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Case Update

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The big decision from SCOTUS last week was Maryland v. King (discussed here last Wednesday) which narrowly upheld a Maryland permitting the police to obtain DNA samples from anyone arrested for a "serious" offense.  Another case received less attention, and more cursory treatment:  in Nevada v. Jackson, the Court in a brief per curiam opinion reversed the 9th Circuit's decision in a habeas case.  Jackson had been charged with raping his ex-girlfriend, and had been allowed to cross-examine the victim at trial regarding false allegations of rape she'd allegedly made against him in the past, but the trial court had refused to allow him to introduce extrinsic evidence, such as police reports and testimony by the officers who'd investigated those allegations.  The 9th Circuit held that this violated Jackson's right to "present a defense," but the Court unanimously disagrees. The result is due almost entirely to the limitations the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act places on defendants seeking habeas relief.  The law was passed in 1995 to limit habeas claims, and it has exceeded probably beyond its advocates' wildest imagination.  One of the restrictions is that the state court decision has to involve "an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."  There simply is no such decision, the Court noting that as long as the defendant is given expansive scope on cross-examination, the admission of extrinsic evidence is a matter for state laws and rules. 

Nothing new from Columbus, so let's head over to the courts of appeals...

Case A:  the defendant's conviction for drunk driving is based on a traffic stop for exiting a municipal parking lot in violation of posted signs; it turns out the sign wasn't authorized by the city council, as required by law.  Case B:  the defendant's conviction for drunk driving is based on a traffic stop for making an illegal u-turn; it turns out the defendant didn't make an illegal u-turn, because a u-turn wasn't prohibited on that street.  Are both stops valid?

The stop in Case A is; those are the facts in the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Bowling Green  v. Godwin, holding that a police officer's mistake of fact -- he didn't know that the council hadn't authorized the signs -- didn't invalidate the stop.  Case B presents the factual situation in State v. Babcock, the 6th District's decision last week reversing the denial of the motion to suppress:  the court there found that the officer's mistake was one of law, and a mistake of that nature can't provide reasonable suspicion.  I've tackled this issue before, in my discussion of the 8th District's 2011 decision in State v. Fears (here), and the 6th cites Fears.  Basically, if the police have a reasonable belief that you've committed a traffic violation (red light, signal), even if you haven't, the stop's good.  But if what you've done isn't a violation of the law, their belief that it is doesn't give them a basis for a stop. 

Sometimes a civil case can have an application to criminal cases, and the 8th District's decision in Burton v. Unifirst, an age discrimination lawsuit, contains some good law on juror misconduct.  Prospective jurors were quizzed as to their involvement in prior litigation, and one of the jurors, a doctor, responded that he was "proud to say in 33 years of practice I've never been sued for malpractice."  He was left on the jury, which returned a defense verdict, and a week after that the plaintiff's attorneys did some digging and found that the juror had actually been sued for malpractice three times.  The trial judge refused to grant a new trial, but the 8th reverses.  The case law on this is actually pretty stringent:  the moving party not only has to show that the juror lied, but that an accurate response would have provided a valid basis for a for-cause challenge.  I'm not sure that Burton satisfies that second requirement; a truthful answer would have led to a for-cause challenge only if the juror had subsequently admitted that his prior experience would have made him incapable of rendering impartial judgment, and if you've ever had a criminal trial where a cop with twenty years on the force is on the prospective panel and swears he could be fair and impartial, you know what that's like.  Still, Burton could come in handy, such as in a case where a juror claims that he wasn't a victim of a crime like the one your client's charged with, and it turns out he was.  An affirmative false response, rather than a simple failure to respond, is probably necessary. 

In State v. Vanzandt, the trial court issued an order sealing defendant's records after he was acquitted of drug trafficking, then granted the State's motion to unseal them three months later in order to prosecute the defendant for retaliating against one of the witnesses in his trial.  The defendant argued that nothing gave the court the power to unseal the records, but the 1st District holds that was within the court's supervisory power over its own records.  It's a little bit of a stretch, but it's the right result; the court notes that the judge didn't issue a blanket order unsealing the records, but limited it to use in the retaliation trial.

An interesting result in the 2nd District's decision in State v. HowardThe parties had arrived at a plea deal, but the judge rejected it.  The State conceded that the judge hadn't given an explanation of why he did that, but the panel disagrees, finding that the judge's statement at sentencing that he didn't believe the sentence under the agreement was adequate was sufficient, if belated.  I've got an appeal on this issue pending -- the judge nixed a plea to abduction, a third degree felony where the maximum penalty was three years, and the defendant was instead convicted of child rape, with a 25-to-life sentence -- and law's pretty clear that a judge does have the discretion to reject a plea deal if he feels it's too lenient.  Stay tuned on mine.

Time to get a law clerk.  In State v. Maney, the 3rd District reverses the denial of a motion to withdraw a plea, finding that the defendant may have chosen to go to trial on his domestic violence charge if he'd been correctly informed that the maximum sentence was three years, not the five the judge told him.  The fact that the judge gave him a four-year sentence probably didn't help.


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