The District of Columbia Office of Police Complaints just published new policy recommendations that would have police officers wear on-body cameras. You can find the policy recommendations here. As the Office of Police Complaints recommendations state, there was a study of the effects of the use of these cameras in Rialto, California. This study found that “the devices appeared to cut down on the number of incidents involving the use of force while also reducing the number of complaints filed against officers. Specifically, the Rialto study showed that the devices brought down the rate at which police force was used during interactions with citizens.”
This would seem to be a very positive development. I am curious about the civil-liberties groups that the policy recommendations document refer to that oppose this measure – one would think one of the most important civil liberties to be concerned about is the freedom from being beaten by the police and then being falsely charged with Assaulting a Police Officer (APO).
It’s what everyone says they want – a pitbull on their side. I like pitbulls – they are intelligent, loving animals. However, that’s not the image that most people have in mind when thinking of lawyers or what they want – the picture that comes to mind is a vicious, dangerous killer that will not let go once it sets its teeth in. In the courtroom, this plays out as an attacking, caustic style, one I think is usually counterproductive.
The New York Times has a couple of pieces on the prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorious trial (I almost wrote Jaco Pastorius – he’s a different kind of killer), who has earned the nickname “Pit Bull.” His style has been described as “pugnacious” with “a reputation for abrasive, in-your-face cross-examination,” by turns “sarcastic, theatrical, skeptical and accusatory.” He has at times called the defendant a liar while testifying. Does this work?
I have written before how in criminal drug prosecutions, the government analyst should be cross-examined and their case file and other information should be requested to prepare a defense case. A colleague sent me a great example of this effort paying off.
D-L Color Test of Three Suspected Marijuana Samples
A chemist at the DEA Mid-Atlantic Laboratory wrote in a report that three samples suspected to be marijuana turned purple in a Duquenois-Levine color test. The problem is that the picture of the test (not included in the report but in the analyst’s case-file) showed only one sample that might conceivably indicate the sample was marijuana (and even that one is weak). Continue reading
Posted in Criminal Law
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, Drug Cases, Evidence, Jury Trials, Maryland, Misdemeanors, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Trials, Washington
Even though everyone in the DC government, from the DC Council to the prosecutors at the Office of the Attorney General, knows that alcohol in the urine has a “loose correlation” to intoxication, that urinalysis is unreliable, people are still regularly prosecuted and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) base on their urine scores.
Back in June of 2011, DC Chief Toxicologist Lucas Zarwell of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, stated under oath to the DC Council that urine testing cannot reliably determine impairment or blood alcohol levels. In response to a question from council member Phil Mendelson, Mr. Zarwell testified as follows:
MENDELSON. How accurate is urine testing for measuring blood alcohol content?
ZARWELL. It’s not.
Posted in Criminal Law, DUI
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, DUI, DWI, Evidence, Jury Trials, OWI, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Trials
To live up to its name, forensic science must conform to the scientific method, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” The scientific method seeks above all to prove or disprove hypotheses through testing in order to determine whether a particular conclusion is reliable. If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that forensic science often falls short of this ideal. But we as criminal defense lawyers can’t expose these failings without better information on lab procedures. I have written about cross-examining drug experts here. Continue reading
I was in court just before the Christmas break, waiting for a chance to talk to the clerk, and I got to see part of a colleague’s misdemeanor marijuana possession trial. I was very disheartened to see that when it came time for the DEA chemist’s testimony, the defense lawyer did not challenge her qualifications, did not challenge the identification of the seized evidence as marijuana, and did not cross-examine the chemist at all, not even to have the chemist at least list the procedures performed, etc. Continue reading
Posted in Criminal Law
Tagged DC, District of Columbia, Drug Cases, Evidence, Felonies, Jury Trials, Misdemeanors, Pre-trial, Scientific Evidence, Trial, Witnesses
Recent changes in how courts view the consequences of criminal convictions for non-citizens make it imperative that criminal defense counsel not only counsel clients on the potential immigration consequences of pleading guilty, but also demand a jury trial if a conviction could lead to removal for the client. Continue reading
It is often truly said that many of our best lawyers . . . are withdrawing from court practice because the nature of the litigation is changing. To such an extent is this change taking place in some localities that the more important commercial cases rarely reach a court decision. Our merchants prefer to compromise their difficulties, or to write off their losses, rather than enter into litigations that must remain dormant in the courts for upward of three years awaiting their turn for a hearing on the overcrowded court calendars.
. . . .
When the public realizes that a good trial lawyer is the outcome, one might say of generations of witnesses, when clients fully appreciate the dangers they run in intrusting their litigations to so-called “office lawyers” with little or no experience in court, they will insist upon their briefs being intrusted to those who make a specialty of court practice. . . .
- Francis Wellman, The Art of Cross-Examination 1904.
I recently second-chaired a week-long jury trial on an armed home-invasion robbery case involving a twelve-count indictment. The State put on over twenty witnesses. I made the opening statement and cross-examined many of the State’s witnesses, including the forensic witnesses and the cooperating codefendant. I am posting my draft opening statement in this case in the hopes that I can get some feedback and pointers from more experienced criminal defense lawyers. The opening statement went pretty much as written here. Suggestions are welcome.