Articles Posted in criminal trials

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.

Aaron Hernandez was recently indicted on two additional murder charges arising out of an incident that predated the Fall River murder case. The Fall River murder case is also now set for the court to consider a motion to dismiss filed by Hernandez’s defense attorneys.

In the recent charges arising from Suffolk County, a grand jury issued indictments against Hernandez for two first degree murders that took place in South Boston in 2012. The victims of the double murder are 28-year-old Daniel Abreu and 29-year-old Safiro Furtado.

The 2012 double homicide is alleged to have occurred around 2am after the victims left a nightclub in a BMW. According to a detective’s investigation, Hernandez was also at the same nightclub before the victims were murdered. Witnesses alleged that Hernandez followed the victims in a light colored SUV, from which he fired multiple rounds at the BMW, killing Abreu and Furtado while injuring a backseat passenger.

This week featured a new development in the Aaron Hernandez case with Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace being indicted on murder charges.

Does this help the Hernandez defense team? From the start, Hernandez primary defense was likely to be that either Ortiz or Wallace committed the murder without his knowledge and that he was merely a bystander. Since no murder weapon was found and there is no evidence as to what happened in the industrial complex, Hernandez would argue that there is simply not enough evidence to prove that he committed the murder.

Massachusetts law does allow for a conviction of murder on what is referred to as a joint venture theory. Accordingly, if all three had the shared intent to murder, it would not matter who actually pulled the trigger; all three defendants could be convicted of first-degree murder.

The doctrine of self-defense is one of a few powerful defenses to the most serious crimes, which could lead to a not-guilty verdict if used by an experienced defense attorney. The recent Florida trial of Michael Dunn is one example of this defense successfully raised against a first-degree murder charge, although it caused a hung jury rather than a not guilty verdict.

The jury in “the loud music trial” of Michael Dunn recently reached a verdict of guilty on three counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at a vehicle. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the first degree murder charge, however, which could carry the death penalty in the state of Florida.

Dunn argued that he acted in self-defense when he shot 10 rounds into a Dodge Durango containing four individuals, fatally shooting teenager Jordan Davis. Dunn confronted the individuals in their vehicle in a convenience store parking lot because he disapproved of their loud music. During the confrontation, Dunn alleged that he became fearful for his life when he saw what he thought was a barrel of a gun in their vehicle. According to his lawyer, Dunn grabbed and fired his own weapon to protect himself and thwart off an attack rather than wait to become the victim.

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