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Eleven years ago, the US Supreme Court upended its jurisprudence of the Confrontation Clause in Crawford v. Washington.  Because the test for the statements to be excluded under that clause was so different from prior law and because the Court left so much to be defined, no one was really sure whether the new rule would be broader or narrower than the old one once the dust settled.  Would federal constitutional confrontation challenges (as distinguished from state-law evidentiary challenges under the hearsay rule) apply to more out-of-court statements or fewer?

Today in Ohio v. Clark, a six-Justice majority of the Supreme Court took a big step toward making Crawford a narrow rule, with a seventh Justice holding out for a position that is narrower still (I think).  Justice Scalia is apoplectic, but I think his criticisms are off base.
The US Supreme Court has unanimously reversed the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to exclude from evidence a teacher's testimony about the statements made by an abused child.  I will update this post after I have had time to read the decision.  The fact that it is a solid majority, with six Justices joining the opinion without qualification, should bring some clarity to a confused area of law.

Update:  CJLF has this press release.
From the Answers to Questions Practically No One Is Asking File ... Did a statute enacted almost 20 years ago abrogate a Supreme Court decision rendered almost 40 years ago with hardly anyone noticing, even though this involves a very heavily litigated area of law?  Nope, even the Ninth Circuit won't buy that.

Remorse by Proxy?

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Following up further on my post Friday and Bill's post earlier today, Jeffrey MacDonald of USA Today gives us this description of Helen Prejean's testimony for terrorist/multiple murderer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

Prejean ... said she has met five times with Tsarnaev since early March. She said he told her how he felt about the suffering he caused to the bombing's victims.

"He said it emphatically," Prejean said. "He said no one deserves to suffer like they did."

She added, "I had every reason to think he was taking it in and he was genuinely sorry for what he did."

Jurors are expected to get the case on Wednesday to decide whether Tsarnaev will be executed or spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prejean said Tsarnaev "kind of lowered his eyes" when he spoke about the victims. His "face registered" what he was saying. She interpreted his remorseful sentiment "as absolutely sincere," she said.

Prejean said she talked with Tsarnaev about both their faiths, his Islam and her Catholicism.

"I talked about how in the Catholic Church we have become more and more opposed to the death penalty," she said.

There are multiple issues here.  Is it admissible?  Is it persuasive?  Will it backfire?  Can the prosecution say out loud the obvious inference?  What's with that last line?
The defense wants to call the notorious Sister Helen Prejean to testify in the trial of the Boston Marathon Bomber.  I can't fathom that she can offer any relevant evidence.

"Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable
than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action."  Federal Rule of Evidence 401. "Irrelevant evidence is not admissible."  FRE 402.

What are the facts of consequence in the penalty phase of a federal capital cases?  They are the mitigating and aggravating factors listed in subdivisions (a) and (c), respectively, of 18 U.S.C. §3592.  Obviously the defense does not want to introduce evidence in aggravation, so that leaves the mitigating factors in subdivision (a).

The relevant mitigating factors are impaired capacity, duress, minor participation, equally culpable defendants getting off with less, no prior criminal record, mental disturbance, victim's consent, and the catchall factor:  "Other factors in the defendant's background, record, or character or any other circumstance of the offense that mitigate against imposition of the death sentence."

Any evidence that is not about this crime or this defendant is irrelevant and therefore inadmissible.

What does Helen Prejean know that is relevant?  Nothing, I strongly suspect.  If not, she should not testify.

Tsarnaev, Silence, and Remorse

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The prosecution has rested in the penalty phase of the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  If he does not testify in the penalty phase, as I expect he will not, can that silence be used against him as indicating a lack of remorse?  I don't know.

In White v. Woodall, decided one year ago today, the Supreme Court reviewed its precedent in Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314, 328 (1999):

"The Government retains," we said, "the burden of proving facts relevant to the crime . . . and cannot enlist the defendant in this process at the expense of the self-incrimination privilege." Id., at 330 (emphasis added). And Mitchell included an express reservation of direct relevance here: "Whether silence bears upon the determination of a lack of remorse, or upon acceptance of responsibility for purposes of the downward adjustment provided in §3E1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (1998), is a separate question. It is not before us, and we express no view on it." Ibid.
A footnote at that point notes a division in the Courts of Appeals.  No First Circuit cases are noted there or in the certiorari petition.

Woodall did not resolve the question.  It was a state case being reviewed on federal habeas corpus, and the unsettledness of the underlying question was enough to require the federal court to respect the state court's decision under the controlling act of Congress.  CJLF's brief in that case is here.  My post on the case is here.

Prosecutors would be well advised to avoid mentioning the defendant's silence until the issue is resolved.  It isn't worth risking a reversal.  Long-term, though, I think the Griffin no-comment rule should be limited to the extent expressly held in Supreme Court precedent and not extended by a fraction of an inch.  I wouldn't mind seeing it overruled, but I don't think that is a realistic possibility.

Hot Mic

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It's amazing how people continue to get themselves in trouble by failure to obey elementary safety rules.  One such rule is that firearms, microphones, and naked babies should be handled as if loaded at all times.

The microphone failures tend to make the news most often.  Remember President Obama telling the puppet President of Russia that he would have "more flexibility" in his second term, when he didn't have to worry about those pesky voters any more?

California millionaire Robert Durst, long a suspect in two murders, was confronted with tough questioning during an interview for a documentary after foolishly ignoring his lawyer's advice not to give the interview.  Melanie Gracie West has this story in the WSJ.

In Sunday's episode, after filming had stopped, but before Mr. Durst's microphone had been turned off, he was recorded saying in private: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
The WSJ story begins,

Robert A. Durst was charged with first-degree murder on Monday as legal experts debated whether the alleged confession of the real-estate millionaire and TV documentary subject would be admissible in court.
Really?  What debate?  What grounds for exclusion?
Today the Supreme Court heard argument in Ohio v. Clark.  The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment limits the use of out-of-court statements of people who do not testify as witnesses in the criminal trial, but exactly where that line is drawn has been a problem for a long time.  From the 1980 decision in Ohio v. Roberts until the 2004 decision in Crawford v. Washington, the focus was on the reliability of the statement.  Crawford threw that overboard and asked if a statement was "testimonial."  Under this rule, the reliability of the statement is at best irrelevant to whether it is excluded by the Confrontation Clause, and often the rule operates perversely, letting less reliable statements in while excluding more reliable ones.

Some of the Justices have been uncomfortable with that ever since, and that discomfort showed in today's argument over the statement of an abused child to his teacher.

So far, Justice Thomas has been alone in his view that the Confrontation Clause applies narrowly to the kinds of practices it was specifically aimed at, such as the use of depositions in lieu of live testimony.  In this view, the admissibility of most hearsay statements would be questions of state evidence law, not a federal constitutional mandate.

I think Justice Thomas has it right, and my brief takes a historical view consistent with his thesis.  There was no discussion of this view in today's argument, but the Justices seem uncomfortable with the status quo, and CJLF's arguments sometimes appear in the opinions without having been featured at oral argument.  We'll see.

US Supreme Court Today

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The U.S. Supreme Court is in session and is hearing oral argument in Ohio v. Clark, regarding whether the Confrontation Clause allows a teacher to testify as to what a preschool child said about who abused him.  CJLF's brief is here.  My post at the time of filing is here.

The Court also released its orders list from last Friday's conference.  It took up a case on the interpretation of the federal extortion law.  The Question Presented follows the break.

Fingerprint Error Rate: Zero

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Natalia Zea reports for CBS Miami on a study of fingerprint match reliability.

The fingerprint examiners correctly matched every single print in the tests, with only 3 percent of the inaccurate matches caught by a second examiner, which is part of normal protocol at crime labs across the country.
That's rather awkward phrasing.  Presumably it means that 3 percent of the matches found by the first examiner were not correct but all of the errors were found and corrected on the second examination.

A New Forensic Tool for Rape Cases?

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Rachel Feltman reports in the WaPo:

A new study suggests that the microbes present on pubic hair -- which vary from person to person -- could be used as evidence in sexual assault cases. This particular research is in its early stages, so you probably won't hear about genital microbes in a courtroom anytime soon. But the study is just one example of the effort to turn the incredible diversity of the bacteria that live on human beings into a high-tech forensic toolkit.
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The researchers, led by Silvana Tridico from Murdoch University, took scalp and pubic hair samples from seven individuals (three male and four female, with one co-habitating couple in the mix). While hair from the head had around 50 kinds of bacteria a pop, and seemed to be influenced by the environment, pubic hairs had over 70 kinds of bacteria each, which were highly individualized. That's in line with previous studies on the vaginal microbiome, which has shown an unexpected diversity distinguishing one individual from another.

"The advent of DNA profiling has resulted in an increase of sexual offenders using condoms, which they take away, post-assault," Tridico said in a statement. "The implication of this present study is that the transfer of bacteria between victim and offender, in rape cases, may provide a new way of linking the offender to the victim, in instances in which no human DNA is transferred."

The Abbottabad Letters

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Here's an interesting development in the case of United States v. Khaled Al Fawwaz and Anas Al Liby in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The court entered a scheduling order on motions regarding admissibility at trial of "documents recovered during the May 2, 2011 raid of Usama bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound."  The text of the order follows the break.

I have the government's motion but not al Fawwaz's motion.  That is probably one of the many sealed documents not available to the public.  The government's motion says,

The Abbottabad Letters--including two authored by the defendant, himself--reflect his continued active participation in al Qaeda following eight years of incarceration in Iran. The Letters constitute powerful, direct, proof of al Qaeda's conspiracies to bomb and kill Americans, as well as Anas al Liby's knowing and intentional participation in them. Indeed, one can scarcely conceive of more powerful uncharged-acts proof than recent correspondence among bin Laden, his chief deputy, and the defendant about the defendant's continued participation in al Qaeda--including a 2010 letter from the defendant to bin Laden in which the defendant "ask[s] God to reunite me with you soon under the banner of Islam and the Islamic state and the banner of jihad." That is particularly true where, as here, the defendant's state of mind will be a central issue in dispute.
The legal argument relates to admissibility of "other acts" evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b).  The background paragraph begins with this statement:

On May 2, 2011, U.S. forces conducted an operation that resulted in the death of al Qaeda leader, and (formerly) charged co-defendant, Usama bin Laden.
I like that "(formerly)."  This is technically known in the trade as "mootness."
Earlier this morning, Bill noted that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Heien v. North Carolina, No. 13-604, and copied an accurate summary of the decision from the Heritage Foundation. I want to explore a little further the important distinction between the substantive scope of the Fourth Amendment and the judge-made rule of exclusion of evidence found to have been obtained in violation of that amendment.

Today's decision answers a question that does not arise that often.  Is a search "unreasonable" within the substantive scope of the Fourth Amendment if the police officer acts on an interpretation of the law that is reasonable (and not contrary to any precedent existing at the time) but that a court subsequently finds to be incorrect?  The Supreme Court says no, 8-1, but both the majority and the concurrence note that this is a more demanding standard than the generous one provided for qualified immunity for civil liability.  As Justice Kagan puts it in the concurring opinion,

If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer's judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake. But if not, not. As the Solicitor General made the point at oral argument, the statute must pose a "really difficult" or "very hard question of statutory interpretation." 
I look forward to citing the "really difficult standard" in a brief.  Justice Kagan goes on to say these cases will be "exceedingly rare."  That is perhaps a tad of an overstatement, but I do not expect them to be common.

This case got to the Supreme Court with this question because, as Justice Sotomayor notes in the dissent, "unlike most States, North Carolina does not provide a good-faith exception as a matter of state law."  An exception, that is, to the rule that once a Fourth Amendment violation is found the evidence must be suppressed.  States can, if they wish, have broader exclusionary rules than federal law requires, so they do not have to follow the various good-faith exceptions that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized.    This is why CJLF passed on the case and did not file an amicus brief.  Our interest is in the broader exclusionary rule question, not the interesting but rarely occurring substantive Fourth Amendment issue decided today.

So here is the bombshell question not answered today but reserved for a future case:  Should the U.S. Supreme Court stop carving out individual good-faith "exceptions" to an overall rule of suppression of evidence and instead make "bad faith" a required element of a defendant's motion to suppress evidence?

Confrontation, Hearsay, and Child Abuse

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"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him ...."  So says the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as do the bills of rights of many state constitutions.  But what does that mean?

From at least 1980, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ohio v. Roberts, until 2004, when it decided Crawford v. Washington, the Confrontation Clause was pretty much a constitutionalization of the hearsay rule.  If the prosecution wanted A to testify as to what B said, the defendant had a right to confront and cross-examine B, subject to all the "firmly rooted hearsay exception[s]," and there are a lot of them.  The main consideration was deciding whether the particular form of hearsay was reliable.

In Crawford, the Supreme Court tossed the Roberts rule and its reliability focus overboard and went with a historical analysis instead.  The purpose of the Confrontation Clause is to prevent abuses of the kind that happened in the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh (the founder of Anglo-America) and other old English cases where testimony is introduced in the form of affidavits or examinations of a witness conducted ex parte, i.e., when the defendant is not present and can't cross-examine.  In circumstances like these, the examinee is the "witness" and the statement is "testimonial."  The Confrontation Clause forbids introduction, and there are no exceptions.  In other cases of garden-variety hearsay, A is the "witness," and admissibility of B's statement is a matter for state hearsay rules, not the U.S. Constitution.  In a state case, reliability of the hearsay is an issue for state rulemakers and courts to ponder, not the federal courts.

Okay, but what statements are sufficiently like the forbidden historical practices to make B's statement "testimonial" and make B and not A the "witness" for this purpose.  The Crawford Court left that largely for future decisions, a recipe for chaos.

How about an injured preschooler's response to a teacher's question, "Who did this? What happened to you?"  That is the question before the Supreme Court in Ohio v. Clark, No. 13-1352.

More on Heien v. North Carolina

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On Monday, I wrote this post on the oral argument in Heien v. North Carolina, a case where the defendant wants evidence resulting from a traffic stop suppressed.  A police officer stopped the car for having only one of two brake lights working, and the state court of appeals, to the surprise of just about everyone, decided that was not a violation in North Carolina.

If the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with the North Carolina Supreme Court that the officer's good faith belief about the law makes this a reasonable seizure, then the case is simple.  If not, it gets complicated.  Rory Little has this analysis at SCOTUSblog predicting that the Court will indeed take the simple route and affirm the state court on the substantive Fourth Amendment question, leaving the complicated issues to another day.

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