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Friday Roundup

Catching up.  Back in 2004, the car in which Luis Melendez-Diaz was riding was stopped by the Boston cops.  Melendez-Diaz, the driver, and another passenger were then provided a police escort to the nearest stationhouse, and during the ride, officers noticed the three fidgeting in the back seat.  A search of the car revealed 19 bags of Columbia's largest export item.

Although the case was relatively trivial, you may recognize the name.  At Melendez-Diaz's trial, the state offered as proof that the powder was cocaine only an affidavit of the lab technician who'd tested the substance.  That was in accordance with Massachusetts law, but five years later, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the US Supreme Court held that the law violated Crawford v. Washington by denying a defendant his right to confront and cross-examine the person who'd actually tested the drugs.

So last week, Melendez-Diaz was retried, and this time the prosecutor brought in the analyst, who testified that, sure enough, the white powder was cocaine.  Didn't matter; the jury acquitted Melendez-Diaz nonetheless, apparently believing that the cocaine belonged to the two others, and that "constructive possession" stuff was just so much jive.  Not that Melendez-Diaz is going to be celebrating his victory; rather, if he is, he's going to be doing it in the prison cell where he's still serving a 10-year sentence for another drug trafficking case.

For pure irony, though, you don't get any better than playing the game, "Whatever happened to Ernesto Miranda," the guy whose case in 1966 dramatically altered the law on p0lice interrogation procedures.  At his retrial, sans conviction, he was nonetheless convicted of kidnapping and rape, and did eleven years before being paroled.  Four years later, he was killed in a bar fight.  The police arrested a suspect, but he invoked his Miranda rights and refused to talk.  The police had to let him go, and no one was ever charged in Miranda's death.

The best part, though, is that Miranda made money after his release from prison from selling autographed Miranda warning cards.

Is this a great country or what?

One hand giveth, the other taketh away.  A couple of weeks back, I wrote that budgetary constraints might be forcing a re-evaluation of the time-worn "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach to sentencing.  Well, maybe and maybe not; in one of their latest forays into the criminal code, the legislature amended the domestic violence statute to provide that a conviction for a third offense requires a mandatory six-month prison sentence.

I'm not a big fan of mandatory sentences because they often improperly limit a judge's discretion, but that also can be a factor in their favor, because it lessens the disparity in sentences:  if everybody who commits a certain crime gets a mandatory eight years in prison, then you're not going to have some people who've been convicted of that crime getting eight years, some getting two, and some getting probation.  But mandatory sentences in the range we're talking about here don't do that; six months is actually less than the minimum for a third-degree felony.  This change has no rational basis, except to allow politicians to claim that they take domestic violence seriously.  Well, other than these guys, who doesn't?  But that's not the point, or at least shouldn't be.

Name, rank, and serial number.  One of the things I hate about shopping is when the store wants to get your personal information.  I stopped going to Radio Shack a few years back, because  I'd go in to purchase some $4.00 piece of electronic hardware, and some pimply-faced clerk would insist that the purchase couldn't be consummated until he'd entered my name and address in his computer.  The last time this happened, I plopped four bills on the counter, said, "George Washington is the only name you need to be concerned about," picked up the item, and walked out.

So I have a little bit of sympathy for the California legislature's attempt to eliminate this practice by recently passing a law prohibiting retailers from asking for a customer's zip code.  Then again...  Was a law on this really necessary?  We're not talking about name and address here, we're just talking about zip code, which stores use simply to track where their customers are coming from.  (Rather than, as in Radio Shack's case, using the more particularized info to bombard customers with newsletters about sales on the latest gadgetry.)  It's not like someone could be hurt if this information fell on the wrong hands.

Of course, for those of you with a more cynical bent, Overlawyered has another explanation for the statute.


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