Regarding The Guy Charged With a Machete Attack Who Has A Machete Tattooed On His Face

I know these stories are stupid, but I love them, and besides, I can’t pass up the chance to correct Jonathan Turley.

Justin Arthur Allen Couch, 25, pictured above,  is charged with using a machete to attack the victim in the arm and leg during an argument in Tarrytown, Florida. The victim is alive but may have permanent injuries. Couch, as you can see above, has a drawing of a machete tattooed on his face. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Of course, the tattoo doesn’t prove that he’s guilty of a machete attack. It’s circumstantial evidence at best. In fact, if I were defending Couch, I’d be tempted to argue to the jury that the machete should make them question whether Couch was the attacker. Who would be so stupid as to use a machete as a weapon when one is right there on his face? I sure wouldn’t. I’d use a hammer, a golf club, a seafood fork, indeed anything but a machete.

Then again, I would never have a machete tattooed on my face. That act alone raises a rebuttable presumption that Couch is an idiot.

Professor Turley, writing about the case, opines,

Face tattoos are unlikely to be receive assistance from the court in allowing a shroud or covering. The machete tattoo is one of the choices in life that comes back to haunt you in your machete attack case.

The Professor could doubtless make me look like a baboon in a law school class, but he is wrong on this topic, which is a specialty of mine. Turley cites some amusing cases, like the man accused of sexual assault with a forehead where a tattoo reads “I’m a pornstar. I fuck Teen Sluts”…

…and this doofus, who faced charges for multiple crimes….

Continue reading

So The Judge’s Wife Is On The Jury…Wait, WHAT?

“Hi hon!”

I haven’t seen this before.

Judge Thomas Ensor of Adams County, Colorado, now retired, sat back and allowed his wife to be empaneled on the jury trying Gary Val Richardson for allegedly firing one or two shots in the direction of police officers during a 2013 standoff.

The judge even thought the situation was funny. He joked during jury selection that lawyers should “be nice to Juror 25. My dinner is on the line.” After the jury was selected and sworn in, Ensor told the lawyers that he had never heard of a sitting judge having a spouse or family member on the jury. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “I think she’ll be a fine juror. I have not spoken to her about this case.”

One of my rules of thumb for avoiding legal ethics problems in trial is that if you’ve never heard of something being done before, there’s probably a good reason not to be the first to do it. Continue reading

Take THAT, Supreme Court Cynics! Ramos v. Louisiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court today over-ruled, 6-3, its really bad 1972 holding that rights, like the 6th amendment fair trial requirements, were not necessarily incorporated into the states by the 14th. Oregon and Louisiana, astoundingly, did not require unanimous jury verdicts of guilty in criminal cases, allowing 10-2 convictions. In Louisiana, the anomaly  was an 1898 relic of the Jim Crow era; I have no idea what Oregon’s excuse was.

Louisianans voted in 2018 to do away with the practice,  passing an amendment to the state constitution requiring unanimous verdicts going forward. But up to a hundred prisoners,  like Evangelisto Ramos who was serving a life prison sentence after being convicted of murder in a 10-2 jury vote, will get new trials because their convictions came under the old, unconstitutional law and their appeals aren’t exhausted. The case is Louisiana v. Ramos.

Two aspects of the decision are especially noteworthy, other than the fact that its seems obviously correct. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, ‘Sorry’ Isn’t Enough.”

The recent post about a Louisiana man sent to prison for 36 years when procsecutors and a jury ignored the fact that the evidence didn’t meet the standard for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt  sparked many excellent comments. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by a commenter that failure to dispense criminal justice competently should earn the same fate as Admiral Ozzel in “Star Wars”—he was strangled to death by an angry Darth Vader’s Dark Force powers—inspired long-time commenter mariedowd to write this Comment of the Day regarding juries, prosecutors and professionalism:

I agree the Ozzel is far too harsh. I think it is hard enough to get reasonably educated and alert jurors. Adding a risk when  they don’t really understand the proceedings and follow along when one set of lawyers plays their sympathies or fears better than the other will not improve the situation at all.

 I think jury pools should not be linked to voting rolls, because it discourages registering and voting. Non-voters fear the loss of income and time that comes with jury service,  AND their vote never accomplishes anything (they think), so why bother? I once got a preliminary  call to jury duty halfway across the state when I had serious mobility problems.  I was looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars in lost income for a long Federal case. The threat of costs and holes in lives pushes away competent, aware citizens, leaving a high percentage of jury membership  to the fringes, and fringes have  axes to grind.

Maybe we should attach jury selection to Social Security, as that is a larger pool Using drivers’ licenses is also a possible improvement, because it ties into citizenship.  Let’s make jury service less of a sacrifice for people who cannot dump their daily duties for unknown periods with the threat of lost income.

Maybe proximity to the courts should factor into selection, so travel isn’t such a problem. For a courtroom 70 minutes, away my elderly mother was supposed to travel to a strange town by  bus for an 8 am call. She simply does not have the energy for all that back and forth, even though she is alert and would make be a competent juror. Jury deliberations should be a juror’s burden, not getting to court: you can’t concentrate on the case if you ache from the journey. I don’t know exactly how to fix this, but the current system sorts out some good potential jurors while attracting less desirable varieties. Continue reading

Unethical Prosecution, Incompetent Jury: Once Again, “Sorry” Isn’t Enough.

After Archie Williams (above) was released from a federal penitentiary  last week after serving 36 years  not only for a crime he didn’t commit, but  after a false conviction that would have been prevented by decisive exculpatory evidence that was available to the prosecution from the beginning. The district attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish, Hillar C. Moore III, said in court, “As a representative of the state, I apologize.”

I’m sure that makes Williams feel all warm inside. As we discussed here just this month in another case of wrongful arrest, trial and imprisonment, the kind of life-destroying mistakes that send citizens to prison for crimes they didn’t commit must involve accountability for those responsible beyond mere financial damages paid by the State.

This case is especially infuriating. It was known at the trial, and admitted by the prosecution, that  fingerprints found at the scene where a woman had been raped and stabbed in in Baton Rouge, La. belonged to someone other than the man standing trial for the crime.  Under basic prosecutorial ethics, Williams shouldn’t have been charged. The prints guaranteed reasonable doubt.  An ethical  prosecutor is not supposed to decide, “Well, maybe we can convince the jury to ignore those prints.” Prosecutors aren’t supposed to fool juries.  Ethical prosecution demanded that the State acknowledge doubt, no matter how much it wanted to clear the case, The victim of the attack was the wife of a wealthy and powerful man.

Instead, the prosecutor at the trial trivialized the significance of the then-unidentified fingerprints found at the scene.  “How many people come through your house?” Jeff Hollingsworth asked the jury, after suggesting that the prints could have belonged to  a plumber or a carpenter, “The air-conditioning man, people who clean your carpets, the little girl home from school.”

Then it was the duty of the police to determine who those people were, match the prints, and determine that they didn’t commit the crime. Without that due diligence, there is doubt as a matter of reason as well as ethics.

Technicians in a crime lab eventually ran the fingerprints  through a national database, and  within hours there was a match with a serial rapist. That happened last week, however, almost four decades after the prints should have been identified. When Williams  requested that the fingerprints be run against the national database in 1999, prosecutors opposed his request and  no statute required them to comply…just fairness and an interest in justice.

The fingerprints weren’t the only reason the jury should have acquitted Williams. Although the victim was certain that he was her attacker, several aspects of her description of the rapist didn’t match  Williams. His lawyer at the trial, Kathleen S. Richey, accurately told the jury that  the victim had described a  taller man with a scar on his shoulder blade.  Williams did not; he had a scar on his upper arm.

The jury found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt anyway. He was 22 when police arrested him. Archie is Williams is 58 today.

It was dawning on criminologists by 1983 that eye witness testimony was less reliable than previously thought, and that identification could be negligently or intentionally be manipulated by police. Combined with the mysterious fingerprints, the shaky ID should have assured Williams’ acquittal. Juries, however, don’t know the law, don’t have experience evaluating evidence, and sometimes, as Reginald Rose pointed out in “Twelve Angry Men,” just want to get home, are misled by their biases, or just aren’t very bright.

I hesitate to call for some kind of sanctions or penalties when a jury botches its job like this; after all, the police screwed up, the prosecution was unethical, the judge let it all happen, and they were doing jobs that they had been trained to do. Nonetheless, it seems like some consequences of a bad verdict might focus jurors attention a bit more, to the benefit of justice. What those consequences might be, I have no idea.

I would support a law mandating the resignation and permanent bar from further prosecuting duties any prosecutor involved in sending an innocent man to prison, however.

It’s fascinating that such a case should come to public attention at the same time that activists, feminists and progressives are arguing that the presumption of innocence for men accused of sex crimes should be reduced. Archie Williams graphically shows where that position leads.

Comment Of The Day: “If The News Media Won’t Resist Publicizing Big Lies, What Hope Is There?”

In response to the post about the mainstream news media still presenting the deaths of Freddie Gray and Mike Brown as “murders” despite all evidence and judicial law enforcement determinations to the contrary, Matthew B raised some interesting questions that I’ve pondered myself.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “If The News Media Won’t Resist Publicizing Big Lies, What Hope Is There?:

I don’t understand why the Black Lives Matters focuses in on the cases that don’t make their point. They should be using Philando Castile as a rallying cry, not Freddie Gray.

I also don’t get what is wrong with most white people. How can we have shootings like Daniel Shaver and think there is nothing wrong? We’ve got a police training issue where an unreasonable level of fear pervades contact with the public and a criminal justice problem where officers are given the King’s pass because too many people view police officers as the good guys no matter what. The BLM crowd is unethical in its conduct in trying to make their point. We’ve got the other side who’s unethically blind and want to ignore that the problem exists.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, “June Had Better Be Better Than May” Edition: Wait, CNN Is Condemning Double Standards? [UPDATED]

Good morning…

1. How low can the New York Times go?  Even lower than I thought...In today editorial, the Times editorial board complains about President Trump’s pardon of conservative writer  Dinesh D’Souza, whom it describes as a “right-wing troll.” Okay…and by that kind of measure, the entire Times editorial staff is a collective left-wing troll. The Times notes that D’Souza is “known for, among other things, posting racist tweets about President Barack Obama [ The Times identified a single “racist tweet,” but in any event, such tweets are not illegal]  spreading the lie that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator [ Not a lie, just an unfair characterization that D’Souza may genuinely believe. Lying is also not illegal, and the Times should be grateful for this given its own proclivities] and writing that “the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well” [ An opinion, if an obnoxious one, and also not illegal.] So what? None of that justifies D’Souza’s prosecution on a technical election law violation that many found to be politically motivated and pushed by those who took offense at, well, exactly what the Times cited about him. Bill Clinton, during the 2016 primaries, openly violated the law by politicking for Hillary at a polling place in Massachusetts without any consequences. That was selective non-prosecution if the offense was usually enforced, and would have been selective, suspicious prosecution if he had been charged when most violators are not. There are good reasons, in other words, to believe that an anti-Obama, anti-Democrat gadfly was targeted vindictively by the Obama administration to chill his political speech. Trump’s pardon is defensible, if provocative. Then the Times writes,

“The tendency of presidents of both parties to reward cronies with clemency — from Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton’s of the financier Marc Rich — is one Washington tradition that we’d welcome Mr. Trump smashing.”

You read that correctly. The New York Times just sunk to a new low, which is quite an achievement, comparing Gerald Ford’s brave, wise, and politically ruinous pardon of Richard Nixon for the good of the nation (and it was good for the nation, while a protracted political show trial of a disgraced President would not have been) to Bill Clinton’s probably criminal pardon of fugitive Marc Rich, whose ex-wife coincidentally followed up Clinton’s  defiantly perverse  act with a huge financial gift to Clinton’s Presidential library.

2. How to invalidate an apology in one, stupid step. Yesterday “Cunt”-Hurler Samantha Bee apologized “sincerely” for her scurrilous attack on Ivanka Trump after it began to appear that her incivility might lose her show some sponsors. Then she almost immediately showed how sincerely ( as in “not one bit”) at last night’s award ceremony, as the Television Academy  honored Bee’s  “Full Frontal”  for “advancing social change” (as in ‘pushing partisan anger and hate to the point where a civil war is no longer unthinkable.’ Yay Samantha!). Her award should have been cancelled, of course, and by awarding it to Bee anyway, the Academy tacitly endorsed the position that Ivanka Trump is a “feckless cunt.” Continue reading

About The Cosby Verdict

Serial rapist and sexual predator Bill Cosby was found guilty today. From the New York Times:

A jury found Bill Cosby guilty Thursday of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home near here 14 years ago, capping the downfall of one of the world’s best-known entertainers, and offering a measure of satisfaction to the dozens of women who for years have accused him of similar assaults against them.

On the second day of its deliberations at the Montgomery County Courthouse in this town northwest of Philadelphia, the jury returned to convict Mr. Cosby of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, at the time a Temple University employee he had mentored.

The three counts — penetration with lack of consent, penetration while unconscious and penetration after administering an intoxicant — are felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in state prison, though the sentences could be served concurrently.

Observations:

1 Good. Cosby should be serving hard time for rape. This verdict won’t accomplish that, and he has the resources to keep the matter tied up in appeals, maybe even forcing a new trial. Never mind: the verdict itself is satisfying punishment for a true ethics villain.

2. The verdict overcame the Cognitive Dissonance Scale, and that’s no mean feat. The jury deserves a lot of credit. Here, for the umpteenth time, is the scale:

Celebrities—or the characters they are identified with— are typically so high on the scale ( think of Bill/Cliff Huxtable as a plus 100) that even the evidence of a crime can’t pull them down sufficiently for jurors to be able to resolve the dissonance when they are thinking, “But he’s a great man and a wonderful person! How could he do these things?” The dissonance creates automatic reasonable doubt, all by itself, at least with enough jurors to ensure a mistrial, as in Cosby’s first trial. Hence O.J. Errol Flynn was acquitted of statutory rape. Robert Blake (“Baretta”) was acquitted of murdering his wife. Bill Cosby figured to have an unusually strong celebrity shield, but several  factors overcame it:

  • the amount of evidence against him.
  • the fact that what he did represented such a betrayal of his public image
  • the judge allowing, in the re-trial, other victims to testify
  • the series of previously admired show business figures who have been exposed as predators and sexual abusers since the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck pulled out of the station, and
  • the fact that Cosby peak celebrity was decades ago.

If the trial had occurred at the time of “The Cosby Show,” I wonder if any evidence could have convinced a jury to convict him. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 12, 2018: Mistakes, Senators, Survivors, The Pope And Cosby

Good morning!

(I’m in a good mood because this happened last night…)

1. Incompetent elected officials of the month…From Reason:

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary and Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s insufficient efforts to protect users’ personal data…

Sen. Roy Blunt, (R–Mo.) … didn’t seem to understand that Facebook lacks a means of accessing information from other apps unless users specifically opt in…. Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.) needed a lot of clarification on how Facebook Messenger interacts with cellular service. Zuckerberg had to carefully explain to Sen. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii) that WhatsApp is encrypted, and Facebook can’t read, let alone monetize, the information people exchange using that service. Zuckerberg had to explain to multiple senators, including Sen. Dean Heller (R–Nev.), that Facebook doesn’t technically sell its data: The ad companies don’t get to see the raw information. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.) brought along a poster on which his office had printed out images of various Facebook pages. Leahy asked whether these were Russian propaganda groups. “Senator, are you asking about those specifically?” Zuckerberg asked. He of course had no way of knowing what was going on with those specific pages, just from looking at pictures of them….Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) offered this metaphor: “the way I explain it to my constituents is that if someone breaks into my apartment with a crowbar and takes my stuff, it’s just like if the manager gave them the keys.” But …Facebook didn’t willfully assist in a crime. …Sen. Debbie Fischer (R–Neb.) didn’t understand, at a fundamental level, that if you’re using Facebook, you have agreed to let Facebook know a lot of information about you. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) asked whether Facebook had any major competitors. …

 

This is a theme of regulation, rules and laws in the cyber age: the officials responsible for regulating the uses and abuses of technology don’t use the technology involved, don’t understand it, aren’t willing to take the time to learn, and are apparently not even aware of how irresponsible and incompetent this is, how stupid and lazy it makes them look, and how it undermines the public trust.

2. But don’t worry…In his testimony, Zuckerberg said that Facebook was working on a way to ban “hate speech.” I can’t wait to see what the left-wing crypto-fascists who run the Big Tech giants consider “hate speech.”  Actually, we have some pretty good clues. Facebook silenced pro-Trump video-bloggers “Diamond and Silk,” deeming their political content “unsafe to the community.” Continue reading

Compassion! Crime! Betrayal! Law vs. Ethics! Illegal Aliens! Christmas Spirit! The Golden Rule! Five Golden Rings! (Okay, Only Three Rings, And One Was Junk, But Still…) The ‘Awwwww Factor’! Could This Be “The Greatest Ethics Quiz Ever Asked”?

[Special thanks to my friend (and the inventor of The Three Circles) lawyer/legal ethicist John May for alerting Ethics Alarms to this one.]

Sandra Mendez Ortega, a 19-year-old maid, stole three rings worth at least $5,000 from a house she was cleaning in Fairfax City, Virginia. Lisa Copeland, the client of the cleaning service, discovered her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, and a third less valuable ring was taken along with them. Fairfax City police  interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home, and they all denied seeing the rings, much less stealing them. Ortega, however, subsequently had second thoughts, and confessed to the theft. She told her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. He contacted the police,   Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning they were valuable. (Thus she only took them because she thought they weren’t valuable. Okaayyyy…) The police told her to write an apology letter to Copeland, in Spanish, in which she said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. I don’t know what happened. I want you to forgive me.”

(I’m sorry, but I have to break in periodically so my head won’t explode. ” I don’t know what happened?” She knows what happened! She stole the rings because she thought she could get away with it.)

Copeland says she has never seen that letter, and that Mendez Ortega has never apologized to her in person. The maid was charged with felony grand larceny. At the trial, the jury found her guilty. (If she had confessed and was remorseful, why did she plead not guilty?)

But we are told that they felt sympathy for the defendant, who was pregnant with her second child, during the sentencing phase. “The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” the jury foreman, Jeffery Memmott, told the Washington Post. “Two of the [female jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt.”  Although the  jurors convicted the maid of the felony, they agreed among themselves that it was just a “dumb, youthful mistake.” So they decided that her punishment would be only be her fee for cleaning the house the day of the theft, $60. Then they took up a collection and raised the money to pay the fine, plus and extra $20.

(Yes, she made money on the transaction. Crime pays.) Continue reading