Monday, January 24, 2011

Scalia appears at 'tea party' House meeting

First Clarence Thomas' wife took a leading role in a Tea Party organization that takes in large donations. Now this.

Scalia appears at 'tea party' House meeting
The justice's participation sparks new concerns about the Supreme Court's appearance of impartiality. Lawmakers said he discussed the Constitution and his judicial philosophy.
By David G. Savage and Kathleen B. Hennessey
Los Angeles Times
January 24, 2011

Justice Antonin Scalia's appearance at a meeting organized by the House Tea Party caucus and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on Monday provoked new cries from liberals and some academics that conservative justices are shedding the appearance of impartiality.

The session, part of what Bachmann calls a series of constitutional seminars, was closed to the media. Lawmakers said Scalia advised them to read the Federalist Papers and to follow the Constitution as it was written.

University of Texas law professor Lucas A. Powe, a historian of the liberal Warren Court, said Scalia's appearance made the court look partisan. "He is taking political partisanship to levels not seen in over half a century," Powe said...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prosecutor's courtroom snark returns to haunt him

Note: San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is on the board of the California Bar Association, which may help to explain why the bar fails to act in cases where prosecutorial misconduct is found.

Voice of San Diego asks, "Who's 'Pretty Pathetic'?"

A San Diego prosecutor got in the face of a burglary suspect during a trial, suggesting that he's "pretty pathetic" and "pretty despicable." And there was more. "According to a state appeals court in San Diego, the prosecutor also questioned the defense lawyer's integrity, suggested the attorney had coached Higgins, and described a defense psychiatrist as a hired gun who had 'attacked a victim in a rape trial,'" the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

All this sounds more "Law & Order" (or "L.A. Law" for you old school types) than real life. An appeal court is not amused: it's thrown out the guilty verdict and ordered a new trial.

Prosecutor's courtroom snark returns to haunt him
Bob Egelko
January 19 2011
SF Gate

When burglary defendant Raymond Higgins testified that he had been distraught at the time of the alleged crime because of the death of a close friend, prosecutor Christopher Lawson asked him whether it wasn't "pretty pathetic if you're using the memory of a dead 17-year-old kid as an excuse."

After the judge ruled the question improper, Higgins said he'd also been feeling guilty about not attending the funeral of his sister, who had committed suicide. "You agree that's pretty despicable if you were using that as an excuse," Lawson told him.

According to a state appeals court in San Diego, the prosecutor also questioned the defense lawyer's integrity, suggested the attorney had coached Higgins, and described a defense psychiatrist as a hired gun who had "attacked a victim in a rape trial."

Lawson used his cross-examinations to make speeches and "engaged in a pattern of misconduct that rendered the trial fundamentally unfair," the Fourth District Court of Appeal said in a ruling Thursday that overturned Higgins' conviction and granted him a new trial. He has been serving a five-year prison sentence.

The ruling comes in the wake of a report in October by the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University asserting that prosecutors in the state are seldom punished for unethical courtroom conduct. The project said it found 707 cases from 1997 to 2009 in which courts had found misconduct by prosecutors, but only six prosecutors who were disciplined by the State Bar. The bar, in response, said it would take another look at some of those cases.

Lawson, a deputy district attorney in San Diego County, was unavailable for comment. Steve Walker, a spokesman for the office, said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling.

Higgins, a businessman and Naval Academy graduate with no previous criminal record, was charged with burglary and assault for breaking into a neighbor's house in San Diego with two handguns in May 2008.

The neighbor had asked Higgins to keep an eye on her teenage son, who had gotten in trouble...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal cases takes another hit--Cornelius Dupree Jr., sentenced to 75 years in prison, is innocent

Houston man vindicated
Imprisoned 30 years after victim identified him, Cornelius Dupree Jr. is cleared by DNA
Jan. 4, 2011

The reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal cases took another sock in the eye Tuesday as Cornelius Dupree Jr., a Houston man sentenced to 75 years in prison for a rape-robbery he did not commit, walked out of a Dallas courtroom a free man.

Dupree, 51, served 30 years for the 1979 Dallas crime before being paroled last July. Days later, DNA testing in the case — performed at the behest of the New York-based Innocence Project - showed he was not the rapist.

Minutes after a Dallas judge vacated the conviction Tuesday morning, Dupree called the experience "bittersweet."

"I want to enjoy the moment," he said, "but I have mixed emotion with things in the past. No one heard my cry for justice. I had to wait 30 years."

While incarcerated, Dupree made three unsuccessful appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He spent more time in prison than any other Texas inmate cleared through new DNA testing.

Under Texas law, Dupree is eligible for $80,000 for each year he was wrongly imprisoned, plus a lifetime annuity.

The Innocence Project's Barry Scheck called Dupree's wrongful conviction "just mind-blowing," identifying it as "a classic case of eyewitness misidentification."

Texas leads the nation in identifying wrongly convicted prisoners through DNA testing. Since 2000, the state has exonerated 42 inmates. Two others, including Dupree, have been released pending formal exoneration by the state. Bogus eyewitness identifications played a role in all but six of the convictions.

Nine Harris County inmates, convicted at least in part through eyewitness identifications, have been cleared through DNA testing.

"What this indicates to me," Scheck said, "is that there are a lot more prisoners that just didn't commit the crime. We just can't find them."..