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    Criminal Law Blog

    Gale Burns

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    CRIMINAL LAW: Driver Using Cell Phone Convicted of Negligent Homicide

    Posted by Gale Burns on Wed, May 1, 2013 @ 12:05 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 38 No 2

    John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    In New Hampshire, text messaging while driving a vehicle is illegal, but simply talking on a cell phone while driving is not.  In the right set of circumstances, however, the otherwise legal act of talking on a cell phone while driving can support a criminal conviction for negligent homicide when that conduct leads to a fatal accident.  Such was the outcome in State v. Dion, No. 2011-786, 2013 WL 474884 (N.H. Feb. 8, 2013) (not yet released for publication).

    At about dusk, the vehicle driven by Lynn Dion, traveling at about 30 miles per hour, struck and killed a pedestrian, who had nearly finished crossing a street and who was using a well-lit, brightly painted crosswalk marked with a yellow and black pedestrian crossing sign.  Dion denied ever seeing that pedestrian, or her companion, who was also struck by the vehicle but with less serious effects.  Dion admitted that intermittently during her fateful trip she had made and received some cell phone calls as she drove, but she denied that she had been on the phone at the time of the collision.

    Reconstruction analysis of the collision by the police showed that the defendant had had fully 13.5 seconds in which to see the pair of pedestrians in the crosswalk as she drove across a bridge, that her view had been unobstructed, and that it would have taken her, at most, 1.5 seconds to react upon seeing the women.  Nevertheless, at no time before striking the pedestrian who died did Dion slow down, apply her brakes, or turn to avoid the pedestrians, indicating that Dion, as she herself stated, had completely failed to see them.  These facts further led the police to conclude that rather than experiencing a momentary distraction, such as could be caused by a sneeze or changing a station on her car radio, Dion had been inattentive for a longer period.  But how could this conclusion be reconciled with the defendant's insistence that she had not been on the phone during the moments immediately leading up to the accident?  The clinching evidence was Dion's cell phone records, which undercut that part of her story.  The records showed that Dion had placed a call to a friend, hung up a few seconds later, and only about 90 seconds after that placed her call to police from the scene of the accident.

    Dion sought to no avail to keep her cell phone records from being used as evidence against her at her trial.  In upholding the use of such evidence, the court that rejected her appeal ruled that under New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 403, the probative value of the cell phone records was not outweighed by their prejudicial effect.  Dion had admitted to a law enforcement officer that she "had made phone calls throughout her trip," and the records of her calls bore directly on the issue of her attentiveness in the minutes leading up to the collision.  Such records were "inextricably intertwined" with evidence of the crime of negligent homicide.  Id. at *4-5.

    As for the conviction itself, which led to a prison sentence, Dion argued to no avail that the evidence against her was insufficient to support her conviction for negligent homicide, because merely using a cell phone while driving does not constitute the required wrongful or blameworthy conduct to establish the culpable mental state for criminal negligence.  New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 630:3(I) makes it a felony to cause another person's death negligently.

    Section 626:2 states as follows:

    A person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he fails to become aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct.  The risk must be of such a nature and degree that his failure to become aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

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    Topics: legal research, cell phone use in car, State v. Dion, texting illegal, talking while driving can be criminal act, cell phone records admitted into evidence, negligent homicide conviction, failure to exercise proper degree of care, diligence, and safety, New Hampshire, The Lawletter Vol 38 No 2, criminal law, John M Stone

    CRIMINAL LAW UPDATE: Right to Effective Counsel During Plea Negotiations

    Posted by Gale Burns on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 @ 09:04 AM

    April 10, 2013

    Doug Plank, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    Since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), it has been well settled that the Sixth Amendment guarantees to criminal defendants not simply the right to counsel but also the right to effective assistance of counsel.  Under Strickland, a violation of the right to counsel may be shown if the defendant demonstrates that (1) counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. 

    In Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52 (1985), the Court concluded that the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel extends to the plea-bargaining process and that the test established in Strickland should be applied to the situation in which a defendant enters a guilty plea following plea negotiations.  Until recently, the Court had not found that Strickland should apply when plea negotiations resulted in a defendant's refusal to plead guilty.  However, in early 2012, in Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1376 (2012), the Court squarely held for the first time that the test from Strickland should be used to judge defense counsel's advice during the plea negotiations, whatever the outcome, and stated that in the context of a plea offer that was rejected on advice of counsel, a defendant could establish prejudice with evidence that

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    Topics: legal research, Lafler v. Cooper, effective counsel, Sixth Amendment applies to plea negotiations, certiorari granted in Titlow v. Burt, ineffective assistance when defendant pleads innoc, U.S. Supreme court, Doug Plank, criminal law

    CRIMINAL LAW: Determining the Reliability of Eyewitness Identification Under the Rules of Evidence

    Posted by Gale Burns on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 @ 16:04 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 38 No 1

    Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    A voluminous body of scientific knowledge on the subject of eyewitness identification has developed over the last 30 years, as well as extensive commentary and research by psychologists and jurists on the dangers of misidentification and the unreliability of eyewitness identification.  Acknowledging and compiling this corpus, the Supreme Court of Oregon, in State v. Lawson, 291 P.3d 673 (Or. 2012), recently revised the methodology for determining the admissibility of eyewitness testimony in Oregon courts.

    Until Lawson, challenges to eyewitness testimony involved the two-step analysis articulated in State v. Classen, 590 P.2d 1198 (Or. 1979).  Under Classen, the defendant bore the burden of showing, under the first prong of the analysis, that "the process leading to the offered identification was suggestive or needlessly departed from procedures prescribed to avoid such suggestiveness."  Lawson, 291 P.3d at 683 (quoting Classen, 590 P.2d at 1203).  If the defendant showed that the process of identification was suggestive, the second prong required the prosecution to demonstrate to the court that "the proffered identification ha[d] a source independent of the suggestive confrontation . . . or that other aspects of the identification at the time it was made substantially exclude the risk that it resulted from the suggestive procedure." Id. at 683-84 (quoting Classen, 590 P.2d at 1203).

    In determining whether an identification had been made independent of suggestive procedures, courts were directed to consider a nonexclusive list of factors, including

    the opportunity that the witness had at the time to get a clear view of the persons involved in the crime and the attention he or she gave to their identifying features, the timing and completeness of the description given by the witness after the event, the certainty expressed by the witness in that description and in making the subsequent identification, and, of course, the lapse of time between the original observation and the subsequent identification.

    Id. at 684 (quoting Classen, 590 P.2d at 1203). 

    The Oregon court in Lawson observed that although the intent in Classen had been to come up with an evidentiary standard, placing the burden on the defendant to prove that the eyewitness identification was suggestive was more appropriate to a due process analysis, in which the defendant bears the initial burden of proving a constitutional violation.  Id. at 689; see, e.g., Perry v. New Hampshire, 132 S. Ct. 716, 730 (2012) ("[T]he Due Process Clause does not require a preliminary judicial inquiry into the reliability of an eyewitness identification when the identification was not procured under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances arranged by law enforcement.").  In contrast, in evidentiary matters, it is the proponent of the evidence—in this case, the State—who bears the initial burden of establishing admissibility.  Id.  The problem with the second step of the Classen inquiry was that it allowed "trial courts applying the Classen factors to rely heavily on the eyewitnesses' self‑reports to establish the existence or nonexistence of suggestibility factors."  Lawson, 291 P.3d at 689.

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    Topics: revised methodology in Oregon, State v. Lawson, consistent with scientific knowledge, motion to exclude eyewitness evidence requires sta, court decides exclusion or method to cure unfair p

    CRIMINAL LAW: Sentencing Guidelines—Ex Post Facto

    Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 @ 13:01 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 27 No 11

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    Topics: legal research, The Lawletter Vol 37 No 11, Doug Plank, criminal law, 7th Circuit, certiorari granted, sentencing guidelines, Ex Post Facto Clause, Peugh v. United States, conviction date versus commission of crime date, Guidelines are merely advisory

    CRIMINAL LAW: GPS Device Placed on Car Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment

    Posted by Gale Burns on Wed, Jan 2, 2013 @ 17:01 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 37 No 10

    John Stone, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    A drug enforcement officer got a tip that a particular van owned by a glass company might be used to transport illegal drugs from one Arizona town to another.  When the van was found parked in a public parking lot, the officer, without a warrant, placed a global positioning ("GPS") device on it so that the police could monitor the van's movements.  The van did not move for several days, but then the GPS device showed that it had been driven to the second town, where physical surveillance confirmed the move and found the van. There the driver of the van, who was an employee of the van's owner, was stopped for speeding and having excessive window tint, at which time he was also arrested on an outstanding warrant.  The arresting officer who made the stop also was aware of the GPS device and that the van was suspected of carrying marijuana.  A search of the van uncovered bundles of the drug, and the driver was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, drug offenses.

    In appealing his conviction on the drug charges, the defendant, Estrella, unsuccessfully argued that the placement and use of the GPS device on the vehicle he had been using constituted an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.  State v. Estrella, 286 P.3d 150 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2012).  One contention—that the use of the GPS device had been a search under the trespass theory advanced in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012)—was waived because it had not been raised in the trial court.  The Jones Court had said that a trespass or an invasion of privacy, in combination with an attempt to find something or to obtain information, is a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  In that case, attaching a GPS device to a vehicle owned by the suspect's wife but used exclusively by the suspect, and then using the device to monitor the vehicle's movements, was found to constitute a Fourth Amendment search.

    Even in the absence of a trespass, a Fourth Amendment "search" occurs when the Government violates a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable.  A search does not occur unless an individual exhibits an expectation of privacy and society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable.  Here, the court held that Estrella did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his employer's van or its movements on public roads; thus, placement of the GPS device and data collection was not a "search," since Estrella had no interest in the van when the GPS device was attached in the public parking lot and subsequently monitored by law enforcement.  Estrella provided no evidence that he had had permission to drive the van at the time the GPS device was attached to it.

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    Topics: legal research, GPS, trespass not raised in trial court, no reasonable expectation of privacy on public roa, use of employer's vehicle, length of tracking time not unreasonable, The Lawletter Vol 37 No 10, criminal law, John M Stone

    CRIMINAL LAW UPDATE: Reliability of Narcotics Dogs to Be Revisited by U.S. Supreme Court

    Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 @ 15:11 PM

    November 20, 2012

    Doug Plank, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    The use of narcotics-detecting dogs is a well-established practice in American law enforcement operations.  Trained dogs are routinely used in an attempt to discover the presence of drugs in a variety of settings, including motor vehicle stops, investigative detentions of individuals in public places, and scans of luggage at airports, train stations, or bus terminals.  For the most part, the courts have sanctioned the use of trained dogs in the belief that their ability to detect drugs is so well developed and reliable that when they alert on a location, drugs will be discovered there.  However, some recent studies have placed that confidence in the performance of trained dogs into question.  Now, in a case that will be sure to have widespread repercussions for law enforcement, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to revisit the issue of the use of trained narcotics dogs in law enforcement.

    In its first decision addressing searches by dogs, United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 707 (1983), the Supreme Court held that the use of a "well-trained narcotics detection dog" to detect the odor of narcotics in luggage at an airport was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, and the Court strongly implied that the subsequent alert by the dog on the luggage—indicating that the dog did indeed smell narcotics—was by itself a sufficient basis to determine that there was probable cause to justify a search warrant to search the luggage.  In reaching that conclusion, the Court determined that the dog sniff was "sui generis" in investigative procedures, meaning that the sniff was "much less intrusive than a typical search," while at the same time reliably informative regarding the contents of the luggage.  Id. The Court ultimately held in Place, however, that despite being supported by reasonable suspicion, the detention of the luggage for 90 minutes while awaiting the arrival of the detection dog was too unreasonable to be justified as an investigative detention under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S 1 (1968), and therefore invalidated all that followed.  The Court thus found that the evidence discovered in the luggage had to be suppressed.

    Subsequently, in Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005), the Court held that the use of a narcotics-detection dog to sniff around the exterior of a motorist's vehicle during an investigative stop was not a search, again because of the lack of a cognizable infringement on the motorist's Fourth Amendment rights.  After the dog had alerted on the trunk of the vehicle, the police searched the trunk and discovered narcotics.  In reinstating the ruling of the trial court that the search of the trunk was supported by probable cause, the Supreme Court necessarily concluded that the alert by the dog was itself enough to provide probable cause to search.

    Justice Souter wrote a dissenting opinion in Caballes that questioned the reliability of narcotics dogs and thus questioned the underlying justification for the Place rule.  Souter argued that there was little reason to believe that a special rule should be applied to dog sniffs, as the unique reliability of trained dogs was simply not shown by empirical findings:

    At the heart both of Place and the Court's opinion today is the proposition that sniffs by a trained dog are sui generis because a reaction by the dog in going alert is a response to nothing but the presence of contraband. . . .

    The infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction. Although the Supreme Court of Illinois did not get into the sniffing averages of drug dogs, their supposed infallibility is belied by judicial opinions describing well‑trained animals sniffing and alerting with less than perfect accuracy, whether owing to errors by their handlers, the limitations of the dogs themselves, or even the pervasive contamination of currency by cocaine.

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    Topics: legal research, probable cause, Fourth Amendment rights, narcotics dogs, dog alert not sufficient cause to search, U.S. Supreme Court certiorari granted, Florida v. Harris, admission of evidence, training and and certification do not guarantee le, Doug Plank, criminal law

    CRIMINAL LAW: Tracking Suspect by Cell Phone GPS

    Posted by Gale Burns on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 @ 16:10 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 37 No 7

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    Topics: legal research, cell phone GPS, United States v. Skinner, no reasonable expectation of privacy, law enforcement tactics advance with technological, 6th Circuit, The Lawletter Vol 37 No 7, Doug Plank, criminal law

    CRIMINAL LAW: Long Reach of Immigration Laws

    Posted by Gale Burns on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 @ 12:09 PM

    The Lawletter Vol 37 No 5

    Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    A recent decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates both the reach of our immigration laws over even long-term lawful immigrants to this country and the need for criminal defense counsel to familiarize themselves with the impact a criminal conviction may have on one's immigrant status.  The case also provides guidance on the correct standard for addressing a petition for writ of error coram nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651.  See United States v. Akinsade, 686 F.3d 248 (4th Cir. 2012).  The case came to the Fourth Circuit on appeal of the district court's denial of Temitope Akinsade's petition.

    Akinsade was a 30-year-old Nigerian citizen who legally came to the United States in July 1988 at the age of seven and became a lawful permanent resident in May 2000.  When he was employed as a bank teller in 1999, at the age of 19, Akinsade cashed checks for several neighborhood acquaintances, who were not listed as payees on the checks, and deposited a portion of the proceeds from those checks into his own account.  He eventually reported the transactions to his supervisor, who then contacted the FBI.  He cooperated with the FBI and was neither arrested nor taken into custody at that time.  In March 2000, Akinsade was charged by a bank employee with embezzlement in the amount of $16,400, and he subsequently agreed to plead guilty after twice asking his attorney about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea and twice being advised that he could be deported only if he had two felony convictions.  The attorney's advice was erroneous.  See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(M)(i) (aggravated felony includes offense involving fraud or deceit and loss to victim in excess of $10,000); id. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) (any alien convicted of an aggravated felony after admission is deportable).  Finding that the charged behavior was out of character for Akinsade, the court gave him the minimum sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines.

    Nine years later, after Akinsade had served his sentence, after he had earned both a bachelor's degree in computer science and a master's degree from the University of Maryland, graduating with a 3.9 GPA, after he had received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, and after he had entered into a leadership program at General Electric Company and moved to upstate New York, he was arrested by immigration authorities and threatened with deportation based on his embezzlement conviction.  He then filed a petition for writ of coram nobis, alleging a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel due to his attorney's misadvice.  The district court denied the petition, concluding that although counsel's representation was constitutionally deficient under the first prong of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984), Akinsade did not meet the second prong of establishing prejudice. 

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    Topics: legal research, John Buckley, The Lawletter Vol 37 No 5, 4th Circuit, criminal law, immigration, writ of error coram nobis, United States v. Akinsade, immigrant pleaded guilty to embezzlement, prejudice due to counsel's deficient represent, correct standard for writ of error petition pursua

    CRIMINAL LAW: Sentencing—Apprendi Applies to Criminal Fines

    Posted by Gale Burns on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 @ 11:08 AM

    The Lawletter Vol 37 No 4

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    Topics: legal research, The Lawletter Vol 37 No 4, criminal law, Mark Rieber, sentencing, Southern Union Co. v. United States, Apprendi applies to criminal fines

    CRIMINAL LAW UPDATE: Supreme Court Opens the Door to Many More Successful Federal Habeas Corpus Proceedings for Criminal Defendants Alleging Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

    Posted by Gale Burns on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 @ 12:08 PM

    August 14, 2012

    Doug Plank, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

    It is well established that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides to a criminal defendant the constitutional right to counsel and that this right encompasses the right to effective assistance of counsel.  Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).  Because a determination of whether a defendant's trial counsel has provided effective assistance at trial can rarely be made prior to the end of the trial or prior to the issuance of the judgment of the court, a defendant's first opportunity to raise the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel is on appeal.  However, most States prohibit the litigation of ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims on direct appeal and, instead, require defendants to bring such claims in a collateral habeas corpus proceeding, usually following the termination of the appeal process.  Such collateral proceedings have their own limiting rules, as most States require all issues that can be raised in postconviction proceedings to be brought in one proceeding and hold that issues not raised in the initial proceeding will be forever barred unless the defendant can show both good cause for the failure to have raised them and actual prejudice from that failure.  Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court squarely held in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 753-54 (1991), that an attorney's errors in a postconviction proceeding do not qualify as cause for a default, and the Court refused to find that a defendant has a constitutional right to counsel in postconviction relief actions, thus barring ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims for attorney errors in those proceedings.  Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the federal statute governing the procedures for bringing a federal habeas corpus action to contest a judgment in a state court criminal proceeding, a defendant is entitled to bring only one proceeding and can only raise issues in that proceeding that were previously raised either in the state trial or in state postconviction relief proceedings.

    These limitations have created a situation in which a defendant has no remedy when he has plainly been denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at trial and yet his attorney has also failed to raise that issue in his initial state postconviction relief action.  Under the principles discussed above, the defendant would simply be unable to get relief for his deprivation of the right to counsel, because he would be foreclosed from bringing up the issue in a successive habeas corpus action and could not raise the issue in a federal proceeding under § 2254 because it had not been raised at the state level.

    The Supreme Court recently addressed this problem and decided in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S. Ct. 1309 (2012), a fiercely contested 7-2 decision, that a federal habeas corpus action was indeed available to remedy ineffective assistance of counsel at a state court trial, even where that issue had not been properly raised in the defendant's state postconviction actions.  The reasoning of the Court in Martinez would appear to open the door to many more successful federal habeas corpus proceedings for criminal defendants alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.

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    Topics: legal research, Sixth Amendment, effective assistance of counsel, Coleman v. Thompson, attorneys postconviction proceeding errors do, Martinez v. Ryan, habeas corpus proceeding available to remedy ineff, U.S. Supreme court, Doug Plank, criminal law

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