ago -- could appoint somebody to that seat.  The thinking is that he might want to fill it with somebody who has a better chance of retaining it than Brown, who lost by a 2-1 margin.  Like soon-to-be former Attorney General Richard Cordray, who performed admirably by losing by less than 2% in his race for re-election.  (Which is sort of like being last man standing at the Alamo.)  Another thought, though, is why bother:  Democrats last won a race for Supreme Court justice in 2000, and in the ten elections since then, only once has a Republican candidate failed to win by a margin of 10% or more, the customary definition of a landslide.

On to the courts of appeals...

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Friday Roundup

Keeping up with the Joneses.  I mentioned on Monday that in the past five years Ohio's executed more people than all other non-Southern states combined, but it looks like other states might be catching up.  Like California, for instance, which has no fewer than 700 people languishing on death row, including seven who have exhausted all state and federal appeals.  That wouldn't include John Davenport, who's been on death row since 1981; he still has stuff going on in Federal court.  But it would include Albert Greenwood Brown, Jr., who's been there since 1982.   He was supposed to have been executed in September, in what would have been California's first execution in five years, but it had to be postponed.

Why?  Because the California Department of Correction's only dose of lethal-injection drug passed its expiration date. 

Speaking of the death penalty, a new poll showed that 83% of the American public support the death penalty.  And that's just for murder; 62% would use it to punish rape, and 51% for kidnapping.  Most people draw the line at robbery, though; only 40% would support that.  Thirty-nine percent think it acts as a deterrent, but 35% don't believe that it does.  And 81% believe that innocent people have been executed.

Make of all that what you will.

March of Technology, Chapter 34.  A couple of months back, I decided I was too dumb to use a smartphone.  I'd gotten the Droid Incredible, and in two weeks concluded that I didn't feel like putting in the Incredible amount of effort I'd have to in order to make full use of its features, most of which I didn't need anyway. 

Lauren Rosenberg probably should've come to the same conclusion.  She relied on her BlackBerry's Google Maps application to get from one place to another in Utah, and it told her to use Deer Valley Drive.  She was walking, alas, and the directions didn't advise her that Deer Valley Drive has no sidewalks.  She was hit by a car, and like any red-blooded American, promptly sued.  And not just the driver of the car; she sued Google, too.

I've used various mapping devices over the years, and have found them to be something less than error-free.  Microsoft's directions had me puzzled on one vacation trip, until I realized that the town they had as being north of Ft. Knox was actually south of it.  Mapquest told me to turn left out of the Phoenix airport instead of right, putting me in an area of town substantially different from the scenic park I had anticipated going to.  And, of course, Google can get a little bit silly, too; a few years back, if you asked it for directions from New York to London, Plot Point 23 was "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean - 3,462 mi." 

That, coupled with the fact that if any condition might be deemed "open and obvious," that you're walking in a road instead of on a sidewalk would qualify, renders Rosenberg's suit something less than a slam dunk.  She might be helped by what this article notes:

Google Maps warns users about walking directions on its version for computers, saying that "Walking directions are in beta. Use caution -- This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths." However, the mobile version of Google Maps does not come with the warning.

Reasonable doubt explained... Maybe.  Here's one making the rounds in the legal blogosphere.

Here I have a couple of urns. The one on the left contains 70 red balls and 30 black. The one on the right contains 30 red and 70 black.

While you weren’t looking, I reached into one of these urns and randomly drew out a dozen balls. As you can see, 4 of them were red and 8 were black.

Here are three questions that I think you ought to be able to answer if you want to be in the business of assessing evidence:
  1. If you had to guess, which urn would you guess I drew from?
  2. What’s your estimate of the odds that you’re right?
  3. Do you think you’re right beyond a reasonable doubt?

The correct answer is that there's a 98% probability that the balls were drawn from the right urn.

Now, the question is:  is 98% probability equivalent to proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

As I said, you can find a lot of debate on this in the legal blogs, and one of the things I came across is that empirical research indicates that jurors use somewhere between 70% and 74% as a cutoff figure.  Food for thought.

Continue reading "Friday Roundup" »

The Castle Doctrine revisited

Two years ago, the legislature passed the New, Improved version of the Castle Doctrine.  Unlike the old Economy Size Castle Doctrine, which merely held that the duty to retreat before claiming self-defense did not apply to a person in his own home, this version actually shifted the burden of proof from the defendant to the prosecution when the self-defense claim arose in the context of a person lawfully in a residence or vehicle vending off an intruder.

When I first discussed this, I predicted that this was not going to result in much litigation, given the fact that, in this climate, shooting an intruder in your home would more likely result in congratulation, not indictment.  So it's not surprising that, over two years after the passage of RC 2901.05(B), my BFF Lexis shows that there are a grand total of four cases on the statute.  I don't know whether there are going to be more, but I hope so, because a couple  of them show there are some issues to be addressed, especially with jury instructions.

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Child porn sentencing

One of the things I did when I was on vacation was reread Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.  It's a great book, and one of my favorite parts is where the main character, a bond trader, tries to explain to his six-year old daughter what he does for a living.  I had a similar experience a long time ago, when my daughter, then about the same age, asked, "Daddy, what do criminal lawyers do?"

I smiled, pulled her up on my lap, and said, "Well, mostly damage control."

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What's Up in the 8th

I won an appeal last week, but there were things that were even more absurd in the 8th District's body of work.  For instance...

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Case Update

Nothing new in Columbus, except, buried in the announcements for November 1, one noting in State v. Cornwell that the court is making certain orders to facilitate its "timely consideration of any matters relating to the execution of appellant's sentence."  That's a somewhat euphemistic phrasing; what we're really talking about is the execution of the appellant, scheduled for November 16For those of you keeping score at home, in the past five years 229 people have been executed in the United States.  Ohio has killed 22 of them.  No other non-Southern state has executed more than four.

There was one decision I skipped over from the previous week, Doe v. Ronan, in which the court upheld a 2007 law making anyone who'd ever been convicted of a drug trafficking ineligible for any position with a school district.  The employee in that case had worked for the Cincinnati school board since 1997, until the background check mandated by the new law discovered his 1976 trafficking conviction.  One is tempted to suggest that the legislature could not have intended so absurd a result as to cause a person to lose his job -- a job, it might be noted, in which the employee had no contact with children -- because of something that happened 34 years earlier.  But of course, it did intend so absurd a result; a prior version of the law allowed a person to demonstrate that he was rehabilitated, but this version did not.  This is the result of the drug hysteria:  legislators don't give a damn about ruining people's lives for no reason, as long as they can't be accused of being "soft on crime."

Down in DC, no decisions, most of the talk centering on the argument in Schwarzenegger v. EMA, which tests the constitutionality of California's law prohibiting sales of violent video games to minors.  Hard to say which was the highlight of the argument:  the description of some of the games being offered (in one, you hit schoolgirls over the head with a shovel, and then decapitate them; in another, you pour gasoline over people, set them on fire, and then urinate on them) or Alito's quip that Scalia wanted to know "what James Madison thought of video games."  Oh, and if your fantasy football season has gone into the toilet -- getting Randy Moss with that third-round pick didn't turn out to be the steal you thought it was, did it? -- you might want to check out FantasySCOTUS, which, this article explains, is an online game to predict the outcome of Supreme Court cases.

On to the courts of appeals...

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Friday Roundup

Election Returns.  "Follow the money" is a time-tested aphorism in politics, but you wouldn't think it would apply to California's referendum legalizing marijuana, which went down to defeat on Tuesday by an 8-point margin.  While reading through some articles on the reasons for the measure's defeat, I came across this:

Preliminary election returns showed Prop 19 winning in 11 of 58 counties, with the strongest support in San Francisco and Santa Cruz.

But in a sign of what a tough sell it was, Prop 19 lost in the state's vaunted marijuana-growing region known as the "Emerald Triangle" of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.

Many in the region feared the system they created would be taken over by corporations or undercut a cornerstone of the local economies by sending pot prices plunging.

More parochially, the big news from here was the defeat of Bridget McCafferty for a Common Pleas judgeship.  McCafferty was one of two judges indicted in the Federal government's two-year investigation into county government corruption, but despite that, and consistently poor ratings by bar associations, was favored to win a third term.  Why?  Well, check the roster of Cuyahoga County judges and see how many non-ethnic names you can find.  (Actually, the number of Russos has fallen.  There used to be six:  in addition to the four in the general division, there was one in Domestic Relations, and there's still one in the Juvenile Division.)

But it doesn't necessarily take getting indicted for a judge to get voted out of office.  Last year the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.  Iowa has a merit selection/retention method for supreme court justices:  instead of voting for opposing candidates, the public simply votes on whether to retain them.  Since the system was instituted in 1962, no justice had ever lost a retention vote.  On Tuesday, all three justices up for retention did.

Take me out to the ballgame.  The recession hasn't spared many industries, but it's been especially hard on the legal profession:  the number of legal jobs has fallen by 7.8% since 2007, compared to decline of 5.4% in total jobs.  And while law school enrollment has increased -- the number of people taking the LSAT has climbed over 20% in the last three years -- graduates are finding a job market that simply does not give them the $65,000 salary that makes law school a good investment, given the $71,000 in debt that the average public law school graduate has incurred.  (For private law schools, it's $20,000 more.)  And while law schools reported that employment for the 2009 class was 88.3%, a quarter of those jobs were temporary, and another ten percent only part-time.  The employment prospects are so grim that one 3L at Boston College has written a letter to the dean proposing a deal:  he'll drop out of law school if the school will refund his tuition.  To him, it's a win-win:

On the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I’ll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.

But even a law job takes second place to the National Pastime, at least for Boris Briskin, who, Findlaw tells us, quit his job at a Los Angeles firm when they wouldn't give him time off to attend the playoff games of his beloved Texas Rangers.

In fact, the Rangers, despite their historically lackluster performance -- before this year, their 38 years of existence hadn't produced a single playoff game victory -- apparently inspire members of the legal profession, such as Darrell W. Cook, who sought a continuance of a pretrial so he could attend the first Series game in San Francisco.  The motion, which you can read here, is a riot, especially the footnotes, the best of which, regarding the Rangers' vanquishing of the Yankees in the League Championship Series, is this one:

It should be pointed out that A Rod [Alex Rodriguez] a/k/a A Fraud took a called third strike to end the series and secure the pennant for the Rangers.  It has no significance to this Motion other than the fact that Darrell likes to point it out as much as possible.

Alas, the Rangers lost the Series in five games to the San Francisco Giants.  Cook fared better in the deal:  at least his motion was granted.

Style tips.  Not only do I do this blog, but I also write a weekly summary of all the criminal decisions of the 8th District for the listservs of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and the Cuyahoga Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association.  That means I read an awful lot of cases.

The downside of that is...  I read an awful lot of cases.  Just what a downside was reinforced by an article I came across on the miserable quality of legal writing, and the reasons for it.  Especially resonant with me was Reason No. 4:  law students (and lawyers) read lots of judicial opinions.

Let us remember that the judicial opinions in our casebooks were not chosen for their writing style; they were chosen for their content. But many judicial opinions are poorly written, and most are mediocre at best. One commentator has said that lawyers, in their reading, are exposed to “the largest body of poorly written literature ever created by the human race.”

Anybody want to give me an amen?

Continue reading "Friday Roundup" »

Leo Durocher was right

I've commented before that much of the defense bar's protestation of the denial of their clients' right to speedy trial is so much bluster.  Unless the defendant is in jail, he almost invariably benefits from delay:  witnesses die, move, or forget, and that makes it harder to prove the case against him.  There's one problem with that analysis:  delay also gives him more time to screw up.

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Terry stops and firearms

I've said on numerous occasions that the 8th District is the most 4th-Amendment friendly in the state, if not the country.  State v. Morgan seems to be the latest effort on their part to prove I'm wrong.

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What's Up in the 8th

And here you are, all bright-eyed and eager to read about the 86 decisions the 8th District handed down while I was lolling around on the beach in a Mai Tai-induced alcoholic stupor.  (Hat tip to the bartender at the Hard Rock Cafe in Lahaina:  yes, a Hurricane is better than a Mai Tai.  And, if you're reading this -- and why wouldn't you be? -- had you been more intent on getting me my bill instead of chatting up the hot blonde, you might have been more amply rewarded for your advice.  Hope things worked out with the blonde.)

Well, bad news for the bartender, bad news for you:  we're not going to go through all 86 decisions.  But there are five which merit attention.  We'll play my version of "good court, bad court," today highlighting four decisions which the court got right, and relegating the clunker to tomorrow's discussion.

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Case Update

An appellate court, especially a supreme court, has two basic functions:  to issue decisions which articulate and clarify the law that is to be applied by the lower courts, and to act in a supervisory role, smacking down the lower courts when they get out of line.  The latter happened last week in State v. Dean, where, despite "substantial evidence" of the defendant's guilt, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction and death sentence because of the trial judge's manifest bias.  The defense requested a hearing on the state's refusal to disclose the name of a witness, and the judge had upheld the prosecutor's position.  There's case law which holds that a judge who holds such a hearing shouldn't be the one to try the case, so the defense moved to disqualify him.  The judge took this badly, believing it an unethical attempt to force him off the case, and spent the remainder of the trial reminding the defense attorneys that he'd deal with their perfidy after the conclusion of the trial.  They found this intimidating to the point where they believed they couldn't represent their client fairly, and so did the Supreme Court.  The opinion's worth a read, although there aren't any real rules of law to be divined.  That's not the point, though; the point is that where the Supreme Court unanimously vacates a death sentence and grants a new trial, you know the trial judge screwed up something fierce.

Down in DC, the only decision seems as though it could serve as the basis for a Monty Python skit:  the court vacates a stay of execution in a death penalty case.  The basis for the stay?  The defendant had argued that the drugs to be used in his execution had been imported from a foreign source, and therefore might be unsafe.  Read that sentence again, and then tell me that irony is dead.

In my two-week hiatus, the courts of appeals handed down 288 decisions.  I've carefully read every one of them -- sure, I have -- and normally I'd go right to the highlights.  One of them, though, the 11th District's decision in State v. Jordan, deserves special mention.  Ever since the US Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Ice that the 6th Amendment doesn't prohibit judicial factfinding before the imposition of consecutive sentences, defendants have argued that the decision implicitly overrules the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to the contrary in State v. Foster.  The appellate courts have uniformly rejected this argument, holding that it's up to the Ohio Supreme Court to reconcile the two cases.  (The issue's pending before the court; discussion of the oral argument 6 weeks ago here.) 

In Jordan, though, the 11th notes that the Ohio legislature re-enacted the section requiring judicial fact-finding on April 9, 2009, some three months after Ice came down, that Ice makes the statute constitutional, regardless of what Foster says, and that therefore a court wishing to impose to impose consecutive sentences after that date must make the required findings.

Highlights from the rest of the cases...

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