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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Dale Chappell

Louisiana Supreme Court Holds Counsel’s Failure to Challenge ‘Stark Contrasts’ in Witness ID and Defendant’s Appearance Constituted IAC

by Dale Chappell

Counsel’s failure to challenge the “stark contrasts” between witness descriptions of a suspect and the defendant clearly affected the jury’s conclusion, the Supreme Court of Louisiana held, remanding for a new trial.

With the help of law enforcement, two robbery victims identified Leroy Jackson as one of the men who robbed them. One witness said Jackson “looked a lot like” the robber, and another said he was not sure because “all black people look alike to him.” The details given by the witness to police described a man with a distinct hairline who was larger than Jackson. Jackson was not only smaller, but he was completely bald. Defense counsel ignored these discrepancies and never challenged the witness identifications in court. Jackson was convicted of robbery and sentenced to 50 years in prison. The court of appeal affirmed, and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Jackson’s writ.

When Jackson filed for collateral review claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, the district court noted the problems with cross-racial identifications and found that Jackson’s counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the witness identifications. Jackson was granted a new trial, but the court of appeal overturned the district court’s ruling, holding ...

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds Inventory Search May Not Serve as Ruse for Investigatory Search

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that police may not use an inventory search as a “ruse” to conduct a broader search to support an arrest, finding that police did not have a valid reason to conduct such a search under the facts present in the case.

When Lori Hummel was asked to take a ride to the police station to clear up some unresolved traffic warrants, she agreed, after being told she would be released once finished. The cops lied. In reality, detectives wanted Hummel brought in as a suspect in a murder they were investigating. Detectives assured Hummel she would be let go in time to pick up her daughter from school. Hours later, she was still there, not allowed to leave.

Hummel said she wanted to call a lawyer. The detective said she was “technically” arrested because of the traffic warrants and could not leave, and he ignored her request for a lawyer.

At some point, a detective took Hummel’s purse, and she protested. The detective said she was “in custody” and began leaving with the purse. “Hopefully that $500 ain’t missing out of there,” she said before he left the room ...

ACLU Questions Trade Secrets Protecting DNA Testing Algorithms

by Dale Chappell

DNA testing can be flawed, often in complex ways. However, courts have held that a defendant fighting for his life in court cannot verify if the DNA being used against him was properly tested, because this would require disclosure of the protected trade secrets of the company whose testing algorithms are being used.

The companies that make DNA testing algorithms, such as STRmix and True Allele, don’t have to reveal how their products actually test DNA, and they don’t have to prove that their testing methods are reliable by allowing a defendant to verify the accuracy of the testing methods. Instead, if the company promises that its system is reliable, its word in court is good enough.

The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) says this is wrong. If defendants cannot confront the witnesses and evidence against them in court, the ACLU says this may violate a defendant’s constitutional right to be able to challenge the evidence against him.

Take Florencio Dominguez, for instance. He was convicted of murder in California, but the DNA results later were found to be inconclusive. The State tried him again, for a third time, but this time using STRmix to test the ...

Kentucky Supreme Court Tosses Evidence Holding Dog Sniff of Nervous Driver with Prior Drug Charges was Unreasonable

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Kentucky held that a drug-dog sniff based on the nervousness of the driver who had prior drug charges (but not convictions) was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, requiring suppression of the evidence found in the search.

“This opinion is not for Rakim Moberly,” the Court made clear. “We render this opinion for the untold numbers of innocent Kentucky citizens who have ‘criminal charges’ and may become nervous and sweaty and look around when confronted by police.”

Moberly, who was convicted of drug and gun possession after a 3 a.m. traffic stop, appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence obtained after the police called in a drug dog based on Moberly’s nervous appearance and his prior drug charges. Moberly argued on appeal that the dog sniff was not reasonably connected to the legitimate traffic stop for not having a valid registration. The Commonwealth argued that his nervous behavior allowed the police to further detain Moberly and search his vehicle. Ultimately, the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed with Moberly and tossed the evidence.

In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court ...

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Holds Sua Sponte Jury Instruction on Self-Defense Also Applies to Lesser-Included Charges

by Dale Chappell

A sua sponte jury instruction on self-defense for a murder charge applied equally to the lesser-included charge, and a judge’s failure to inform the jury that it could acquit even the lesser charge was “egregious” error requiring reversal, the of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) held.

The trial court instructed the jury that it could acquit Adrian Mendez of murder if it found that he used deadly force to protect himself in self-defense. Mendez had argued that he stabbed to death a man who was arguing with him when he thought he was reaching for a gun. The court’s instruction to the jury about the self-defense theory was not at Mendez’s request but on the court’s own volition. The jury acquitted Mendez of murder, but it convicted him of the lesser-included charge of aggravated assault. Sentenced to seven years in prison, Mendez appealed, and the First Court of Appeals held that the trial court was required to instruct the jury that the self-defense theory also applied to the lesser-included charge, not just to the murder charge. The State petitioned the CCA, which agreed to hear the State’s appeal.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 36.14 ...

NY Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of DWI for Improper Breathalyzer Refusal Warning

by Dale Chappell

The Court of Appeals of New York found that a driver’s eventual consent to a breathalyzer test was “coerced” and involuntary after police waited more than two hours to ask him to consent to the test. The Court held that the officer’s warning that his refusal could be used against him in court was improper under the law, and that his consent based on that warning required suppression of the evidence.

Donald Odum was arrested for DWI and taken to the police station. Over two hours later, he was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test but declined. The officer warned Odum that if he refused to take a breath test, it would be used as evidence against him in court. Odum then agreed, based on that warning, and the result showed his 0.09 percent alcohol level was just over the legal limit.

He moved to suppress the test results, and the criminal court ruled that because Odum had refused but then consented to the breathalyzer more than two hours after his arrest based on the officer’s erroneous statement of the law, the evidence had to be suppressed.

The State appealed, and the intermediate appellate court ...

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds 2014 Amendment to Megan’s Law Violates Ex Post Facto Clause

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a 2014 amendment to the Violent Predator Incapacitation Act (“VPIA”), part of Megan’s Law, which applied to defendants who had violated their community supervision for life (“CSL”), violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutions. That’s because a violation of CSL is not a new offense but relates back to the original offense.

When four defendants in separate, unrelated cases violated their conditions of CSL, the four were charged under the 2014 amendment to the VPIA. That increased their violations from fourth-degree to third-degree offenses and would convert their CSL to parole supervision for life (“PSL”), resulting in harsher consequences than the law provided at the time of their criminal conduct a decade ago. The trial courts presiding over the four separate cases tossed the indictments, holding that imposing the harsher punishments under the 2014 amendment violated the Ex Post Facto clause. The State appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification and consolidated the four cases for appeal.

Under CSL, those convicted of sex-based offenses are subject to several conditions—more than 20 in ...

California Court of Appeal Holds Box Cutter Not ‘Inherently’ Deadly Weapon

by Dale Chappell

A box cutter is a type of knife “designed to cut things and not people,” and was therefore not “inherently” a deadly weapon as a matter of law, the Court of Appeal of California Second Appellate District held, overturning a defendant’s conviction.

There was no question that Yazan Aledamat pulled a box cutter and said, “I’ll kill you,” during an argument. The question later became whether the box cutter was “inherently” a deadly weapon to support his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, after the jury found him guilty based on the superior court’s instruction on what constitutes a “deadly weapon” as a matter of law. Aledamat appealed his conviction.

A “deadly weapon,” as a matter of law, is defined as an object that is deadly to others in its “ordinary use for which it is designed” or when used in a manner “capable of and likely to produce death.” Because a box cutter is not designed to cut people in its ordinary use, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is “not an inherently dangerous or deadly instrument as a matter of law.” The superior court’s jury instruction was a ...

Kentucky Supreme Court Overrules Flawed Brindley Opinion and Announces Commonwealth Cannot Appeal Judgment of Acquittal

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Kentucky held that the Commonwealth cannot appeal from a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case after a jury’s guilty verdict, interpreting the Kentucky Constitution and overturning its prior decision on the issue.

Michael Maupin was charged with failing to comply with Kentucky’s sex offender registry after law enforcement was unable to locate him at the homeless shelter he listed as his residence. Maupin’s name was listed only two times in a month’s span on the shelter’s sign-in sheet. The Commonwealth convinced a jury that this proved Maupin was not at his approved residence, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Maupin moved for a new trial or for a judgment of acquittal. The trial court granted Maupin’s motion for acquittal, ruling that the Commonwealth’s proof was insufficient because the sign-in sheet was equivocal at best and that the officer’s single attempt to locate him did not justify a criminal conviction. The Commonwealth appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reinstated Maupin’s conviction. The Kentucky Supreme Court granted Maupin discretionary review.

Section 115 of the Kentucky Constitution provides that “in all cases, civil or criminal, there shall be ...

Iowa Supreme Court Announces Actual Innocence Claim Is Freestanding Claim That Can Be Made Even After Guilty Plea

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Iowa adopted and announced a new rule that characterizes claims of actual innocence as freestanding claims under Iowa’s postconviction-relief statute, regardless of whether the applicant has knowingly and voluntarily pleaded guilty and thereby overturning its prior cases that had barred relief under those facts.

“What kind of system of justice do we have if we permit actually innocent people to remain in prison?” asked Justice David Wiggins for the Court, before overturning its prior cases that prevented freestanding actual innocence claims to be raised in a postconviction-relief action. “It is time that we refuse to perpetuate a system of justice that allows actually innocent people to remain in prison.”

Jacob Schmidt pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse and incest, under a plea agreement, after he was accused of sexual conduct with a minor relative. The same day, the district court, finding that Schmidt’s plea was knowing and voluntary, sentenced him to no more than seven years in prison.

In 2014, Schmidt filed an application for postconviction relief based on the alleged victim’s recantation of his story to police, claiming, “I was not guilty ...




 

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