Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Week of September 8-11

Based on last week's rulings, I have three cases to detail:

1) In United States v. Callahan et. al, Case No. 14-3771, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentences for a case relating to forced labor allegations. The defendants went to trial, were convicted, and filed post-conviction motions. The first issue related to a jurisdictional and statutory interpretation issue. Specifically, the appellants sought relief under Bond v. United States, a recent Supreme Court case regarding the reach of federal statutes. Last year, in United States v. Toviave, the Sixth Circuit extended Bond's holding in a forced labor case, holding Toviave's conduct was not the type of conduct Congress meant to regulate and criminalize. In the instant case, the Sixth Circuit distinguished Toviave, finding the appellants conduct was more consistent with the aims of the statute (18 USC 1589). The Court concluded "a rational trier of fact could conclude that S.E. provided labor or services." p. 12. The Court's conclusion makes it seem that the appellate claim was on a weight of the evidence, or sufficiency claim, but Bond/Toviave go directly to the reach of the statute in a more jurisdictional and federalism standpoint. So, the Court's conclusion leaves us wondering.
There are also some interesting jury instruction issues regarding the kidnapping instruction and the quantum of proof required by the instructions.

2) United States v. Brown, No. 13-1761. This case presents an interesting set of circumstances, as law enforcement used an informant to set up a drug buy from the appellant. This led to Appellant being arrested during a traffic stop. Warrants were subsequently obtained for his house and cell phones, leading to additional evidence. On appeal, Brown challenged the denial of his motions to suppress. The Court discussed the requirement that a search warrant must have a nexus to the evidence sought and the place searched. p. 8. The Court looked at the fact that the affidavit to search the home contained no evidence that Brown sold drugs from the home or used the residence for storing drugs. The court stated it was a "close question" as to whether this met the demands of Fourth Amendment, but because the affidavit contained enough of a connection. The Court relied entirely on the fact Brown's car was registered to his home, and therefore there was a fair probability his home would contain evidence of the crime. p. 12. The court's analysis of the facts is pretty short considering the legal analysis that precedes it; the court's awareness that this is a "close question" should give us some solace (but not Mr. Brown), but it really seems like a case of the tail wagging the dog. Judge Clay writes a dissent on this issue detailing the lack of evidence supporting a just affidavit.
If you want to bone up on your evidence caselaw regarding authentication, there is also a discussion on whether a "drug ledger" was properly admitted. The court held its contents were not hearsay, and an agent involved in the search could testify to authenticate it.

3) McCarley v. Kelly, No. 12-3825. This is a 2254 habeas case. The petitioner was convicted in state court of aggravated murder. McCarley's girlfriend was killed in 1992, and police claimed her 3 year old son identified McCarley. The child was taken to a child psychologist to elicit similar statements days later. Twelve years later, McCarley was indicated. He was found guilty, but an error vacated the jury's first verdict. In 2007, a second jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to life. He proceeded with habeas, which was initially denied by the district court. The Sixth Circuit reversed and ordered a conditional writ. In June, the Supreme Court vacated that opinion based on David v. Ayala. On remand, the district court again denied relief. In the instant appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, again ordering a conditional writ.
Now that all the procedural history is out of the way, here's the merits. The Court held that the admission of the child psychologist's testimony was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Specifically, the testimony violated the confrontation clause and Crawford v. Washington. At trial, one of the lieutenants was permitted to read letters between himself and the psychologist detailing the results of the evaluation of the child. The Court found this was "testimonial" evidence, under Crawford and Davis v. Washington. The Court declared the child psychologist was acting more as a police interrogator than a private counselor, and thus an agent of law enforcement. p. 13. The Court relied on the trial testimony in which law enforcement stated the psychologist's "main reason" for the sessions with the child were to "get information" police could not get from the child to identify the suspect for the investigation. p. 14. The court held this was classic testimonial evidence and therefore the state court unreasonable applied Crawford/Davis. The Court then provided a detailed analysis of the remaining testimony, showing "the importance" of the testimony of the psychologist both in the case-in-chief and closing argument. Because the psychologist's testimony was the "keystone" of the state's case, admission of the admission was not harmless error and therefore required relief.
This case provides a very thorough analysis if you have a habeas issue regarding confrontation.


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