Articles Posted in criminal trials

The Murder trial of Justin Ross Harris will require the jury to piece together the circumstantial evidence of the prosecution and determine the intent of Harris, did he accidentally leave his son in the car as the defense content or was it intentionally, as the prosecution claims.  Monday’s opening statements showed defense attorney Maddox Kilgore refer to his client as being responsible, for a “tragic accident” and not for malice murder. The defendant, Justin Ross Harris, has plead not guilty to charges of malice murder, two counts of felony murder and first degree cruelty to children.

During the trial, Attorney Kilgore plans to use testimony from Harris’s ex-wife who- despite hostility towards Harris and the ending to their relationship- will testify that Harris was a good father and loved his son.

About the Case

Key to Cosby’s success at upcoming jury trial will be the judge’s ruling on numerous motions in liming defining what evidence the jury will get to hear at trial.

A judge has ruled that prosecutors can use a phone call that was taped without Bill Cosby’s consent as evidence in his sexual assault trial.  Cosby argued that because he did not know the call was being taped, that it should be excluded from evidence under a two party consent law.  However, the judge denied the request according to a report by Fox News.

The case raised some interesting legal issues, include whether the Court will allow prior bad acts of uncharged conduct into evidence at trial.  Generally, prior bad act evidence would be inadmissible at trial, but can be admitted if it shows a common plan, scheme or method of operation.  A judge has to determine whether the probative value of this evidence out weights its unfair prejudice to the defendant.  A jury is instructed that the defendant is not charged with committing any prior bad acts and that it cannot consider those prior bad acts as proof of the current charge. But prior bad act evidence to be used to show motive, state of mind, intent, common scheme, absence of mistake or identity.  In Aaron Hernandez’s recent murder trial where he was convicted, the judge did not permit the Commonwealth to offer into evidence that the victim knew that he was allegedly involved in a 2012 shooting.  The Court ruled that this testimony would have been unfairly prejudicial.  Accordingly, the defense was allowed to argue that he had no motive to commit the crime.  The reason that the judge declined to allow this evidence to come into evidence at trial is that it would have been too difficult for the jury to keep the alleged prior bad act separate from the criminal conduct that the defendant was on trial for.

The 10-part Netflix documentary series that has captured the nation and has made headlines over the past year has more recently taken a new turn. Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, most famously known for being found guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach, may have a second chance at freedom.  Just this past week, Avery’s co defendant and nephew, had his case overturned by a federal judge in the state of Wisconsin. Avery’s current lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, is increasing her efforts in the hope to additionally free Avery, as she believes he is innocent of the crime.

What you should know:

  • Mr. Avery was first convicted of sexual assault back in 1985.

This summer has seen a high number of cases involving young children dying after being left in hot cars. In a recent highly publicized case out Georgia, a father was charged with the involuntary manslaughter of his twin one-and-a-half-year-old daughters after it was discovered that he left the children in a car outside their home for hours while he was napping. In this case, involving Justin Rose out of Georgia, CNN reported that the issue for the jury will be whether this was a mistake or murder.  The defense recently had a judge allow a motion for change of venue based on pretrial publicity.

However, in a case out of Mississippi a grand jury declined to indict a woman whose two-year-old daughter died after being left in a car all day.

Courts across the country are grappling with how to treat these parents or guardians. Are they guilty of involuntary manslaughter or are these cases just tragic accidents?

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.


Continue reading

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?


Continue reading

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