Recently in Notorious Cases Category

This is what happens:

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- New, horrifying details are surfacing about what happened inside the Savopoulos mansion near Vice President Joe Biden's house before the murders.

A law enforcement source tell WUSA9's Bruce Leshan that detectives now believe the killers tortured the 10-year-old boy, Phillip Savopoulos, in the effort to get money out of his father.

Police believe the killers were in the house for about 10 hours, and that they successfully forced the Savopoulos family to get them tens of thousands of dollars. Someone may have actually had to go out and get the cash while the rest of the family and their housekeeper were held hostage.

The prime suspect in this grotesque crime is one Daron Dylan Wint.

Was Wint a stranger to the criminal justice system?  Not exactly.

Mitigating in whose opinion?

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I have downloaded the Tsarnaev jury verdict form from PACER and uploaded it here. There are several interesting things about this form, but one that I particularly want to note is the deficiency in what the jurors are asked to find about "catchall" mitigating factors.

The Supreme Court has mandated since 1978 that the defendant can proffer to the jury any aspect of his character, background, or record that he wants to argue as mitigating.  When he does, there are actually three decisions to be made.  (1) Is the factor factually true?  (2) If so, is it actually mitigating? (3) If so, how much weight should it be given?

It seems to me that there is not enough attention given to the second step.  Supposedly mitigating factor 16 on page 18, for example is, "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's mother facilitated his brother Tamerlan's radicalization."  Ten jurors found that factually true.  How many considered it mitigating?  Did all 10 understand they could find it true and still say "So what?  That's not mitigating."

These kinds of failures to make clear to the jury the nature of what they are supposed to be deciding were held to be unconstitutional when they ran against the defendant many years ago.  But ambiguities and omissions that run in the defendant's favor apparently go uncorrected.

The jurors probably get to the right end result in any case.  In the weighing process, jurors may find that a true factor gets zero weight if it is not mitigating.  Still, I would like to see this cleaned up.
I read the WSJ every day, and today's editorial about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's death sentence illustrates why.  It gets right to the point:


Had Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev been sentenced to life at a federal Supermax prison, his remaining years would have been spent in a tiny concrete cell, 23 hours a day, constantly alone, with barely a sight of the sky and none of the country. As punishment for crime goes, that might have been enough.

But more than punishment was at stake in the case of Tsarnaev...The bombing was no mere criminal act carried out on an especially large scale. Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan...carried out an act of war aimed at the institutions and values of American civic life.

The victims were unsuspecting and defenseless, and the damage done will be felt for decades. Think of the Richard family: Bill Richard, the father, eardrums blown and wounded with shrapnel; his wife Denise, who lost an eye; daughter Jane, who lost a leg; son Henry, unwounded but traumatized; son Martin, murdered at the age of eight.

No society serious about its self-defense and preservation can tolerate this.

One of the typical moves for a defense attorney in the sentencing phase of a capital case is to call some of the defendant's family.  This has the effect both of "humanizing" the defendant, and showing the jury the suffering it will cause if it orders his execution.

Some have wondered why Judy Clarke did not call any of her client's family.  The reason is provided in spades by this Time article.  You don't have to read far to see that, as ever, Ms. Clarke knew what she was doing:

Like many observers of the case in Russia, the Tsarnaev family has claimed -- without providing any meaningful evidence -- that the bombing was part of a U.S. government conspiracy intended to test the American public's reaction to a terrorist threat and the imposition of martial law in a U.S. city. "This was all fabricated by the American special services," Said-Hussein Tsarnaev, the convicted bomber's uncle, tells TIME.

No wonder little Dzhokhar is such a piece of work.

Mr. Tsarnaev, Tear Down These Appeals

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One of the arguments against the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bomber was that it would result in years of appeals and collateral review, renewing the anguish of survivors and the families of the dead.

Of course there is an obvious way to avert this problem:  Tsarnaev could waive further review and accept what he earned.

I note that the adverse coverage of the sentence, for example, here and here, never so much as mentions this possibility.  The abolitionist assumption is what it always is: The problem is not the killer.  The problem is us.  He's not the sadist. We are.  Years of review are needed to advance the admittedly tiny hope that our racist, brutish, wahoo, etc., country will come to its senses.

As Kent has noted, it is anything but a foregone conclusion that review will take its usual length.  This is the feds.  McVeigh was executed less than four years after he was sentenced.

And then there's the fact that no one has cited a ghost of a plausible reason to believe the results of the trial or sentencing will be overturned.

Ronald Reagan famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."  Perhaps, in the unlikely event those upset with the prospect of further victim suffering are sincere, they will join me in saying, "Mr. Tsarnaev, tear down these appeals."

For once in his young life, perhaps Tsarnaev could show an ounce of decency. 
The Boston Herald reports:

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said today in a statement that "Tsarnaev coldly and callously perpetrated a terrorist attack" in Boston.

"We know all too well that no verdict can heal the souls of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of those who suffered life-changing injuries from this cowardly attack," Lynch said. "But the ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime and we hope that the completion of this prosecution will bring some measure of closure to the victims and their families.  We thank the jurors for their service, the people of Boston for their vigilance, resilience and support and the law enforcement community in Boston and throughout the country for their important work."

I also thought this item in the Herald's story was noteworthy:

Only three of the 12 jurors bought into the defense argument that Tsarnaev was influenced by his older brother Tamerlan. The jurors unanimously agreed that Tsarnaev showed no remorse and they unanimously voted to put him to death.

I said at the time that it would backfire to try what Kent aptly called "remorse-by-proxy."  

Just so.

No Remorse, No Escape

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Once the prosecution pulled back the curtain on the hideousness of the Boston Marathon bombing, I thought Tsarnaev was probably headed for a death sentence. I wrote three weeks ago that his best chance to avoid it lay in taking a big risk  -- get on the stand and say you're sorry:

At first, I agreed with the conventional wisdom that defense counsel would not call their client to the stand.  Now, I have my doubts.  The government's evidence of the savagery and cruelty of this crime in my view makes the death penalty likely unless the defense can move the ball.

I think their best shot to avoid lethal injection is to call Tsarnaev and have him show remorse.  If he does so, and makes a convincing showing, I think he lives. It would help if he broke down in tears of grief in a way that struck the jury as sincere, and not a coached performance.

The defense apparently decided against it; one way or the other, Tsarnaev sat in silence the entire trial, looking (I glean from press reports) mostly indifferent. The best it could do was call a transparent abolitionist zealot, Sister Helen Prejean, to testify that Tsarnaev was, so she claimed, remorseful.

She was effectively impeached on cross-examination, making today's sentence less than a surprise.  There's not much to be happy about in this horrible case, but one thing at least to be satisfied about is that the jury wasn't taken in by the Sister Prejean Show.

Tsarnaev Sentenced to Death

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Justice has prevailed.  Congratulations to an exceptionally talented prosecution team.  More later.

Marilyn Mosby, Out of Control

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Marilyn Mosby is the Baltimore State's Attorney who announced charges against six police officers in a courthouse-steps press conference that looked less like a recitation of legal allegations than a pep rally for Louis Farrakhan. This has led to a number of calls, including by the police union, for her to be replaced by an independent prosecutor.

I am a believer that the elected branches of government, being politically accountable, should decide for themselves who will present a criminal case. This is not to say that I would oppose Ms. Mosby's replacement at the instance of, say, the Governor, if a statutory mechanism is in place that allows such a thing. But it is not up to the courts to replace her.  The people voted her in, and it will be both educational and just for them to live with the results.  They can vote her out next time if they be so advised.  The defendants are protected by the requirement that Ms. Mosby prove every element of her case beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury.

My view of this is, however, weakened by Ms. Mosby's continuing recklessness, most recently exemplified by, no less, appearing on stage at a rock concert.  It was advertised as a "peace rally," but the unmistakable undertow was an anti-police frenzy.

If this were happening in any other context, the ACLU would be up in arms (about prejudicing the jury pool, for starters).  As it is, I can't hear a peep.  Guess some defendants deserve more protection than others.

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?

Fool's Gold for Tsarnaev

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The defense succeeded in calling Sister Helen Prejean* to the stand as the last witness for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Kent posted about this earlier, wondering what Prejean might have to say that would count as relevant evidence.  In fact, she did have relevant evidence; she testified that she has met with Tsarnaev five times, and that he is remorseful.

Evidence of remorse is, in my view, by far the most likely thing to save Tsarnaev from the death penalty, if anything will.  But I tend to think that defense counsel's success in getting Prejean on the stand will prove the old adage to beware of what you wish for. 
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. ยง3592.  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.
This morning, speaking from her well-appointed headquarters in Washington, DC, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a federal probe of the Baltimore Police Department for what she implied are repeated and serious violations of the constitutional rights of criminal suspects and, apparently, numerous others:

The "pattern or practice" investigation into the Baltimore Police Department will center on police officers' use of force, stops, searches and arrests, as well as allegations of discriminatory policing practices. If the DOJ finds a pattern of civil rights abuses, it will pursue a legally binding settlement to secure systemic reform.

To translate:  DOJ plans to wring a consent decree out of the Baltimore PD in which the feds will henceforth run the Department.

Meanwhile, on Long Island, a different event was taking place.  So far as I have been able to discover, neither Ms. Lynch nor any lower-ranking figure from the Department of Justice took the trouble to attend.

The Elephant in the Room, Part II

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I am undoubtedly remiss in having omitted from my earlier post the reigning definition of probable cause.  It was set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), in the quotation that follows.  I think it to be particularly ominous for the Baltimore prosecution in light of the final phrase, emphasizing that the police are given wide latitude in assessing the circumstances confronting them.  And Freddie Gray was no stranger to the police.

Perhaps the central teaching of our decisions bearing on the probable-cause standard is that it is a "practical, nontechnical conception." Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 176 (1949). "In dealing with probable cause, . . . as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.' Id., at 175. Our observation in United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981), regarding "particularized suspicion," is also applicable to the probable-cause standard:

"The process does not deal with hard certainties, but with probabilities. Long before the law of probabilities was articulated as such, practical people formulated certain common-sense conclusions about human behavior; jurors as factfinders are permitted to do the same - and [462 U.S. 213, 232]   so are law enforcement officers. Finally, the evidence thus collected must be seen and weighed not in terms of library analysis by scholars, but as understood by those versed in the field of law enforcement."

A principal foundation for the prosecution of the six police officers in Baltimore is the proposition, quite confidently put forward by State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, that the knife for which Freddie Gray was arrested was legal for him to possess.

The officers are now disputing this.  But it seems to me that a major point has been missed in virtually all the coverage of this case:

For assessing the propriety of the arrest, it makes no difference whether the knife was illegal.  It only makes a difference whether the officers had probable cause to think it was.  Probable cause does not mean certainty.  It doesn't even mean more likely than not.  The officers had probable cause if they had a fair reason to believe Gray had an illegal knife whether or not they turn out to have been correct. See United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1 (1989).

This is easy to see by calling to mind the law of search and seizure.  The fact that contraband is found on a suspect will not retroactively vindicate the search if, at its outset, it was not justified by probable cause.  Conversely, that no contraband is found does not invalidate the search so long as the police had a reasonable basis to think there was.

So far as I have seen, this fundamental point has been overlooked in the media's discussion of Freddie Gray's arrest. 

Ms. Mosby's case will not necessarily unravel if the police are determined to have had probable cause, but it will start off with one foot in a deep bucket.

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