Tag Archives: miranda

UPDATE: TRIAL POSTPONED – Jury Selection to Begin in Lavaya May Trial

Tuesday morning update: the trial has been postponed. As of this morning, the State is asking to stay the trial to appeal the court’s ruling yesterday that the notebook written by Lavaya May would not be admissible. The problem with that is, the Defendant had demanded a speedy trial, so the state is asking the judge to stay the speedy trial until the appeal can be ruled on. That’s extraordinary relief. WINK news is reporting that the trial will be put off up to 90 days, but it sounds like things are very much in flux, at this point.

  • May Accused of 2nd Degree Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder and other charges
  • May Allegedly got persuaded 2 of her friend to kill 58-year-old Ted Lee
  • May, who is still a minor, claims Lee started molesting her when she was 8-years-old
lavaya may

Lavaya May

The trial and jury selection for the murder trial of Lavaya May is scheduled to start Tuesday morning, the trial could take 2 or even 3 weeks to complete, according to the attorneys handling the case. Although May was 16 at the time, she has been charged as an adult, and is facing life in prison on the murder charge.

The prosecution just found out that they lost some of their evidence after a day-long suppression hearing. The judge heard evidence and argument on Friday, and just Monday afternoon ruled that the state cannot introduce evidence from a journal that Ms. May was keeping in custody.

That’s the second suppression loss for the state, as the court previously ruled that the statement Ms. May made when she was arrested was illegally obtained in violation her rights. After the killing, May and the others fled out of state. When they were arrested, an attorney ad-litem who had been appointed to May contacted the Sheriff’s office and indicated she was invoking Ms. May’s right to have her attorney present. Detectives, recognized the issue, and contacted the State Attorney’s office, who incorrectly advised them to proceed with the interrogation of the juvenile May without her attorney. It was a clear violation of her right to counsel, and now they will not get to use her statement, either.

Jonathan Ruffini

Jonathan Ruffini

The State’s star witness will likely be the co-defendant, Jonathan Ruffini. Ruffini, who was 18-years-old at the time of the offense, a year ago, has already entered a guilty plea, and agreed to accept 25 years in prison for his role, in exchange for agreeing to testify. The other defendant, then-23-year-old Hunter Tyson, has also accepted a plea agreement for 40 years in prison, and there is no indication in his court file that he was given consideration for cooperation. It’s anticipated that Ruffini will testify that he and Tyson committed the murder at the behest of his friend/girlfriend May, due to her complaints about being molested by Lee. (Lee doesn’t have a DOC photo yet, as he’s being held in the Lee County Jail in anticipation of his being called to testify in the May case. There have been some changes in his story, and only recently did the state list him as a witness, so he may not be that reliable for them.

hunter tyson

Hunter Tyson

The challenge for the state is substantial, as it appears pretty clear that Ruffini and Tyson committed the murder, by baseball bat and knife- with Tyson being the primary killer. To prove a murder, they don’t have to show that May personally took part in the killing, but they can prove that she was a principal to the murder if she aided, abetted, or even encouraged the crime. Under Florida’s principal theory, she is

hunter tyson doc.jpg

Hunter Tyson in DOC

just as guilty as the others if she is found to be a principal. She is also charged with Conspiracy, for plotting the killing with the others. She may garner some sympathy, if the Defense is able to introduce the allegations that Lee had molested her for years. However, that is not legal justification for murder, as the abuse was in the, and would not present an immediate danger for self-defense/justifiable use of deadly force. More likely, the Defense team is going to try to frame the case as an act that was done by Tyson and Ruffini on their own, and not at the instigation of May. Both Tyson and Ruffini have admitted to committing the murder, and plead out to murder charges, but May can only bring that up if they are called in to testify. She can still blame Tyson, even if his admission is not admitted. Ruffini’s statement points the finger primarily at Tyson, and the Defense will try to say he’s blaming May to get a lesser sentence. The trial will be interesting to watch.

 

Florida Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Right to Remain Silent

I was actually kind of surprised they had to litigate this issue, what with the right to remain silent being a Constitutionally protected right. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that it is  improper for the state to comment on the the pre-Miranda silence of a Defendant who does not take the stand. Basically, if someone exercises their right to remain silent… it cannot be used against them. I suspect the Florida Supreme Court was suprised the issue needed to be litigated, the 4th DCA opinion that they upheld was just issued on February 18. The appellate court certified the question as one of great public importance, but that is still an impressive turnaround at the highest court in the state.

donna horwitz

Donna Horwitz, via FL DOC

The Court sent back the conviction of Donna Horwitz, convicted of first degree murder in the death of her husband. When police responded to the shooting, they asked Ms. Horwitz several questions, and she stood mute. The prosecutor successfully argued at trial that her silence was indicative of a consciousness of guilt, and she was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The Court ruled, consistent with longstanding precedent around the country, that his is unfair comment on the right to remain silent. It would essentially force a defendant to testify to rebut the assertion, which is improper.

Further, the court observed that the evidence of silence would not be relevant and is inadmissible under basic rules of evidence. While silence potentially could indicate consciousness of guilt, the meaning is ambiguous. It could be shock, or a concern that officers would not believe the story, or many other things. Due to the ambiguity, it is not relevant to the elements of the crime, and would also be inadmissible for this reason.

You have a right to remain silent… use it. The State cannot use it against you if you do.

The Opinion

Did Authorities Violate Alleged Boston Bomber’s Rights by Not Reading Miranda Rights

When the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokar Tsarnev, was being sought, debate was roiling over whether or not authorities should read him his Miranda Warnings prior to questioning him, and whether he should be classified as an enemy combatant. The second argument did not go very far, as Mr. Tsarnev is a U.S. citizen, and is afforded the same rights as all citizens under the constitution, including due process and the right to an attorney. The more heated debate centered on whether he should be read Miranda.

The Justice Department stated their intention to not advise Mr. Tsarnev of his Miranda rights, saying that their questioning would be allowed under the public safety exception. All indications are that Mr. Tsarnev was not advised at the initiation of his interrogation, and that he has been communicating with law enforcement. The failure to read Miranda does not mean that authorities could not question him, but typically any statements obtained from such a custodial interrogation could not be used against him in court. Such statements were not admissible under the Miranda ruling by the Supreme Court, until they carved out the public safety exception in a case known as New York v. Quarles. The Quarles decision in 1984 drew a very narrow exception for questions in the interest of public safety. In that case, Mr. Quarles had been detained after ditching a firearm, and the officer asked a few questions about the whereabouts of the gun prior to reading Mr. Quarles his Miranda. The court found that under those facts, an exception was proper, and the state could use those statements in the prosecution of the case against him.

The FBI latched onto the idea of the public safety exception, and spent some time reviewing and planning when they felt they might be able to use it to avoid the reading of Miranda. They produced an internal memo in 2010 outlining which circumstances they could cite the exception to avoid the Miranda reading. The New York Times obtained a copy of that memo and published it in 2011. This presents several logistical problems, as well as a concern that the FBI has made a concerted effort to deny detainees their Constitutional rights.

The public safety exception, as outlined by Quarles, is limited to a very narrow set of facts and circumstances. Justice Rehnquist specifically discussed  that there was an element of spontaneity involved when suspects are arrested in the field as Mr. Quarles was. That does not appear to fit the facts of Mr. Tsarnev’s situation. Rehnquist contrasts those questions in the field to the inherently coercive nature of interrogation in the confines of a police station house. There is a danger for the government that there was a coercive nature to Mr. Tsarnev’s custodial interrogation in the hospital, where he was undoubtedly tied down and confronted by multiple trained interrogators who had time to formulate their questions. The FBI memo attempts to broaden the scope of the public safety exception, but such internal memos carry no force of law. It’s possible that interrogators’ reliance on the FBI’s interpretation of the exception could taint Tsarnev’s statement; and a judge might refuse to admit those statements. This may not be a major issue in Tsarnev’s case, as the government may feel they have enough evidence against him without needing to rely on his statements. They certainly will be challenged by the Defense if the case ends up going to trial, as the facts of Mr. Tsarnev’s interrogation do not fit the facts of Quarles and its narrow exception.

It is possible the court could further expand the public safety exception. The Quarles language is very limited and fact specific, but it is easy to imagine situations where such an exception would be appropriate. Imagine a scenario where terrorists are planning to detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and are on the verge of doing so (a Jack Bauer situation). What if agents were able to capture a conspirator who had information about how to stop the imminent attack: would we want them to advise the terrorist he didn’t have to talk to them? In such a hypothetical, the public interest would be better served by allowing the interrogation to proceed, unadvised. The public interest would favor the greater good of seeking information to protect more people from harm, and could still be a limited enough public safety exception to warrant abuse from overly broad interrogations. I recognize the slippery-slope concern of further abrogating Miranda, but it might be appropriate under limited factual circumstances. As it is, the government has rarely attempted to claim the public safety exception, so there is not a great body of law on the subject. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2013/04/dzhokhar_tsarnaev_and_miranda_rights_the_public_safety_exception_and_terrorism.html

Miranda Arrest Remembered 50 Years Later

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Ernesto Miranda in Phoenix, whose appeal of his conviction was the named case that we refer to when we talk about people being informed of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney: being read their Miranda rights. The Supreme Court created a format that would make it easy for law enforcement to follow and create a bright-line rule to determine if a person’s statements would be admissible against them. Law Enforcement officers are required to inform suspects of their rights if they are going to interrogate them after arrest. The case remains one of the most important landmarks for the protection of individual rights in our nation’s history.

I add that the Miranda rights do not have to be read after every arrest. In Florida, cops actually don’t have to tell people what they are being arrested for at that time. Miranda readings are only required if the cops interrogate someone after arresting them. I am adding this because that’s one of the most common misconceptions defense attorneys see among accused people, generally. It’s also fascinating to learn that the decision didn’t help Miranda, anyway. He was given a new trial without his confession being entered, and he was convicted anyway.

http://nation.time.com/2013/03/13/phoenix-police-mark-50-years-since-miranda-arrest/

Supreme Court to Hear Case That May Allow Silence to be Used as Evidence of Guilt

Generally, an individual has  right to remain silent, and his or her exercise of that right cannot be used against him in a court of law. However, some courts have found that in some circumstances, the government may be allowed to introduce a suspect’s silence as evidence of guilt. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas has held in Salinas v. Texas* that Mr. Salinas’ refusal to answer certain questions in a pre-arrest, pre-Miranda interview were not protected by the Fifth Amendment. You can read all the documents at SCOTUSblog.

The courts have previously determined that if someone is formally placed under arrest (or if they are informed of their rights), their Fifth Amendment protections would be preserved. Crimcourts has some concern that if someone’s silence can be used against them, regardless at what stage of a proceeding, then they are almost compelled to talk. That is, the suspect is given a choice to answer, or to have that silence used against them at trial. If they are to be punished for being silent, their testimony is compelled to some degree. Different courts have ruled differently on the issue, and the resulting conflict in the law was likely a prompt for the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case to review and rule definitively on the issue.

*Salinas v. Texas, 369 S.W.3d 176 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012). http://www2.bloomberglaw.com/desktop/public/document/Salinas_v_State_369_SW3d_176_Tex_Crim_App_2012_Court_Opinion

 

Two of Casey Anthony’s Convictions Overturned

Two of the four convictions Ms. Anthony received for lying to police have been thrown out for double jeopardy. The Courts ruled that the state could not convict someone of multiple statements during the same interrogation. Thus the court rejected the theory argued by prosecutor Jeff Ashton in his book, and again by the appellate counsel. The Court also rejected the Defense argument that the interview was single episode. The 5th District Court found that since there were separate interviews, with a significant temporal break between them, that constituted two separate occasions of giving false information. The Court upheld two convictions, and threw out the other two. This doesn’t have a major impact for Ms. Anthony, as she has already served her time for those misdemeanor offenses.

Also, Crimcourts got a chance to watch the movie about Miss Anthony’s case, Prosecuting Casey Anthony, which was based on Jeff Ashton’s book. It was not as one-sided as I was afraid, being based on the prosecutor’s book. Rob Lowe was fine as Ashton, though I have come accustomed to his comedic roles. Oscar Nunez (Oscar from the office) was excellent as Anthony’s attorney Jose Baez… perhaps too polished for Mr. Baez. The movie didn’t capture the tension the case carried in the courtroom. It did show that there was some ambiguity in the evidence but, true to life, Mr. Ashton had his prosecution blinders on. It’s probably only worth watching if you followed the case closely.

http://www.5dca.org/Opinions/Opin2013/012113/5D11-2357.op.pdf

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2216088/

Casey Anthony Appeal to be Heard Today

Casey Anthony’s attorneys are appealing her convictions for false statements to law enforcement, arguing she was in custody when the statements were made. Her Miranda Rights had not been read to her at the time. Under Florida law, it is not necessary for officers to formally handcuff and inform someone of their arrest for the Miranda requirement to apply. If the totality of circumstances would cause a reasonable person to feel that they were not free to terminate the encounter, they are effectively in custody and law enforcement should inform them of their rights. Law enforcement walks a fine line in such circumstances: while they don’t deliberately want to violate someone’s rights, or have their evidence thrown out of court, their priority in a missing person case is to locate that person. Sometimes the overriding desire of locating a missing child is worth the risk of losing some evidence at court. (A well-known case is John Couey, which inspired Jessica’s Laws around the country, known as the Lunsford Act in Florida. I did not realize it, but Couey died of anal cancer after being convicted of that murder.)

http://www.winknews.com/Local-Florida/2013-01-08/Panel-to-Hear-Casey-Anthony-Appeal-Case