Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why the Post Trial Macinations

In the previous article we looked at how double jeopardy attaches to this case in various ways.  In this article we look at what was behind the post trial machination by the prosecutor and judge—and it wasn’t because they wanted to retry Cameron Brown on the higher charge.  The post trial machinations were necessary to retry him on any charge. 


When you break it down to the core of the matter, the controversy over the outcome of the second trial comes from the fact that there was no explicit verdict to acquit.  This is what prompted Judge Pastor to declare he was confused. (Trial Transcript, Page 13541, Line 8) Despite the judge’s confusion, it is a fundamental tenet that should a jury unanimously decline to convict—even when the jury fails to formally return a verdict of acquittal—the defendant is nevertheless acquitted because the standard of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” has not been met.  This is recognized under case law in California as an “implied acquittal.”

In spite of that, Judge Pastor and Prosecutor Hum insist that there was no verdict.  However, if there truly was no verdict, what motivated the post trial machinations of jury declarations and the judge’s “King’s X” rationale?  The act of collecting declarations attests to the fact that there must have been a verdict—one the prosecutor wished to foreclose against.  And the judge’s King’s X rationale, his omission of some of the facts before him, attests to the fact that the omitted facts reveal that there must have been a verdict.

Even though the jury did not formally return a “not guilty” verdict, they unanimously declined to vote “guilty” after voting on the charge of first degree murder.  There is no functional difference between unanimously voting “not guilty” and unanimously not voting “guilty.”  Therefore, the jury implicitly acquitted Cameron Brown of the charged crime of First Degree Murder.  Retrying him on that charge is a violation of the double jeopardy clause against his rights. 

The prosecutor and judge did not go through those post trial machinations simply because they wanted to retry Cameron Brown for a higher charge.  The indictment of Cameron Brown is very specific.  It does not permit an acquittal of the charged crime of first degree murder, and allow prosecution on the lower included offenses.  Therefore the post trial machinations were necessary for the prosecutor to get another opportunity to try to convict Cameron Brown on any charge. 

This issue is a question of law—and this case reveals a contradiction between the way the law is written and how it’s practiced in California. 


In his opening statements prosecutor Craig Hum declared, “This case is about the murder of a little four-year-old girl, who was killed by her father…The defendant murdered Lauren by taking her on a hike to Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes and throwing her from a 120-foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean below.” (Trial Transcript, Page 2450, Lines 24-26; Page 2451, Lines 1-4) Yet, when you break it down to the very essence of the evidence, the prosecution presented only two or three witnesses that dealt with actual evidence of whether or not Cameron Brown picked up his daughter and threw her off a cliff.

About fifty witnesses testified for the prosecution, (Trial Transcript, Page 7329, Line 14) yet very little was presented as to what actually occurred on November 8, 2000.  The bulk of the testimony consisted predominately of extreme character assassination and the incessant demonization of Cameron Brown.  The primary function of this testimony was emotional appeal.  In this way prosecutor Hum endeavored to paint a very unfavorable picture of Cameron Brown to make the jury dislike him, so he could get them to convict him of something. (Trial Transcript, Page 7330, Lines13-27) This was the main focus of the prosecution’s case: character assassination with a very scant amount of testimony about their primary theory that Cameron Brown threw his daughter off a cliff. 

However, interwoven into their case was a secondary theory that alleged Cameron Brown intentionally took his daughter to the most dangerous area on top of Inspiration Point and allowed her to run around up there; and there was an implication that he hoped she would fall.  The vast majority of what was presented by the prosecution was in support of this secondary theory. 

The prosecution’s two theories are NOT based on rational inferences from ambiguous evidence that could result in multiple theories.  Their primary, overt theory is very clear; the only way Lauren could have sustained her injuries is if Cameron Brown threw her off the cliff, to the exclusion of any other possibility. (Trail Transcript, Page 9456, Lines 12-14, 17, 18) Their secondary theory is that Cameron Brown allowed Lauren to run around on the most dangerous area on top of Inspiration Point, hoping she would fall.  Their primary and secondary theories are supported by contradictory and mutually exclusive underlying facts, making the two theories inconsistent at their core.  As a result, each theory makes the other one impossible.  Thus, Cameron Brown was tried for two contradictory and mutually exclusive theories about a single event.  Another way one can look at it is that he was tried twice for the same thing, albeit simultaneously, as he was tried for two different, distinct and conflicting theories in one trial; and he was indictment for only one of them.  


The prosecution’s primary theory was the basis to charge Cameron Brown and get an indictment.  It is the theory the prosecution relied on to get them into court.  However, once in court, the main emphasis of the prosecution’s case was on their secondary theory, as they pursued an implied malice theory for second degree murder. 

Their primary theory became a shadow argument.  The prosecution merely gave it lip service, bringing in just a couple of witnesses to support it. 

The bulk of the prosecution’s case was in support of their secondary theory, making it the prosecution’s real case.  This must, at the very least, constitute a Due Process violation against Cameron Brown. 


For nearly two years Sheriff’s investigators had endeavored to come up with evidence to charge Cameron Brown with murder, to no avail.  After nearly two years of expert shopping, Sheriff’s investigators had come up empty.  That’s when Prosecutor Hum intervened and brought in expert witness Dr. Wilson C. Hayes.  (Trial Transcript, Page 6486, Lines 8-9)

Dr. Hayes concluded that the crime of first degree murder had been committed to the exclusion of all other possibilities. (Trial Transcript, Page 6982, Line 7 to Page 6983, Line 1) He said that by looking at the relationships between Lauren’s injuries, the topography of Inspiration Point, and the laws of physics, (Trial Transcript, Page 6957, Lines 11-16; Page 6959, Lines 13-18) he came to the “inescapable conclusion” that the only possible way Lauren could have sustained her injuries is if she was “launched forcibly from the top of that cliff.” (Trial Transcript, Page 6924, Lines 17-26)  He didn’t say it was just one possibility.  He said that it was a certainty—that it was the only possible way the fall could have occurred.  (Trail Transcript Page 9456, Lines 12-14, 17, 18)

Dr. Hayes documented his conclusions in a report he created on September 12, 2003 for the prosecution.  This report is the single piece of evidence that got this case into court.  Without it there is nothing to indicate that a crime, instead of an accident, was committed. (The ME was only willing to say that Lauren died of blunt force trauma. He was unwilling to call it a homicide based on Lauren’s injuries.  Only by deferring to others did he eventually call it a homicide; Autopsy Report, pages 7-8.  This will be examined in detail in a later post.)

Once in court, prosecutor Hum put very little weight on Dr. Hayes’ conclusions.  Instead he concentrated on his secondary theory that alleges Cameron Brown allowed his daughter to run around on an area that slopes down toward the ocean at the edge of the cliff.  There is no credible evidence to put them there.  Moreover, evidence for their primary theory excludes the possibility that she could have fallen to her death in that matter. (Trial Transcript, Page 6979, Line 25 to Page 6981, Line 1; Page 6982, Lines 21-23)

Nevertheless, once in court prosecutor Hum concentrated on his secondary theory, going for implied malice second degree murder.  He was confident the jury would be instructed on implied malice for second degree murder, due to a requirement for jury instructions on lesser related offenses, and he took advantage of it, despite the fact that it contradicts the evidence used to charge and indict Cameron Brown. In this way he prosecuted Cameron Brown for a theory that contradicts the evidence that got him into court.   


Under California law, “[a] lesser offense is necessarily included in a greater offense if either the statutory elements of the greater offense, or the facts actually alleged in the accusatory pleading, include all the elements of the lesser offense, such that the greater cannot be committed without also committing the lesser.”  The Supreme Court of the State of CA has consistently stated that whether a lesser offense is necessarily included must be based on the statutory elements and the accusatory pleading without regard to the evidentiary presentation. (People v Ortega (1998) 19 Cal.4th 686, 698) The purpose of the rule is to allow the jurors to convict of either the greater or lesser offenses where the evidence might support either.

Despite these rulings, the case against Cameron Brown makes it manifestly evident that this is not how the law is practiced in California.  Even though the evidence used to charge and indict Cameron Brown takes as fact that Lauren was thrown off the cliff to the exclusion of any other possibility; and this makes the prospect for implied malice second degree murder impossible, all the defense attorneys involved believed the law requires jury instructions for second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.  Furthermore, prosecutor Hum was so confident that he’d have an opportunity to try the case on an implied malice theory for second degree murder, that he built the bulk of his case on it, despite the evidence he used to acquire an indictment.    

Even the jurors, it appears, intuitively knew what the attorneys did not know.  The first legal question they asked was: "Do you have to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that he threw her in order to find the defendant guilty of murder in the first or second degree?"  (Trial Transcript, Page 10803, Lines 1-6)

“I think that the very simple answer to that question is no, and that's the only answer that need be given,” Mr. Hum said.  “Certainly, I think all counsel would agree that on implied malice theory for second degree murder, there is certainly no requirement to show that the defendant threw Lauren off the cliff.”  (Trial Transcript, Page 10803, Lines 11-17)

An implied malice theory for second degree murder is in contradiction to the prosecutor’s indictment, and therefore, in contraction to how the CA Supreme Court consistently rules on the matter, yet the prosecutor boldly and confidently advanced an implied malice theory for second degree murder every time the issue came up.   


The prosecution’s secondary theory is that Cameron Brown allowed his daughter to run around on an area that slopes down toward the ocean at the edge of the cliff.  There is no credible evidence to put them there.  Moreover, evidence for their primary theorythe evidence used to get an indictment and get into courtexcludes the possibility that she could have fallen to her death if she had fallen from the sloped area.  (Trial Transcript, Page 6979, Line 25 to Page 6981, Line 1; Page 6982, Lines 21-23)

 The “evidence” used by the prosecution to put them on that slope consists of impressions in the dirt which the crime lab analyst determined were NOT footprints, and statements by several officers, which are all problematic.  The “evidence” used to put them on that slope does not meet the standards to charge and indict Cameron Brown.  The prosecutor made up for lack of credible evidence by constant repetition of the allegation that they were on the slope, thereby causing the jurors to believe it was an established fact. 


The prosecution’s approach to convince the jury that an implied malice second degree murder offense had taken place was as follows: he appealed to the juror’s emotions throughout the trial; (Trial Transcript, Page 7330, Lines13-27) at the end shocked the jurors’ sensibilities and immediately sent them into the deliberations room. 

Throughout the trial the prosecution’s case was centered on character assassination and the demonization of Cameron Brown, coupled with the constant repetition that Lauren fell from the sloped area at the edge of the cliff.  At the end the jury was taken to the site and shown the sloped area.  Despite the fact that there is no credible evidence that Cameron and Lauren were on that slope, it was presented as an established fact.  The consequence was to shock the jurors’ sensibilities.  Immediately upon shocking them, the jurors were sent to deliberate.

The effect of shocking the jury is revealed by events that happened near the end of deliberations.  On Friday, September 25 the jury indicated they were deadlocked.  Instead of polling them, the Court instructed them to return on Tuesday, September 29 and resume deliberations. On Tuesday morning they submitted a question.  The foreman said, “Most felt until they had an answer to the question they couldn't continue deliberations.”  (Trial Transcript, Page 12319, Line 28 to Page 12320, Line 4)

The trial transcript does not record the question. Instead the Court asked counsel to review it in written form. (Trial Transcript, Page 12301, Lines 18-28) Yet, it is clear from the discussion that followed the question had to do with the site visit and the feelings the site visit generated.  The crux of the question was: are the feelings generated by the site visit evidence. (Trial Transcript, Page 12301 to Page 12308; Page 12335 to Page 12338) The ensuing discussion about the question covered the following points.  These excerpts capture the gist of the discussion regarding the jurors’ question:

“I think the answer is yes,” the prosecutor responded. “I mean the whole purpose of going out to the location was to have them see and understand the area and the dangerousness of the location. And certainly, the dangerousness of the location and their feelings about that is relevant to both the first and the second; and particularly with regard to an implied malice second.”

Defense counsel responded, “What is not evidence, as stated in the jury instruction, is emotions and any emotional feeling or emotional reaction is not to be used.” 

 “I would disagree with that because I think that especially when we are talking about - - again, if we are talking about an implied malice second degree murder, their feelings about the location are important. Their feelings with regard to the dangerousness, their feelings with regard to whether or not the defendant would recognize the danger, all of that is appropriate evidence for them to consider when they are making a determination as to whether or not there was implied malice,” Mr. Hum said. “Their feelings with regard to the location, I think, is appropriate evidence.

“The danger to which Mr. Harris refers is the gut, visceral, emotional response,” the Court said.

And the prosecutor responded, “I guess the problem I have is what feelings about the location that we visited would not be appropriate for them to consider?”

“Well, I think that is -- the jury instruction, I think, is very clear that you are not to bring in emotion in terms of making decision. I think the problem I have with Mr. Hum’s argument is that he is attaching feelings, the phrase "feelings," to … an emotional reaction. That is a feeling that should not be taken into consideration,” defense counsel responded.

“Their emotional response, their visceral response to being out there, is certainly something that they can consider in evaluating the behavior of the defendant,” the prosecutor said.

[Trial transcript, page 12302, line 1 – page 12308, line 12]

After that occurred, the jury deliberated for four more days for an average of 2.5 hours per day.  Prior to that, they had been deliberating for an average of 7 hours per day.  This suggests that after the Court would not accept that they were deadlocked there was a shift in the jury’s frame of mind.  More importantly, this dialogue reveals the weight the prosecutor put on the jurors’ visceral, emotional response to the site visit, and his emphasis on an implied malice second degree murder. 

What is revealed is a strategy that entailed emotionally manipulating the jury throughout the trial, shocking their sensibilities at the end, and immediately sending them into the deliberations room.  This is what was necessary for the prosecution to endeavor to convict on an implied malice second degree murder, since they did not have any real evidence for their secondary theory. After being subjected to such a strategy, it’s no wonder emotion drove the jury’s decisions, not credible evidence presented at trial.   Facts were secondary to feelings in this case. 

This strategy could not withstand a final outcome of not guilty for first degree murder and a hung jury over the lesser uncharged offenses.  Since that was the outcome reported in the court proceedings and recorded in the trial transcript, the post trial machinations were required to give the prosecution another opportunity to try to convict the defendant. 


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Multiple Double Jeopardy Violations


In the case of The People of the State of California vs. Cameron John Brown, Cameron Brown is charged with first degree murder, accused of throwing his daughter, Lauren, off a cliff.  As a result he has been held without bail since 2003.  There have two trials in the matter.  The first trial ended with a bona fide hung jury. 
The second trial ended with an implied acquittal for the charged crime of first degree murder, and a six-six spilt between second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.  At that point the case took a bizarre turn with antics from the prosecution that have never been seen in American jurisprudence.  One must go back to the days of Lord Mansfield, the noted 18th Century reformer of English law, to find a parallel in a court of law to what happened in this case.
The second trial was held in Department 107 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, presided over by the Hon. Michael E. Pastor.  It was prosecuted by Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum and Cameron Brown was represented by attorneys Eugene “Pat” Harris and Lara Yeretsian, who were with the Geragos & Geragos law firm at the time.


After a lengthy trial (from July 27, 2009 to October 5, 2009) in which prosecutor Hum presented a case with very little actual evidence, but loaded with emotional appeal, character assassination, and the demonization of Cameron Brown, the case went to the jury. 
On the morning of October 5, 2009 the jury indicated they had reached a unanimous verdict and simultaneously sent a note to the Court.  That afternoon, after examining the note the Court found the jury was deadlocked.  (Trial Transcript, page 13523, line 22 through page 13524, line 15).  “Obviously there is a real misunderstanding of the nature of a verdict,” the Court said.  (Trial Transcript, page 13525, lines 23-24)  The jury’s confusion over what constitutes a verdict was expressed several more times during that afternoon’s proceedings. (Trial Transcript, page 13527, lines 21-24; page 13538, lines 11-12, 20-23; page 13535, lines 13 - 27; page 13540, lines 20- 22.)   The transcripts along with other court documents referenced herein can be found at:
After the Court polled each member of the jury and questioned the jury foremen, he found that the jury was split six-six between some degree of murder and involuntary manslaughter. (Trial Transcript, page 13535, line 23 through page 13537, line 6)  At that point, without inquiring if the six votes were for first degree or for second degree, the Court declared “legal necessity for a mistrial.” (Trial Transcript, Page 13540, Lines 16-19)
During the questioning the foreman stated that the jury voted on all the following possible option.  The six-six spilt came from this vote.
  1. Murder in the First Degree,
  2. Murder in the Second Degree,
  3. Involuntary Manslaughter, and
  4. Not Guilty of All Charges.
(Trial Transcript, page 13535, line 28 through page 13536, line 7) 
A sidebar followed where defense counsel insisted the Court must ask if the six split was for first or second degree murder. The Court tried to evade the issue by referencing CALJIC jury instructions and pointing out that “it appears as though they are deadlocked. (Trial Transcript page 13536, line 24 through page 13538, line 2)  Defense counsel pointed out that the jury voted on only two permutations and one was involuntary manslaughter; and again he insisted that it was necessary to find out if the other permutation was for first degree or for second degree murder. (Trial Transcript page 13538, lines 3-9) Once again the Court referred the CALJIC jury instructions, again trying to avoid finding the answer to that question. (Trial Transcript page 13538, line 10)  Defense counsel prevailed, and the Court continued to question the foreman.
The foreman said the split was six for second degree murder and six for involuntary manslaughter. (Trial Transcript page 13540, Lines 20-27)  The Court then asked if they were deadlocked on the charged crime of murder in the first degree.  “No, the jury is not deadlocked on that,” the foreman expressly stated.  “Then I am confused,” the Court responded.  (Trial Transcript Page 13541, lines 3-8). This inquiry revealed that the jury returned a verdict of implied acquittal on the charged crime of first degree murder. 
(In Blueford v Arkansas (2012) 566 U.S. ––––, 132 S.Ct. 2044, 182 L.Ed.2d 937, the US Supreme Court held that, in a state which does not have a partial acquittal rule, if a jury deadlocks on a lesser included offense but doesn’t formally return a verdict of not guilty on the greater offense, the defendant may be retried on both the greater and lesser offenses. (Id., 132 S.Ct. at pp. 2048-2053.)  The CA Appeals Court subsequently upheld partial verdicts in CA in People v Aranda. Case No. E056708 (CA Dist. 4 Ct. App., Div. 2, Sep. 12, 2013); publication pending.  Therefore, according CA law, Cameron Brown was legally acquitted of first degree murder on October 5, 2009.  This is the first way double jeopardy attached in this case)
Not one juror made any attempt to dispute the foreman’s assertion that jury was not deadlocked on the first degree murder charge; nor to correct the foreman on his representation that the jury was split six-six, an assertion he made more than once. Two sidebars took place after the foreman made these assertions and not one juror corrected the foreman during the sidebars (Trial Transcript page 13537, line 6 – page 13538, line 24; page 13541, line 10 – page 13543, line 12)  
In spite of the revelation that the jury was unanimous on the first degree murder charge, Judge Pastor insisted on proceeding with a mistrial, “I declared a mistrial.  That is the current state of affairs.  So thank you,” the judge said. (Trial Transcript, Page13543, Lines 10-12)  Thus he implied that he had no recourse once he declared a mistrial despite his discovery of the jury’s unanimous vote. At that point, he discharged the jury.  However, what he actually declared was “legal necessity for a mistrial.” Mere seconds later, the jury’s unanimous vote was revealed, which nullified any legal necessity for a mistrial.
When Judge Pastor discovered that there were no guilty votes for the charged offense of first degree murder, even after he declared “legal necessity for a mistrial,” he had a duty to inquire further of the jurors and instruct them to deliberate further on that charge, because he had an obligation to receive the jury’s verdict on it, but instead he discharged the jury.  By doing so he aborted the trial before it had come to its final conclusion.  This is the second way double jeopardy attached in this case (but I am getting ahead of myself). 
Immediately after the trial there was a news conference in front of the courthouse where several discharged jurors interacted with Sarah, Lauren’s mother.  (A picture of Sarah interacting with two of the jurors can be found here:
Defense counsel filed a motion to enter a judgment of acquittal for the first degree murder charge or alternatively, to dismiss the first degree murder charge on the grounds that prosecuting Cameron Brown again is a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, and Article I, Section 15 of the California Constitution, which protect a defendant from Double Jeopardy. This was for the first way that double jeopardy attached to this case.  His rationale was stated as follows: the prosecution’s “failure to muster even one vote for first degree murder is an undeniable repudiation of the prosecution’s theory and clearly invokes the double jeopardy clause.” (Defense Motion to Dismiss, Page 1) That motion was heard on January 28, 2010 by Judge Pastor.


At the January 28th hearing, in conjunction with his Opposition to the defense Motion to Dismiss, prosecutor Hum submitted a “declaration” over his own signature, which is a sworn statement, in which he asserted that former Juror 9 contacted him with a tale to tell.  Juror 9 is the juror who committed misconduct during deliberations and led other jurors to commit misconduct as well.  (Trial Transcript Pg 13508, Line 28 to Pg 13509, Line 23; Pg 13510, Lines 6-7; Pg 13510, Line 17 to Pg 13511, Line 9)
Former juror 9 allegedly called the prosecutor later in the day on October 5, 2009, after the trial ended.  This now-discharged juror allegedly informed the prosecutor that the outcome as reported in the court proceedings and recorded in the trial transcript was incorrect, and the correct outcome was one vote for first degree murder, six for second degree murder, and five for involuntary manslaughter.  This discharged juror also volunteered to contact the other discharged jurors, according to Mr. Hum, and instruct them to call him as well.  Subsequently, five more discharged jurors allegedly called the prosecutor some time after they had been discharged. 
Mr. Hum sent each of these discharged jurors a document that he himself—the prosecutor—had prepared, and asked them to sign it and return it to him.  This document was a sworn statement, like the one that he submitted in his own name.  It stated that the six-six outcome as recounted in court proceeding was somehow incorrect and that the “correct” outcome was one-six-five.  In this way the jury impeached its own verdict with the prosecutor's help.
Two former jurors who had submitted declarations sat with Sarah at that hearing; and one had his arm around Sarah’s shoulder during most of the proceeding.  (An account of this can be found here:


Judge Pastor denied the defense’s motion. His denial was based on two alternate lines of reasoning.  First he accepted the prosecutor’s “declarations at face value. (Hearing Transcript, Page 25, Lines 15-27)   His alternate line of reasoning, he said, was because he gave the jury the Stone instruction, which “made very clear to the fact finder the protocol and procedure by which it would evaluate the charged offense and any lesser included offense.” (Hearing Transcript, Page 26, lines 1-17)  After making that statement he gave an account of everything that happened in the courtroom up to, but excluding his asking about the exact nature of the split.  (Hearing Transcript page 26, line 20 through page 31, line 16) 
The following facts were omitted from the judge’s account:
1)     The jurors voted on the following possible charges: murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, involuntary manslaughter, and not guilty of all charges. ( Trial Transcript, Page 13535, Line 28 to Page 13536, Line 7)
2)     The Court inquired about the exact nature of the split.
3)     The jury foreman reported that there were six votes for involuntary manslaughter and six votes for second degree murder.
4)     The Court asked, “Did the jury reach any verdict as to the charged count of murder in the first degree or is the jury deadlocked on that.”
5)     “No, the jury was not deadlocked on that,” the jury foreman stated.  ( Trial Transcript, Page 13540, Line 20 to Page 13541, Line 7
These omitted facts made the outcome crystal clear, since it was stated orally in the courtroom exactly what happened and what the verdict was.  However, the Court excluded these facts from his alternative rationale and pretended like they never happened.  It was as if the judge was saying, like children playing in the schoolyard, “King’s X, I didn’t mean for that to come out, I take it back.”    
Consequently, instead of dealing with the facts Judge Pastor’s argument engaged in what could have been if—if he had stopped asking questions sooner—and he pretended that’s what happened.  He argued that he wasn’t required to ask about the split.  “The jury was provided with Stone,’” he said.  “I made my inquiry.  As far this Court is concerned that was all that would have been required.  And I think it was a solid basis for my simply saying, ‘Thank you, you are excused.’”  (Hearing Transcript, Page 27, Lines 9-18)
Even if the judge could have excused the jury at that point, that is not what happened.  The reality is that he continued his inquiry, and that inquiry resulted in the following discovery.
1) The split was six-six for second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. (Trial Transcript, Page 13540, Line 25 to Page 13541, Line 2)
2) The jury was unanimously on the charged crime of first degree murder and they did not vote guilty.  (Trial Transcript, Page 13541, Lines 3-7)
Although the jury never explicitly stated that they voted “not guilty” on the charged crime of first degree murder, the foreman told the Court that the jury voted it; they were not deadlocked on it; and the six-six spilt was between second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Therefore the only possible outcome for their vote on first degree must necessarily be that they unanimously declined to vote “guilty”—which is an acquittal.  Otherwise, there would have been a conviction.  While the jury also stated they had not reached a verdict on that charge, their confusion over what constitutes a verdict was confirmed by the Court, and it was well documented that afternoon. 
The actions by the prosecutor and judge at the January 28th hearing resulted in the third way double jeopardy attached in this case


According to case law the Court had a duty to inquire of the jurors the number of votes for first degree as opposed to second degree before declaring a mistrial.  Judge Pastor failed to do that.  Nevertheless, the law requires that when the Court believes the jury didn’t agree on any verdict, and preliminarily announces his intention to discharge them, but then discovers, before the jury leaves the box, that his belief is incorrect, as occurred in this instance, the Court must rectify its misunderstanding and receive the verdict the jury unanimously agreed upon.  Moreover, the Court is remiss in its duties if, before it loses control of the jury, it discovers such a situation had developed and does not correct it.  When not corrected, a mistrial is deemed to be without legal necessity as to that offense, and double jeopardy principles preclude retrying the defendant for that offense.   (People v Powell (1950) 99 Cal.App.2d 178, 181-182; Stone v Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal.3d 503, 519)
Thus, when Judge Pastor discovered no guilty votes for the charged offense, after he declared “legal necessity for a mistrial,” he had a duty to inquire further of the jurors and to instruct them to deliberate further, as he had an obligation to receive the jury’s verdict on it. Instead he discharged the jury, and in this way he aborted the trial before it had come to its final conclusion.   Thus double jeopardy attached. 
Judge Pastor addressed the issue that the trial was aborted prematurely when he stated the following about the six-six split, at the January 28th hearing: “These are tentative expressions as part of the give and take of the jury system. It is not at all unusual, but the key to it is it was not a completed verdict … Any expression was a tentative expression, perhaps out of frustration, wheeling and dealing, et cetera, but it was not a completed verdict.”  (Hearing Transcript, Page 29, Lines 15-18, 24-27)
That is precisely the point—it was not a completed verdict, yet the jurors were unanimous on the charged crime of first degree murder.  That fact was expressed in open court, as it was clearly stated that they had voted on all the possible options and they were NOT deadlocked on the first degree murder charge.  In that situation, Judge Pastor had a duty and an obligation to instruct the jury to deliberate further on the first degree murder charge and bring the verdict to completion.  However, Judge Pastor failed to do that.  As a result he aborted the trial prematurely.
He tried to obfuscate that fact at the January 28th hearing by pretending as if the omitted facts had never happened!  Over forty years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan II stated that once a trial begins, a defendant has a legitimate interest in getting the trial over with “once and for all,” (United States v Jorn (1971), 400 U.S. 470, 486) something Cameron Brown was deprived of when Judge Pastor discharged the jury prematurely.  Consequently, he’s been incarcerated without bail for an additional five years.


Another basis for a double jeopardy violation in this case is on the authority of “the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrials where ‘bad-faith conduct by judge or prosecutor’ threatens the ‘(h)arassment of an accused by successive prosecutions or declaration of a mistrial so as to afford the prosecution a more favorable opportunity to convict’ the defendant.” (United States v Jorn (1971), 400 U.S. 470, 485; 91 S.Ct. 547, 557; 27 L.Ed.2d 543, 556 (plurality opinion); Downum v. United States (1963), 372 U.S. 734, 736; 83 S.Ct. 1033, 1034; 10 L.Ed.2d 100.) Judge Pastor’s premature dismissal of the jury fits this criterion, since the direct result of declaring a mistrial and prematurely aborting the trial was to give the prosecutor another opportunity to try to convict the defendant. 
An additional matter that qualifies Judge Pastor for “bad-faith conduct by judge” is his “King’s X” rationale, where he pretended that some of the proceedings before him never happened and used that pretense to deny the defense’s motion to dismiss.  Surely Judge Pastor knew his rulings and the final disposition of a case must be decided on the totality of what's discovered through the testimony and court proceedings.  The Court cannot say, “King’s X, I didn’t mean for that to come out,” and pretend like some court proceedings never happened.  Yet that is exactly what Judge Pastor did.  The direct result of that was that it gave the prosecutor another opportunity to try to convict Cameron Brown.
Additionally, the prosecutor’s submission of the juror “declarations” could be viewed as “bad-faith conduct,” given that they are not only a violation of California case law (People v. Spelio (1970) 6 Cal. App.3d 685, 690 [86 Cal. Rptr. 113]; People v. Villagren (1980) 106 Cal. App.3d 720, 729 [165 Cal. Rptr. 470]; People v. Williams (1988) 45 Cal. 3d 1268, 1318 [248 Cal. Rptr. 834]) but also of statutory Federal Law!  (18 U.S.C. § 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law)  A case can also be made that Judge Pastor was also involved in this “bad-faith conduct,” since Mr. Hum should have referred the matter to the Court and not handled it himself.  The fact that Judge Pastor acted as if it were nothing out of the ordinary, and accepted its results suggests that he cooperated with the scheme. Furthermore, the fact that prosecutor Hum would even attempt such a stunt, with the potential consequences against him, indicates that he must have had some assurance beforehand that he could get away with it. This indicates and that Judge Pastor must have been complicit in it, as well.  The direct result of the juror declarations was to give the prosecution another opportunity to try to convict.
The basis for the defense motion heard on January 28 was on the grounds of violation of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, and Article I, Section 15 of the California Constitution, the first way double jeopardy attached to this case. Subsequently defense counsel filed the motion with the California Court of Appeal.  The motion was inexplicitly denied just a few days after it was received, inclining one to believe that the Appeals Court denied it without reading it.  (There were rumors that the Appeals Court denied the motion because Judge Pastor contacted the Appeals Court and told them that facts identified by the defense were erroneous, and the scenario described by his “King’s X” rationale was what really happened.  However, it should be noted that these rumors are unsubstantiated.)
The motion should have been filed with the CA Supreme Court, but unfortunately Cameron Brown was financially devastated after two costly trials. As a result, he was forced to rely on state appointed counsel.  The problem was that the state provided him with an attorney to retry the case, but refused to provide him with one who would fight the double jeopardy.  This is exactly the situation that the Double Jeopardy clause was intended to prevent.
Cameron Brown had to turn to pro per status to continue fighting the double jeopardy violation against him; however, the Court blocked him from completing that endeavor.  As a result double jeopardy due to the court aborting trial prematurely and double jeopardy due to bad-faith conduct by judge and prosecutor have never been litigated.  Cameron Brown is now being tried again for a charge he has, in fact, already been acquitted.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fair and Impartial What?

Cam Brown's second trial ended in a mistrial. When the jury returned from deliberations the jury foreman reported that the verdict was 6 votes for second-degree murder and 6 votes for manslaughter. Since 6 plus 6 equals 12, and only 12 jurors voted, even someone with only a second grade education can see that there were no votes for first-degree murder. However, the Judge neglected to inquire how the jury voted with regard to first-degree murder. As a result, the prosecution hopes to overcome Double Jeopardy and retry Cam on first-degree murder.

Double Jeopardy is defined as (from Britannica Concise Encyclopedia):
"In law, the prosecution of a person for an offense for which he or she already has been prosecuted. In U.S. law, double jeopardy is prohibited by the 5th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which states that no person shall 'be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life and limb.' The clause bars second prosecutions after acquittal or conviction and prohibits multiple convictions for the same offense. Thus a person cannot be guilty of both murder and manslaughter for the same homicide, nor can a person be retried for the same crime after the case has been resolved. A person can, however, be convicted of both murder and robbery if the murder arose from the robbery."
This issue is further illuminated in the following:
''The constitutional prohibition against 'double jeopardy' was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense . . . The underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.'' [Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 - 88 (1957). This passage is often approvingly quoted by the Court. E.g., Crist v. Bretz, 437 U.S. 28, 35 (1978); United States v. DiFrancesco, 449 U.S. 117, 127 - 28 (1980).]
The above quote from Green v. United States describes exactly what is happening to Cam Brown. Prosecutor Craig Hum is using the State's formidable resources and power to zealously make attempt after attempt to wrongfully convict Cam of a crime that never occurred. By doing so he is subjecting Cam to the very sort of injury that the double jeopardy clause is intended to prevent.

Prosecutor Craig Hum's argument, responding to Cam's attorney's position that retrying Cam for first-degree murder is a violation of double jeopardy, is scheduled to be heard on January 28, 2010. Until then we don't know how he will respond. However, there has been talk that Craig Hum and Dectective Jeff Leslie contacted each and every juror, after the Judge released them, and as a result Hum is now claiming that the count reported by the jury foreman was incorrect, and there was a vote for first-degree murder. We will find out when Hum argues his case on January 28 if this is just talk, or not. Until then these are only rumors.

However, let's consider these rumors for a moment – as a hypothetical. If Hum were to proceed along this course he would be essentially asking for a new vote, after Leslie and he tampered with the jury. This notion may sound unthinkable. Yet there are instances within the Los Angeles court system that are equally unthinkable, nevertheless they are fact. One such instance is the case of Richard I. Fine.

Richard Fine was sentenced indefinitely, without bail, without a hearing date and without a release date by L.A. Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe, after Fine challenged Judge Yaffe. Fine argued that the Judge was required to recuse himself from presiding over a case in which LA County was a defendant since he had been receiving illegal payments from the County Board of Supervisors since 1988. In fact all LA Superior Court judges have been receiving these illegal payments from the County Supervisors.

Los Angeles County Supervisors have been paying LA Superior Court judges redundant benefits, called "local judicial benefits" since November 1988. These benefits are paid in addition to the judges' State compensation of about $179,000 a year in salary, plus about $30,000 a year in State paid benefits. The current amount of County paid benefits is about $57,000 a year (the judges are allowed to take all of the County paid benefits in cash). This makes the total LA judges receive in excess of $260,000 annually (giving them more than any other group of judges in America, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court). This "double dipping" by the LA judges costs LA County taxpayers an estimated $20 million per year. (And LA County is continually cash strapped. I wonder why.)

The judges are employees of the State, not the County. And payment by the County is prohibited by the California Constitution, thus making the County paid benefits illegal. Actually, there is currently some controversy as to weather these payments are still illegal. In 2006, Judicial Watch challenged the payments in a case called Sturgeon v. LA County. After the trial court upheld the payments, Judicial Watch appealed and in 2008, the California Court of Appeals ruled that LA County's payments to the LA Superior Court judges were unconstitutional under Article VI, Section 19, of the California Constitution. The California Supreme Court subsequently denied review of the appeals court decision (meaning it did not disagree with the appeals court and would not overturn it). As a result the appeals court decision became law. But instead of abiding by the law, lobbyists were hired who convinced the State Legislature to sneak through a midnight bill, literally, called SBX2-11, which made the payments legal, authorized them to continue, and gave everyone involved retroactive immunity from criminal prosecution. (So a state senate bill can now override the CA Constitution? When did they change that? I missed it.) An additional problem with Senate Bill SBX2-11 is that the CA Constitution prohibits ex post facto (after the fact) laws from being enacted (Article I, Section 9). This means that Senate Bill SBX2-11 is also unconstitutional. Nevertheless, proponents of the judge's County paid benefits claim that these payments are now legal.

Regardless of the current legal status of the payments, questions that arises is why would the County pay for benefits that they aren't obligated to pay, and why make payments that were blatantly illegal for at least some of the time the County made the payments? The Supervisors claim they pay the extra benefits to "attract and retain quality judge". This is a confounding explanation given that there are thousands of qualified attorneys who would happily fill judicial openings at the legal base pay rate; and "retaining" judges with money makes even less sense because judges are elected. Perhaps the answer lies in the judge's decision record: not one LA County case has been lost when it was decided by a judge who collects the additional County benefits – no not one.

An argument against allowing judges to decide cases concerning the County at the same time that they are receiving sizable payments from the County is that the judges who receive the payments may hesitate to rule against the County if they felt the County could cut the payments in retaliation. This very argument was made by the founders of our nation. On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress approved a little document called the Declaration of Independence. Within it the founders enumerated a list of charges against King George III to show that he had violated the colonists’ rights and was therefore unfit to the their ruler. They wrote:
"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world . . . He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries."
This is the very thing that Mr. Fine is fighting against. For his trouble he has been locked in solitary confinement since March 4, 2009, he is not allowed to post bail nor have any kind of hearing. Additionally, Judge Yaffe ordered that Mr. Fine can't have paper and pencil with which to petition a higher court, nor does he have access to a law library or any legal materials. In short, Mr. Fine has been ordered to remain in jail until he relents. Welcome to LA County.

So what does all this have to do with the Cam Brown case? For one thing it shows that when the County's interests are at stake, the rule of law is duplicitous at best, amounting to nothing more than lip service. With regard to Cam Brown's case, a compelling, though circumstantial, argument can be made that the prosecution of Cam Brown isn't really about Lauren's death, but about hidden County interests that Lauren's death threatens (more precisely, about hidden County interests that an accidental death would threaten). We are not going to go into those specifics here (this is not the appropriate place for that) but we will say that we are not talking about potential liability, insurance claims, umbrella policies, nor anything remotely connected to such matters.

It may be a difficult to accept the notion that the prosecution of Cam Brown is driven by hidden County interests. Yet, it explains the multiple incongruent aspects of the case that are otherwise perplexing. The sheer volume of this kind of thing is considerable. As a result it is beyond the scope of a single blog entry to explore.

If we were to examine the prosecution's case, in spite of that, we'd find these claims have merit. If we started our examination at the very beginning and looked at how a homicide investigation was first initiated, and then looked at the investigator's behavior once they arrived at the scene – if we considered only these first few hours after Lauren's death, we'd find a pattern is already emerging. The pattern would show that the investigators were manipulating circumstances and events to make Lauren's death appear like a case of murder. If we continued our examination we'd find that this pattern persisted to the interrogation of Cam that night, the investigator's actions in the days, weeks and months that followed, and throughout each phase of this case until we reach this day, with the issue of double jeopardy in question. In the process we'd find multiple "irregularities" with each aspect of the prosecution's case. Such "irregularities" would include but not limited to, the machinations the coroner's department went through to reach the final version of the autopsy report, nearly two years of expert-shopping until a biomechanical expert willing to say what the prosecution wanted to hear was found, the biomechanical expert's methods and practices, and his final product and conclusions, the forensic accountant's process (not to mention her testimony at the second trial, which is much more than "irregular" and completely jaw-dropping) and much, much more.

We would also find that the investigators pursued Cam with a near maniacal zeal. This zeal is now being mimicked by the prosecutor, who is willing to take on double jeopardy, as he maliciously makes attempt after attempt to convict Cam of a crime that never happened. Despite all this, however, the worst thing we would find is that Lauren's mother, Sarah Key-Marer is being used and manipulated by County agents to protect the County's interests. Yes, that right, the grief of a mother's loss is being exploited to make this case. But, alas, the overwhelming amount of this kind of material makes covering it here more than daunting.

Written by Case Insider's Assistant

P.S. Even though we are engrossed in our own misfortune impinged by injustice, we are not blind to other's catastrophes. With that we want to say that our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti. In this most dark and dire time, we wish for you God's light, His strength and a conclusion wrought in His most profound blessing.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Defense Present It's Case

The first expert witness to appear on behalf of Cam Brown was Dr. Janice Ophoven from Minnesota. Dr. Ophoven also appeared during the first trial at which time her testimony was limited by Judge Mark Arnold. The autopsy was not considered a full document in that trial, several sections having been redacted. Judge Arnold limited the testimony accordingly.

I have linked the biography from one of Dr. Ophoven's websites here, and have reproduced a portion of it for your convenience as follows:

"Dr. Janice Ophoven is a pediatric forensic pathologist with more than 30 years of clinical, administrative and quality improvement experience. She is board certified in Pathology, Forensic Pathology, Quality Assurance and Utilization Review. Dr. Ophoven has focused her clinical practice on understanding child abuse and injury to children."

A review of Dr. Ophoven's history reveals that she was the only witness to appear on behalf of the defense in the Dierks shaken baby trial. Amy Dierks, a Sioux Falls daycare provider, was held to account for injuries sustained by baby Henry while under her care in November, 2007. Six-month old baby Henry had become lethargic and was in a coma-like state when his father took him from the day-care center on that bleak November day. Now two years old, baby Henry is blind and can barely crawl. His parents are still seeking answers about what happened that day. They believe Amy Dierks shook their son and banged his head, causing the injuries, but the jury took only four hours to agree with Dr. Ophoven's assessment that the child showed signs of something else happening days before he was under Dierks' care. The defense contended that a brain infection was the source of his injury.

Dr. Ophoven is involved in 50 to 75 cases internationally each year. She testifies for the prosecution and the defense, and most often regarding injuries or deaths involving children. Prior to becoming a forensic pathologist, Dr. Ophoven practiced as a Pediatrician. She is also an assistant medical examiner for St. Louis County, Minnesota.

The book The Death of Innocents, highlights Dr. Ophoven's role as a prosecution witness in the case of serial killer Waneta Hoyt, convicted for the murder of five of her infant children over a seven year period. Hoyt's sixth child, an adopted boy, grew up normally which added further support to Waneta's claims that the earlier deaths were caused by a genetic abnormality. Those deaths had been used as a scientific model to support SIDS research, but when this theory was challenged by additional information years later, Waneta admitted that she had killed each of her biological children because she couldn't tolerate hearing them cry. Oddly, the crying of her adopted son never bothered her in the same way.

Once a strong proponent of shaken baby syndrome, more recent research, information and anaysis has caused Dr. Ophoven to rethink previous beliefs. She has taken an opposing view in more recent cases and stands firmly in defense of those charged under the old theories. She is quite use to being called a defense-whore as a result of this, but is undeterred by her attackers. The number of previous cases which might now be reconsidered due to the studies and biomechanical research of her colleague, Dr. John Plunkett, is mind-boggling, but his work, work they had accomplished together, and the work of others has convinced Dr. Ophoven the phenomena of shaken baby syndrome is not conclusive and needs to be challenged on a case-by-case basis. An article which gives a more in-depth understanding of the work of Dr. Plunkett is found here. The debate will certainly bring about a flurry of review which could reach the proportions of that seen by the work of Barry Scheck and "The Innocence Project" due to dna. Unfortunately, once medical examiners have identified the three most common signs being used to identify the syndrome, other very important data which would support other explanations may have been overlooked and lost. Crime buffs might want to keep an eye on these developments because they are certain to raise much more conflict as future prosecutions are challenged by the scientific community.

The Cameron Brown trial is more straight forward, however. Were Lauren's injuries the result of a single high-velocity impact, or could they have been sustained in an accidental fall? Based on the autopsy report, (which miraculously contains all of the sections in this trial) what conclusions would Dr. Ophoven have reached regarding cause and manner of death?

Today's testimony took direct aim at the testimony of Dr. Wilson Hayes. Dr. Ophoven questioned the conclusions of Dr. Hayes based on the fact that he had no absolutes to work with and there were numerous variables that had not been taken into consideration in Dr. Hayes's model. She actually stated that she was embarrassed by Dr. Hayes's conclusions and could not reconcile the fact that he drew such a narrow conclusion based on the fact that there were so many other possibilities that were not given any consideration.

Dr. Ophoven reviewed the autopsy report from Dr. Chinwah and was asked to compare her findings of injuries with those of Dr. Chinwah. Large pictures were used for her to demonstrate to the jury what conclusions she reached and why. She identified substantially more injuries which pointed to multiple impacts, particularly a large area of contusion to the right side of Lauren's back which Dr. Chinwah didn't bother with at all in the first trial and Hayes brushed off as lividity in this trial. This bruising, by the way, is on the same side as the injury to Lauren's wrist (the right side). There was also 250cc of blood in her right chest cavity, contusions to her liver which is on the right side of her body, contusions on the right side of her diaphram, and a tear where the pancreas is attached (which is also on the right side of her body). The head and upper chest injury which Hayes and Chinwah claim is the result of the only impact Lauren suffered, is on the left side of her head and upper chest.

Lividity is one of the changes which occur after death. It takes a number of hours to become "fixed". When the heart stops pumping, blood will begin to settle in those areas which are lowest, but not in the areas which are in direct contact with a hard surface. This is because the vessels become constricted in those areas. The only reason lividity would show up on one side is if the body was lying on that side, in which case it would run along the entire length of the body. The fact that the area of concern in the pictures was exclusively on one side of Lauren's body while she was positioned on her back, and did not run the entire length was the first clue that the discoloration was not lividity.

Dr. Ophoven also noted many bruises and contusions to Lauren's limbs that had not been noted in the autopsy report. In fact, Dr. Chinwah had stated (as had Craig Hum) that Lauren's limbs did not show injuries. Dr. Ophoven concluded from all of the injuries that Lauren had sustained, that she had suffered "numerous and many" impacts, although she was unable to say how many.

Craig Hum tried to discredit Dr. Ophoven during the cross examination. He did not attack her on the basis of her testimony about the injuries, but rather about her personally. For instance, Dr. Ophoven is considered to be a pioneer in the area of pediatric forensics. She was considered an expert in the area many years before it was recognized and offered as a board certified specialty. Although she has been clearly looked up to in the field for many years, he attacked her on the basis that she did not bother to test for the pediatric certification which she had actually pioneered. He then went over the qualifications of Wilson Hayes, including the fact that he held a prestigious position at Harvard. In re-direct by Pat Harris, Dr. Ophoven reluctantly stated that Dr. Hayes had in fact lost his position at Harvard because of academic fraud.

Dr. Bruce Beckwith is due to testify tomorrow, and it is also expected that Detective Leslie will retake the witness stand because he traveled to Montana to consult with Dr. Beckwith.


Monday, August 11, 2008

When Law Enforcement becomes the Criminal

Recent readings of the cases discussed at The Innocence Project website , and others, has enhanced our curiosity with respect to seeing the violators pay for their deliberate efforts to deny fairness and civil rights to defendants who are being wrongly convicted of crimes. Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld should be repeatedly applauded for their work in getting the innocent out of jail, but who is taking this bull by the horns to see that those who violated law along the way are being held accountable?


Please visit sites that are concerned about protecting the civil rights of those being wrongfully prosecuted and convicted and remember that as long as we turn a blind eye toward justice we are opening the potential that the next person prosecuted wrongly for a felony could be YOU! As proven by Cam Brown, all it takes is a very unfortunate accident and investigators willing to lie and cover up exculpatory evidence in order to make someone pay.

Investigators, under the cover of a badge, have been given the right to lie in order to encourage statements from witnesses. There is nothing wrong (according to law) with the investigators saying that they have undeniable PROOF that someone committed a heinous crime and they desperately need the help of others in order to present it to the court. The question that should be asked is, "If your proof is so good, why are you bothering me? I've got no evidence!"

Suddenly the scream of a seagull (which has been heard often and repeatedly) becomes the scream of a child. Suddenly a child bending over to pick up rocks becomes a child crawling along on all fours! Suddenly the statements of a defendant are forgotten and replaced by "I believe..." this or that may have happened... in an effort to create an illusion rather than facts. Suddenly expert testimony that holes in the ground can NOT be footprints are ignored in favor of statements that someone thought they "looked" like they could be footprints. Suddenly the truth of the matter no longer matters as prosecutors cleverly conspire with others to create an illusion and pass it off as facts.

Our current laws which allow law enforcement to lie to witnesses and the courts and then be protected by immunity lay the foundation for corruption in our system. All you need to do is go to the Innocence Project, Truth in Justice or any of the other sites around the internet to see how justice has been manipulated in order to find innocent people guilty of crimes they did not commit. Our justice system is supposed to prevent that from happening, but under the current methods it encourages it.

While none of us wants to see a guilty person walk away from their crimes, all of us have a responsibility to make sure justice is administered fairly, swiftly and accurately. A sobering reminder from the Innocence Project:

Innocence Project Case Profiles

There have been 218 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history. These stories are becoming more familiar as more innocent people gain their freedom through postconviction testing. They are not proof, however, that our system is righting itself.

The common themes that run through these cases — from global problems like poverty and racial issues to criminal justice issues like eyewitness misidentification, corrupt scientists, overzealous police and prosecutors and inept defense counsel — cannot be ignored and continue to plague our criminal justice system.

* Sixteen people had been sentenced to death before DNA proved their innocence and led to their release.
* The average sentence served by DNA exonerees has been 12 years.
* About 70 percent of those exonerated by DNA testing are members of minority groups.
* In over 35 percent of the cases profiled here, the actual perpetrator has been identified by DNA testing.
* Exonerations have been won in 32 states and Washington, D.C.

Please visit their site and take an interest in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system. Please help in any way you can to make sure no other person is held to pay for a crime they didn't commit.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Accuracy in Media and those Stubborn little things called FACTS!

The Los Angeles Men's Central Jail has a library? Wow! Who knew?

It's interesting that a very recent article in The Daily Breeze, written by Denise Nix, would lead us to believe there is a library there. And that information is according to none other than Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lockfield. Quoting a portion of the article as it appeared in the Daily Breeze on June 18, 2008:

Cameron Brown shank case dismissed

Prosecutors dropped a weapon posession [sic] charge today for a man jailed while waiting trial in connection to his 4-year-old daughter's Rancho Palos Verdes cliff death.

Cameron Brown, 46, was charged with one felony count of custodial posession [sic] of a weapon after a jailer found a razor blade in a book Brown borrowed from the jail library, according to Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lockfield.

Lockfield said the case was dismissed because he did not believe it could be proved that Brown knew about the razor.

First of all, I believe there are rules with regard to a prosecutor providing false or misleading information to the media, and nothing can be more false or more misleading than the statement Ms. Nix claims Lockfield made. Mr. Brown did NOT borrow a book from the library. Furthermore, the Men's Central Jail, according to Deputy Nawotny who testified during the Preliminary Hearing, has NO library!

The Daily Breeze is a well-known and relied upon source of news in the beach communities surrounding the Palos Verdes Peninsula. As such, it would seem they have a responsibility to make sure their customers are provided with unbiased reporting. I don't know what ever happened to "fact checking", but it seems to have taken a back seat to sensationalism. At the very least Ms. Nix might have been wise to add the caveat, "the unconfirmed statement of DDA Lockfield". Or, perhaps, Ms. Nix might have checked with the defense team to see if they have anything else to add to these developments.

Well, I guess we aren't always lucky enough to get what we pay for, but we will do our very best to take up the slack and correct the mistakes.