Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Court of Appeals Update (Mar. 16, 2010)

State v. Clodfelter. During interrogation, but before giving Miranda warnings, police told defendant's mother they needed her to "talk to him for us." They all sat down together and the mother told the defendant: “Okay. If you were there – I don’t know what happened, but you’ve got to tell the truth because this man is gone. He’s never coming back. His family has lost somebody. If you know who killed him, you’ve got to tell.” And he had sat there for a minute. And he started to cry, and we talked for maybe five minutes. And he busted out crying and he said, “It was me.”

The general rule is that the police cannot elicit incriminating statements without providing a Miranda warning. Here, the court found that they did not elicit the unwarned statements because the mother, not the police, elicited the information--never mind that the police are sitting right there in the station house and told the mother to "talk to him for us." The court held the mother was not acting as an agent of the state because she was not "encouraged or actively recruited as an agent of the police to obtain incriminating statements" (in contrast with, for example, a social worker). Ms. Clodfelter herself testified that all the officers asked her to do, and all she in fact did do, was ask her son to tell the truth about his involvement in the crime. Such actions do not rise to the level of Ms. Clodfelter acting as an agent of the police.

Second, defendant's statement, in front of police, to his mother that they needed to call a lawyer was too ambiguous (and not to police) to count as an assertion of Miranda right to counsel and his request to police to leave and come back tomorrow was too vague to count as an assertion of Miranda right to remain silent.

State v. Graves. Defendant challenged conviction for felony eluding arrest (Gen. Stat. 20-141.5).

To be convicted of eluding arrest, the state must show:

1) Operate a vehicle on street or highway while fleeing a law enforcement officer, lawfully performing his duties

2) With knowledge that it is a law enforcement officer or (holding) reason to believe it is a law enforcement officer.

The charge is enhanced to a felony if, while eluding arrest, the defendant does two or more of the following:
  • Speeds in excess of 15 mph
  • Is drunk
  • Drives recklessly
  • Negligently causes an accident (with $1000 damage or injury)
  • DWLR
  • Speeds in a school zone
  • Passes a stopped school bus
  • Has a child under 12 in the car.
Here, state erred in submitting DWLR, as there was insufficient evidence of this presented. However, this doesn't result in dismissal, because the state also submitted and had sufficient evidence of speeding, reckless driving, and negligent accident, so the conviction stands (even though the jury didn't have to make specific findings of which aggravating factors it found).

No error, during charge in court defining reasonable doubt as "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt
is proof that satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant’s guilt" instead of the pattern which reads: "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that fully satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant’s guilt"

State v. Wilson. Court found that, in IAC claim, any deficient performance was harmless because the trial would not have had any other outcome, given the overwhelming evidence, if the defendant had competent counsel.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Supreme Court Update (Mar. 12, 2010)

State v. Bunch. Trial court error, in 1st degree murder case, on instructing jury on felony murder theory was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In Neder v. US (1999), Supreme Court uses harmless error analysis for determining if court's omission of elements during charge to the jury.

The Court, while instructing the jury on felony murder, appears to have accidentally left out two paragraphs of the pattern instruction, failing to instruct that they must find that, while committing burglary or robbery, the defendant killed the victim and this was the proximate cause. This error was harmless as there was overwhelming evidence of this and an earlier, briefer instruction did include a finding necessary that a killing occurred.

Justice Edmunds dissented.

State v. Giddens. Per curiam affirmance of Court of Appeals decision. Blog post on COA decision here.

State v. Jacobs. First degree murder conviction, under felony murder theory that defendant killed the victim while robbing him (jury rejected p&d).

Trial court sustained state objections to defendant putting on evidence of the victims prior armed robbery convictions, the victim's reputation for carrying a firearm, and defendant's belief that victim had previously shot people. Defendant's theory of the case was self-defense. For some of these objection, because there was no adequate offer of proof at trial of the significance of the excluded evidence, the issue is not properly preserved. For others, the court found that it was irrelevant because the jury did not find premeditation and deliberation, only felony murder--and these facts would not be relevant to finding whether the victim was killed in the course of a robbery (cannot plead self-defense to a robbery). For others (such as victim's prior convictions), the court found that this was error, but it was harmless.

For post on lower court decision, see here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Court of Appeals Update (Mar. 2, 2010)

Reversals and other interesting cases.

State v. Barron. Defendant convicted of possession of cocaine and marijuana and identity theft.

1) Possession: Insufficient evidence for the drug possession conviction. The drugs were found in a house where defendant didn't live and three other people were present during the search. Where defendant doesn't have exclusive possession, there must be other "incriminating circumstances" to prove constructive possession. Here, there was none.

2) Identity Theft: during arrest, defendant gave his brother's name and social security number. This was sufficient to convict of identity theft. To prove ID theft under Gen. Stat. 14-113.20, the state must show that the Defendant
"A person who knowingly obtains, possesses, or uses identifying information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to fraudulently represent that the person is the other person for the purposes of making financial or credit transactions in the other person's name, to obtain anything of value, benefit, or advantage, or for the purpose of avoiding legal consequences." Identifying information includes SSN (in the statute).

3) False Statement: is not fruit of the illegal arrest. Crimes committed after an illegal arrest are not excluded under the fruits doctrine.

State v. Breathette. Held that mistake of fact as to age of victim is no defense to charge of taking indecent liberties with children, Gen. Stat. 14-201.1 (willfullying taking any "immoral, improper, or indecent liberties with any child ... under the age of 16 ...for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.") Defendant's belief that the minor was 16 was no defense.

Defendant was 19 years old female who met a 13 year old female on Myspace, who told the defendant she was 17 years old.

State v. Freeman. Trial court erred in letting trial counsel overrule defendant on whether to exercise a peremptory challenge. Defendant's have a few absolute rights at trial: right to decide whether or not to testify, the right to not concede guilt to lesser included crimes, and the right to have final say on peremptories.


But, no error in using attempted sale of cocaine with a firearm as the predicate felony in a felony murder charge, where defendant was seeking payment on cocaine that had been delivered. First-degree murder under the theory of felony murder is a killing “committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon.” The sale of drugs is a felony under this if a deadly weapon is used in its commission.

New trial.

Other Cases.

State v. Batchelor. Defendant convicted of possession with intent to sell cocaine and sale of cocaine.

1) Defendant argued that officer's testimony that an informant told him the defendant was a drug dealer was not improper hearsay testimony. It was not offerred for truth, but rather to explain why the officer showed up in a particular location.

2) Officer's statement on the stand that he knew the defendant "personally as a drug dealer" was not, for plain error purposes, a violation of 404, as any error would have been harmless.


State v. Best. Upheld that a printout of an AOC screenshot from an email was sufficient evidence to prove a prior conviction for sentencing.

State v. Hough. No Melendez-Diaz error in allowing analyst to testify about analysis conducted by non-testifying expert where her opinion was based on her own independent review and confirmation of the results.

State v. Johnson. No fatal variance where indictment of name of purchaser in drug sale case was "Detective Dunabro" and the proof at trial was the sale was to "Agent Amy Gaulden." This was not fatal because these were same person, just one was a married name and one was a maiden name. The description was sufficient to ID the purchaser.

State v. Noel. The defendant was convicted of malicious conduct by a prisoner and assault on a governmental official. After arrest (and on the side of the road), defendant yelled at an officer and spit on his leg. This was sufficient evidence of malicious conduct by a prisoner. No error in indictments not specifically identified what duty the officer was discharging; that's only required for an RPO.