Articles Posted in criminal trials

The Massachusetts SJC rule on July 1, 2016 that a juvenile can be required to stand trial as an adult for involuntary manslaughter in a case that has drawn national attention, as the juvenile defendant is charged with encouraging another juvenile to commit suicide through text messages.  Text messages were a major portion of the evidence presented to the grand jury.

The SJC outlined the facts presented to the grand jury.  The grand jury heard evidence that the defendant knew that her boyfriend at the time had a history of mental illness, prior suicie attempts and the court found that many conversations during the time period concerned suicide and the defendant doing the following according to the court, encouraging the victim to commit suicide, chastising him for not doing it, instructing him how and when to do it as well as assuaging his concerns over taking his own life.

The defendant was alleged to have spoken to the victim while he was in the act of committing suicide and sent a text message to another friend saying that she told him to get back into the truck. The SJC further recounted evidence that the defendant understood her role in the victim’s death by trying to delete text message evidence and told another friend that she could have prevented his death.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments on Thursday in the case of Commonwealth v. Carter. Defendant Michelle Carter allegedly encouraged her friend to commit suicide, which he followed through with. Carter was only 17 at the time and therefore tried as a juvenile. The Court will hear arguments over whether a juvenile allegedly encouraging another person to commit suicide constitutes the “infliction or threat of serious bodily harm” for purposes of indicting her as a youthful offender.

Carter’s friend Conrad Roy committed suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide generated by his truck. While investigating Roy’s death, police uncovered text messages, phone calls, and emails between Carter and Roy. The messages focused on specific plans, direction, and encouragement for Roy to commit suicide. Phone records also revealed that Roy and Carter spoke by phone to each other during the time it is believed Roy sat in his truck inhaling the carbon monoxide fumes. Carter allegedly told Roy to “get back in his truck” when he exited because he was “scared that it was working.” Based on these correspondences, the Commonwealth sought to indict Carter as a youthful offender on the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The Massachusetts legislature has not criminalized words that encourage suicide. No Massachusetts case or statute has recognized a duty to act in circumstances where a victim creates his own peril. The only way for Carter to be charged under involuntary manslaughter is for the state to show that Carter’s messages to Roy constitute the “wanton and reckless conduct” that caused the victim’s death.   Carter’s argues that her statements and text messages to Roy did not constitute the “infliction or threat of serious bodily harm” for the purposes of indicting her as a youthful offender. Carter argues that she committed no affirmative act resulting in Roy’s death, nor did she have any duty to protect him from self-harm.

Making of a Murderer is a Netflix documentary that follows the life of Steven Avery, a convicted murderer. This documentary has been somewhat controversial, as it makes the argument that Steven Avery is innocent and that the Manitowoc County Police Department (Wisconsin) framed him. However, if you haven’t watched this enticing documentary, I urge you to. It will truly force you to question the justice system.

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The Podcast ‘Serial’ follows the investigation of the trial of Adnan Syed in 2000. This Podcast has gained a following with its compelling look into the ineffective counsel of Syed’s attorney in failing to call an alibi witness. Ineffective assistance of counsel is a claim raised by a convicted criminal defendant that their attorney’s performance was so ineffective that it deprived them of the constitutional right guaranteed by the Assistance of Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Lawyers harm their clients when they do not provide effective assistance of counsel, and the mistakes are potentially career ruining. In Syed’s case, the harm came in the sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend. To this day, the mistakes of Syed’s counsel are being examined in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

A 17 Year Old Alibi

One of Syed’s attorney’s most harmful mistakes was when she failed to call as an alibi witness, crippling Syed’s defense. Alibi witness Asia Chapman claimed that she had a conversation with Syed at the library during the time prosecutors say the murder took place. Chapman was never contacted for her testimony, a move that Syed’s current attorneys say amounts to ineffective counsel. No alibi could be given for Syed, and therefore prosecution was able to convince a jury that it was possible Syed was able to be at the scene of the crime.

As trial lawyers, we routinely cross examine police officers.  Some officers have been questioned before and will gladly give us the response that we want.  Its easy to quickly go through the cross examination and loss its full impact with the jury.

One of the best CD I have listened to is from John Maxwell, Everyone Communicates and Few Connect.  In his lecture, he discusses how an actor performs the same play nightly and that every audience deserves a first time performance.

How do we make sure that a jury get the trial as if it were our 1st Trial, first time cross examining a police officer?

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A Montana jury recently rejected a “stand your ground” defense offered by a defendant charge with the murder of a German exchange student earlier this year. The defendant argued that he was only acting out of self-defense in protecting his home against intrusion by burglars, but the jury instead found the defendant guilty of deliberate homicide.

The victim in this case was a 17-year old German exchange student who was lured by the defendant into the defendant’s garage using a purse left in plain sight inside the open garage. Witnesses testified that the defendant and his girlfriend planned to capture suspects of prior burglarizes, believing that local law enforcement were not responding effectively. A hair stylist also testified that the defendant himself told her that he would be killing the teenagers who were responsible for the break-ins, and that he had been on a stake-out waiting for the burglars to accept his bait. When the exchange student finally entered the garage, the defendant fired multiple shotgun rounds at him, ultimately killing him on sight.

Self-Defense Laws

A recent decision in New York has highlighted the role of false confessions in a case outcome. New York judge, Maxwell Wiley, has ruled a confession admissible despite the defendant’s low IQ and the lengthy duration of the interrogation process.

The Confession

Pedro Hernandez, who was 19 at the time, was accused of luring and killing 6-year old Etan Patz in a New York City case that occurred 33 years ago. Patz was on his way to school bus stop when he was allegedly lured into the basement of a convenience store and choked to death; his body disposed of in the trash. Although Patz’ body was never found, Hernandez confessed to the murder when he was brought in for questioning back in May 2012.

In a recent hearing before the Bristol County Superior Court, Judge Garsh ruled that she will not be allowing the prosecutor to introduce evidence obtained during a police house search in the murder trial of former NFL player Aaron Hernandez. According to a local news reporter, the judge explained that the application for the warrant authorizing the search was defective, and so police had no authority to execute a search using that warrant.

Searching Aaron Hernandez’s Home

The warrant was for the search of Aaron Hernandez’s home in Franklin, MA. Law enforcement applied for a search warrant in order to seize the cell phone of Carlos Ortiz, a co-defendant of Hernandez in the Bristol County murder trial. And since the cell phone of Ortiz was known by authorities to be at Hernandez’s Franklin home, authorities applied for a warrant to search that location for the cell phone. During the search, police also seized several other pieces of evidence, including dozens of ammunition rounds for various firearms, lease and rental agreements under Hernandez’s name, receipts, mail and checks written to Hernandez, and even keys to a Hummer SUV.

Residents from Fergusen, Missouri have been protesting in the streets for days as a result of the tragic death young Mike Brown, an 18-year old Ferguson college student who was shot by a local police officer. Outrage continued to erupt today as the local police chief released the name of the officer involved in the shooting. According to a CNN article, the officer is currently on paid administrative leave.

The question remains as to whether the officer will be charged with any crimes resulting from his interaction with Brown, leading to Brown’s death. Reporters have so far interviewed three individuals who claimed to be eye witnesses to the shooting, and whose description of the events substantially differ from the statements released by local police.

Different Accounts of the Shooting

This past Thursday there was another important development in the prosecution of Aaron Hernandez. The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office filed a response to Hernandez’s earlier motion asking the court to prevent evidence discovered at Hernandez’s home from coming into trial. According to a recent article, the Fall River Superior Court will hear arguments on the motion and the prosecutor’s response this coming Monday, June 16.

Filing a Motion to Suppress

The prosecutor’s submission Thursday was in opposition to what is referred to as a “Motion in Limine” or a “Motion to Suppress,” filed by Hernandez’s attorneys. In short, both motions are mechanisms by which a party asks the court to preclude certain evidence or statements/testimony from being presented at trial because the evidence was not obtained lawfully or the statements were coerced and/or are unreliable.

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