Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ka Nefer Nefer Case Resumes After Lengthy Hiatus

St. Louis Art Museum
Lawyers for the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) filed a sur-reply last week in the case of U.S. v. Mask of Ka Nefer Nefer after activity in the case--at least with regard to legal filings--abruptly ended in August 2011.  SLAM submitted its pleading to the eastern district federal court in Missouri.  The court submission comments on the running dispute about whether the museum has legal standing to remain in the case.

The government filed a claim in March 2011 to forfeit the mask of Ka Nefer Nefer located at SLAM.  The 19th Dynasty Egyptian mummy mask of a noblewoman is alleged by the government to have been stolen from Egypt.

The government's forfeiture action was a response to SLAM's legal effort in February 2011 to quiet the title of the mask so that the museum potentially could own the artifact without worry.  In July 2011, federal lawyers filed a motion to knock SLAM off the forfeiture case, arguing that the museum could make no colorable legal claim to ownership because the mask is a stolen object.  The motion to strike SLAM from the case set off a volley of legal pleadings related to whether the Ka Nefer Nefer mask is contraband.  The federal government argued that possession of the mask was akin to possessing cocaine, which is illegal.

After a long absence of legal submissions, SLAM's most recent sur-reply picks up the argument once again.  The museum charges that it "has consistently taken the position that the Government’s claim is barred from the outset by the statute of limitations and that its forfeiture claim must fail because the Government is unable to prove the Mask was stolen. In raising the arguments it does, the Government is attempting to delay or avoid the consideration of those questions by confusing the standard for constitutional standing and making the bizarre suggestion that the Court pretend that the Museum claims an interest 'not of a centuries old Egyptian mask, but rather a kilogram of cocaine.'  In doing so, the Government so muddles and confuses the term 'contraband,' and the significance that the term carries, that some clarification is necessary." (citations omitted).

SLAM adds that the mummy mask is not contraband per se (such as illegal drugs) "as [artifacts] may be lawfully owned and become contraband only based on a connection with a criminal act."  Relying on U.S. v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 52-54 (1951), the museum asserts that "[t]he Supreme Court has recognized that, in the absence of a law foreclosing property rights, artifacts can be privately owned."

SLAM criticizes the government, saying that "[t]he Government’s evolving positions with respect to the ownership issue seem to be at war with themselves."  The museum argues that Egypt's patrimony law, which claims ownership of cultural objects found on its soil, is argued by the government to be a law granting private ownership in one pleading and alternatively, in another pleading,  a law that restricts private ownership.

SLAM concludes by reasserting that it has made a colorable claim to ownership to the mummy mask.

The government filed papers on March 28, 2012 for leave to reply to the sur-reply.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rubin v. Iran Cases Move Forward in First Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court

Photo credit: Alborzagros.  CC.
Jenny Rubin and others hurt by a 1997 terrorist attack in Israel filed a 92 page brief yesterday in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  Rubin et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran v. Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University et al. is a case where the appellants seek to enforce a judgment awarded to them under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) by acquiring cultural artifacts claimed to be owned by Iran.  The objects sought are located in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Meanwhile, Rubin et al. have also filed an appeal of their Seventh Circuit court case with the U.S. Supreme Court. That case involves an attempt to attach objects located at museums in Chicago.

Hamas carried out multiple suicide bombings on September 4, 1997.  The Rubin plaintiffs sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Iran, and the court found that Iran supported Hamas’ terrorist efforts.  It ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor and awarded money damages.

To collect the judgment against Iran, Rubin et al. sought to attach Iranian assets located in the United States.  They attempted to attach artifacts held at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Harvard’s several museums, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and the Chicago Field Museum.  The museums in the Boston and Cambridge objected, fighting the case in federal district court in Massachusetts.  The Chicago based institutions battled the case in the federal court in the northern district of Illinois, and later the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Seventh Circuit on March 29, 2011 sent the case back to the district court in Illinois for review.  But the Rubin appellants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari (i.e. a review by the higher court).  Briefs were filed in the Supreme Court (docket 11-431) by both the University of Chicago and Iran on January 6.  Jenny Rubin et al. filed a reply brief on January 18.  There was a waiver of the Field Museum’s response filed on January 4.  The Supreme Court on February 21 invited the Solicitor General to file the U.S. government’s position in the case.  It has not been submitted to the court thus far.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, the district court ruled on September 25, 2011 to grant the MFA’s and Harvard’s motions to dismiss the case.  Jenny Rubin et al. then brought the matter before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  They filed an appellate brief on March 28, 2012, arguing three primary issues.

First, the appellants argue that TRIA preempts all other federal and state laws because the case involves the enforcement of judgments by victims of a terrorist attack.  Their brief states:

“Pursuant to TRIA, and Treasury Regulations set forth at 31 CFR §535.201, governing collection actions on behalf of victims of state sponsored terrorism, any interest that Iran retains in the Iranian objects in Harvard and the MFA’s collection is subject to levy by the Appellants. Due to federal preemption by TRIA and 31 CFR §535.201 of any inconsistent state laws, neither Harvard nor the MFA can rely on any conflicting state laws such as those imposing statutes of limitation or governing adverse possession claims to bar or otherwise defeat the Appellants’ right to attach and levy on objects of Iranian origin in each of their possession in which Iran retains any interest.”

Second, the appellants say that Iran maintains an interest in the artifacts at the museums in Massachusetts.  The appellants claim that “[t]he Iranian government has always retained a private ownership interest in artifacts from Persepolis, the former capital of the Persian Empire. For the thousands of years beginning in the reign of Darius, this historic site has never been privately owned and always has been the sole property of the government of Persia and subsequently Iran. In addition, pursuant to the Persian Law Concerning the Preservation of National Antiquities (the “1930 Law”) enacted and in effect since November 3, 1930, all antiquities in Iran, whether movable or immovable, created up through 1794, the end of the Zand Dynasty, fall under the protection, control and ownership of the Iranian government.”

Third, the appellants argue that Iranian law gives Iran an interest in its antiquities unless that country gave a specific license.  They allege that the museums cannot demonstrate that any licenses were given.  The appellants’ brief argues:

“With the exception of objects removed from Persepolis . . .which have always been owned by the Persian government, other antiquities removed from Persia prior to November 3, 1930, were not recognized as owned by Iran. Accordingly, the Appellants always have indicated that the order of garnishment against the MFA and Harvard does not encompass any artifacts of Persian origin, other than those from Persepolis, that provably were exported from Iran prior to November 3, 1930. Nor do the Appellants assert any claim to any artifact from Iran acquired either by Harvard or by the MFA or on loan to either obtained from excavations by scientific expeditions to Iran occurring on or after November 3, 1930, if the holder Museum’s documentation as to the artifact establishes that the Museum acquired each such antiquity as part of the share of a “division” of finds assigned to a scientific archeological expedition as approved by the Persian/Iranian government and as required by the 1930 Law. Similarly, with respect to antiquities exported from Iran as a seller’s purported private property, the 1930 Law vests the government of Iran with an automatic 50 percent interest in all objects found in Iran on or after November 3, 1930. As to antiquities provably in private hands as of the enactment of the 1930 Law, the government is vested with a right of first refusal to acquire the object and a right to seize and confiscate the object if the seller attempts to circumvent his obligation to secure an export permit from the government, which if obtained, requires payment of an export duty equal to five percent of the value of the object as calculated by government appraisers.”

“Without documentary proof that an artifact was assigned to the scientific expedition or that the Iranian government approved the export of purportedly privately held property, Iran retains an interest in all objects under the 1930 Law that is subject to levy by the Appellants pursuant to TRIA.”

The appellees in the case are expected to file their reply shortly.

Mediation Extended in Getty and Armenian Church Zeyt'un Gospel Case

Gospel page located at the Matenadaran.
The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church have agreed to extend the mediation deadline in their dispute over possession of the Zeyt’un Gospel pages. The church sued the Getty in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2010, charging that the museum obtained stolen property. The church seeks the return of seven pages, parts of an illuminated Bible created in 1256 and currently located in Armenia.

On November 3, 2011 the court ordered the parties to mediate, scheduling a review hearing for March 2012. The Getty and the church later filed a stipulation with the court to extend the mediation deadline to April 27 and to schedule the review hearing for May 4. The stipulation states: "The parties were unable to agree upon a mediator.  Accordingly, on December 16, 2011 the Court ordered the parties to agree upon a different timeline for the completion of mediation."


Monday, March 26, 2012

Be the German Shepherd, Not the Yipping Chihuahua

PROSECUTOR POST - Here is a helpful tip from a Texas prosecutor:

After years of practicing in criminal courts, I've seen numerous courtroom styles from criminal defense attorneys. One of the most prominent is the "grandstand" (a.k.a. Posturing). I would define the "grandstand" as attempted behavior exhibited by an attorney to establish dominance in the courtroom. Please note that word - attempted. From yelling to whining to stomping around and slamming things on counsel's table, I've seen it all. Sometimes this behavior isn't intentional but actual passionate investment, but more often than not I can see it's a show for the client.

The client wants the bulldog lawyer in the courtroom. At least that's what I hear. I think some of what I'm referencing is an attempt by these lawyers to be that bulldog by "grandstanding." However, in my experience, these attorneys that "grandstand" in court, end up looking like the yipping chihuahua instead of the bulldog. And it's funny to see the look on the defendant's face when he realizes he's hired the yipping chihuahua.

The more effective style I've seen is the old German Shepherd approach. The attorney that comes in and exudes that high level of comfort in the courtroom. He's professional to everyone (including state's counsel) and acts in a way that sends the message to his client - "yes, I've been here several times before." Does he "grandstand?" No. He establishes dominance by respecting the balance b/w the defense, the state and the bench. Does he bark? Sometimes. But only when there's cause. And when he barks everyone hears it and respects it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Want More Texas Criminal Law?

Here at Liberty and Justice for Y'all, we try to post about most of the cases from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  At least the ones that are designated for publication. Sometimes we write about Federal cases and sometimes we cover cases from the various Texas Courts of Appeals.   But regardless of how hard we try, we just can't cover all of the cases - at least not with any meaningful detail.

So if you're a nerd like me, who enjoys reading slip opinions as they are released (and you don't want to sort through 15 different emails from the Courts subscription lists), you should check out Mark Bennett's site.  No, not Defending People (although that site is always a good read as well).  Texas Criminal Slip Opinions is another site he runs.  On it you will find all, yes all, of the Texas slip opinions from the District Courts of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Thanks Mark, for turning me onto this helpful site.  Since Mark posts the cases using HTML text, his site is a great place to start if you need to conduct research on recently released Texas cases.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Weiss Ancient Coin Prosecution and What to Watch For

Federal prosecutions involving international theft or trafficking of cultural objects are rare.  State prosecutions are novel.  That is why the current case against Arnold-Peter Weiss, involving New York state law, is worth watching.

Authorities arrested Dr. Arnold-Peter C. Weiss in January for allegedly attempting to sell an ancient coin claimed to belong to Italy.  A New York County District Attorney's investigator alleges that he saw Weiss possess a Tetradrachm and observed Weiss offer the ancient silver coin for sale at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for $300,000.  The attempted sale took place at the 40th annual New York International Numismatic Convention.

A past New York prosecution involving cultural artifacts is the famous case of U.S. v. Frederick Schultz.  That federal case resulted in the conviction of a widely know Manhattan art dealer for conspiracy to violate the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA).  The evidence showed that Schultz was part of a scheme that trafficked antiquities from Egypt, to England, and then to the United States.  The case applied federal law, argued by federal prosecutors, who litigated in federal courts.  The current case against Weiss involves state law prosecuted by a state district attorney in a state court.

Weiss is reportedly charged with violating Criminal Posession of Stolen Property (CPSP) statue, New York Penal Law 165.52.  The charge is a class “C” felony punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in prison. The statute reads: "A person is guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof, and when the value of the property exceeds fifty thousand dollars.” A person charged with a crime is innocent unless proven guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Matthew Bogdanos
Chasing Aphrodite reports that Attorney Matthew Bogdanos is the prosecutor assigned to the case. Holding a masters in classical studies from Columbia University  and serving as the Marine Corps colonel who investigated the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, Bogdanos is a person familiar with cultural heritage matters.

States are the traditional venues where property issues are handled.  State courts regularly handle claims of title to property as well as stolen property prosecutions.  Moreover, the states have well developed laws on the books covering property crimes, which articulate generally accepted common law property principles.

Two issues to look out for as the Weiss case moves forward in the New York State criminal justice system include the following:

Criminal knowledge
The New York law, like many state receiving stolen property statutes, requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant have two mental states: knowingly and intentionally.  The prosecution must prove that a person knowingly was in possession of stolen property and that the defendant intended to benefit himself or another from that possession or intended to impede the recovery by the owner of the property.  "Knowingly" in this context means that the person was aware that the property was stolen.  "Intent" means that it was the person's conscious object to benefit himself or another or to impede recovery of the property by the true owner.

About 1/4 of the states, including New York, have laws that presume criminal knowledge in certain circumstances. New York Penal Law 165.55 states: "A person who knowingly possesses stolen property is presumed to possess it with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof."  The statute also presumes criminal knowledge for certain property dealers: "[A] person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it."

The federal NSPA does not articulate the presumptions contained in New York's CPSP.  However, the appeals court in Schultz supported the application of a widely adopted principle of law known as conscious avoidance, willful ignorance, or the ostrich rule.  "[A] defendant may not purposefully remain ignorant of either the facts or the law in order to avoid the consequences of the law," is the rule as explained in the instruction given to the jury in the Schultz case.  This ostrich instruction has been used in other cases too, including the Enron fraud prosecutions in 2006 against Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay.  The CPSP statute takes the ostrich rule further by articulating the presumptions described above, and a jury may--not must--infer guilty knowledge based on the applicable presumptions.   Of particular interest in the Weiss case will be whether the dealer presumption is invoked by the prosecution.

Stolen property
The Schultz case spent much time resolving whether Egypt's patrimony law declaring ownership over cultural objects was sufficient to give valid legal title to another such that Frederick Schultz was in knowing receipt of stolen property under U.S. law.  Both the jury and the appeals court answered affirmatively.  The Schultz Doctrine essentially holds that a person may be convicted for receipt of stolen property under the NSPA when a foreign patrimony law clearly declares ownership of the cultural object and the artifact stolen was after the date of the enactment of the patrimony law.  The Schultz Doctrine does not label as stolen a cultural object that simply was unlawfully exported from a foreign nation.  The foreign nation must declare clear title to the object, not just regulate its export.

New York's jury instruction regarding "stolen property " advises juries that it "is property that has been wrongfully taken, obtained, or withheld from an owner by a person who did so with the intent to deprive another of such property or to appropriate such property to himself or herself or a third person."  Latching on to the federal legal holding of Schultz, New York state prosecutors may cite the case as persuasive authority to assert that Weiss possessed "stolen property," arguing that Italy's patrimony law declares ownership of the ancient silver coin(s) allegedly possessed by Weiss.  Furthermore, the state prosecutors will likely also rely on  New York Penal Law 165.60, which says that it is no defense to a criminal possession of stolen property case that "the larceny [or theft, which is the term used in jury instructions] of the property did not occur in this state."

Italy's patrimony law, adopted in 1909 and renewed in 2004, is known as the Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage.  Articles 10, 91, and other provisions arguably define and declare ownership of cultural artifacts.  Article 91 states:

"The things indicated in article 10, found underground or in sea beds by whomsoever and howsoever, shall belong to the State and, depending on whether they be immovable or movable, shall become part of government property or of its inalienable assets, pursuant to articles 822 and 826 of the civil code."

Weiss' next court date is July 3, 2012.



Questioning an Inmate About an Unrelated Crime? Miranda Warnings?

Howes v. Fields is a U.S. Supreme Court Case that was released on February 21, 2012.  In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that there is no bright line rule for determining when an inmate is in "custody," such that Miranda warnings are required if officers wish to questions him about an unrelated crime.

While serving a jail sentence, a corrections officer escorted Fields to a conference room where two police officers questioned him about an unrelated crime.  At the beginning of the interview, the officers told Fields that he could leave whenever he wanted.  Fields eventually confessed to the crime.  The officers never advised Fields of his Miranda warnings or told him that he did not have to speak with him.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that any time an inmate is taken from the general prison population and questioned about a crime that occurred outside the prison, he is always in-custody for Miranda purposes.  Makes sense, right?
The Supreme Court disagreed.  The Court held that serving a term of imprisonment, by itself, is not enough to constitute Miranda custody.  When a prisoner is questioned, the determination of Miranda custody should focus on all of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, to include the language that is used in summoning the prisoner to the interview and the manner in which the interrogation is conducted.

In this case, the Court held that Fields was not in-custody for Miranda purposes.  Although the interview lasted between five and seven hours and continued well past the time Fields went to bed, the officers told Fields several times that he could leave and go back to his cell whenever he wanted.  Additionally, the interview was conducted in comfortable conference room, the officers did not physically restrain or threaten Fields and they offered him food and water.  All of these facts are consistent with an interrogation environment in which a reasonable person would have felt free to terminate the interview and leave.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Case Updates – Sufficiency of Evidence

The CCA handed down two opinions today dealing with legal sufficiency of evidence.  Johnson v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2012) involved a variance between allegations in the charging instrument and the sufficiency of the proof presented at trial.  Wirth v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2012) involved a general question of legal sufficiency in light of the recent case, Brooks v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126 (Tex. Cr. App. 1996).

In Johnson v. State, Appellant was convicted on various counts of aggravated assault.  The indictment read that appellant did then and there, “intentionally or knowingly cause serious bodily injury to [the victim] by hitting her with his hand or twisting her arm with his hand.” The complaining witness in the case testified that appellant threw her against the wall and that hitting the wall caused her to fall to the floor and break her arm.  Appellant’s criminal defense attorney argued that the variance between pleading and proof rendered the evidence legally insufficient to support the conviction.  The CCA held that ultimately, “the act that caused the injury does not define or help define the allowable unit of prosecution for this type of aggravated assault offense, so variance at issue cannot be material.” The CCA also stated that this type of variance involved immaterial non-statutory allegations and when a variance like this presents itself it will not render the evidence legally insufficient.

I thought this case was interesting because, as a former criminal prosecutor, I used to try and charge the most accurate manner and means possible.  I came across cases like this occasionally where we alleged one way that a defendant had assaulted a victim and then upon further investigation or questioning of the victim, it looked as if there was going to be a variance.  In those cases, I would amend the indictment to reflect the more accurate description of the manner and means.  Another method that is commonly used by prosecutors is to allege a very broad manner and means.  Often, you will see the manner and means in an assault alleged, “by striking with defendant’s hands.” This language covers various types of assaults (slapping, punching, grabbing, squeezing).  But, in looking at the Johnson opinion, it looks like the bottom-line is that if the language in the indictment involves immaterial non-statutory allegations, it will likely not render the evidence legally insufficient if different evidence comes up at trial.

In Wirth v. State, the Appellant was convicted of the offense of Theft of $20,000 or more but less than $100,000, a third degree felony.  The Sixth Court of Appeals (Texarkana) held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the conviction and rendered a judgment of acquittal. The State filed a petition for discretionary review.  The CCA found that the Sixth Court of Appeals had erred and reversed the Court’s decision, reinstating the Appellant’s conviction.  The CCA recognized that the Sixth Court of Appeals had reviewed the Appellant’s case and found that the evidence was factually insufficient to support the verdict based on Clewis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126 (Tex. Cr. App. 1996).  As the Court noted, at the time that the Court of Appeals considered the Appellant’s case, the CCA had not issued its opinion in Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893 (Tex. Cr. App. 2010) which essentially overruled the factual sufficiency analysis (see our previous post on this issue here).  In light of the Brooks decision, the CCA analyzed Appellant’s case based on the legal sufficiency of the evidence and held that there was legally sufficient evidence (even given that the evidence was purely circumstantial and that the defendant was a party to the crime) to support the jury’s prior verdict of guilt. Accordingly, the CCA reversed the judgment of the Sixth Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

Weiss Ancient Coins Prosecution Scheduled for July

Manhattan criminal courthouse.
Arnold-Peter Weiss's case was scheduled today in Manhattan. New York Criminal Court records show that Dr. Weiss's $200,000 cash bail was continued, and the next court date was set for July 3, 2012.  [JULY 2012 UPDATE: Click here for a description of what happened at the July 3 hearing].

Law enforcement officials charged the Rhode Island hand surgeon in January with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property over $50,000.  They arrested Weiss and seized two ancient Greek coins originating from Italy before the coins were sold at the International Numismatic Convention.  Weiss faces up to a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted of the offense.

Because authorities charged Weiss with a felony crime, his case was to be reviewed by a grand jury.  Weiss, meanwhile, is presumed innocent.

Some possible legal issues to watch for in the case are discussed here.


Fifth Circuit Federal Court Update

Below are some case summaries from recent Fifth Circuit Cases regarding search and seizure and confessions.

4th Amendment Search and Seizure

U.S. v. Gray, February 1, 2012

Officers had probable cause to believe that appellant was concealing crack cocaine in his rectum.  After conducting two strip searches, in which appellant was not fully cooperative, an officer told appellant that he could either undergo a third strip search, be placed in a cell with a waterless toilet or he could consent to a rectal x-ray examination.  After appellant refused to consent to any of these options, officers obtained a search warrant in which appellant was forced to submit to a proctoscopic examination under sedation.  A doctor eventually recovered over nine grams of crack cocaine from within appellant.

The court held that the search was unreasonable because it was demeaning and intrusive to appellant’s personal privacy and bodily integrity and that there were less invasive ways to recover the evidence, such as a cathartic or an enema.  However, court held the evidence should not be suppressed because the police acted on good-faith reliance on a valid search warrant. In doing so, the court encouraged magistrates, where feasible, to hold a hearing to allow for more careful consideration of the competing interests at stake in medical procedure search cases.

U.S. v. Hernandez, February 8, 2012

Federal agents received an anonymous tip that appellant was harboring illegal aliens in her trailer.  The agents conducted a knock-and–talk in which they banged on the doors and windows, with their weapons drawn, while demanding entry and then attempted a forced entry by breaking the glass on the door.  When appellant answered the door, she admitted that an illegal alien was inside her trailer.  Agents entered the trailer and arrested appellant and two illegal aliens.  The court held that the agents’ conduct during their knock-and-talk violated the Fourth Amendment.  Since a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred by the time appellant came to the door, the agents could not rely on her admission as probable cause to either enter the trailer or arrest her.

Next, the court held that the incriminating statements appellant made to the agents, after her arrest at their office, were also inadmissible.  They occurred only a few hours after an egregious Fourth Amendment violation and no intervening events occurred to break the connection between her arrest and her statements.
 Finally, the court held that the statements obtained from the two illegal aliens were inadmissible against appellant.  The government offered nothing more than pure speculation that their statements would have been inevitably obtained but even if they had, their statements were not sufficiently separated from the Fourth Amendment violation to make them admissible.

Voluntariness of Confession

U.S. v. Cantu-Ramirez, February 6, 2012

In this multiple defendant case, appellant Lauro Grimaldo argued that the district court should have suppressed his confession because federal agents delayed in presenting him to a magistrate judge for more than two hours for the purpose of interviewing him and obtaining a confession.

The court disagreed after applying the Supreme Court’s guidance from Corley v. United States.  First, because appellant’s presentment was delayed for less than six hours, his confession was admissible as long as it was obtained voluntarily.

Second, based on the totality of the circumstances, the court found that nothing about the interview indicated that his confession was involuntary.  The interview lasted only ninety minutes, the agents wore casual clothing, appellant was not handcuffed and the agents offered him food and drink and allowed him to make several phone calls.  The agents advised appellant of his Miranda rights and took care to ensure that he understood and voluntarily waived them.  The agents obtained appellant’s confession voluntarily and it was properly admitted against him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

U.S. House Passes Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

Congressman Steve Chabot
The U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote yesterday passed the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act (FCEJICA).  The legislation seeks to protect foreign artwork on loan to American museums by clarifying a part of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).

The legislation was introduced by Judiciary Committee member Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) on February 24 and co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TX).  Their intent is to have a law that encourages more foreign lending of art to America without the fear of lawsuits.

Under the current federal statute known as Immunity from Seizure Under Judicial Process of Cultural Objects Imported for Temporary Exhibition or Display (the Immunity from Seizure Act (IFSA), 22 U.S.C. § 2459), foreign lenders are encouraged to lend cultural objects to museums in the United States without risk that those objects will become targets of litigation while on American soil.  The statute protects imported objects determined by the State Department to be (1) of cultural significance, (2) intended for temporary, nonprofit exhibition, and (3) in the national interest.  Museums importing objects into the U.S. for temporary display must apply for this legal protection.  The notice of immunity is then published in the Federal Register.

The FSIA, meanwhile, is a law that generally protects foreign states from lawsuits.  The FSIA embodies a long held principle of American jurisprudence.  But the law has been interpreted to sometimes grant jurisdiction to the courts over foreign governments when their artwork is displayed in the U.S. because such loans are deemed “commercial activity.”  Specifically, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(3) of the FSIA states:

 “A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of courts of the United States or of the States in any case . . . in which rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue and that property or any property exchanged for such property is present in the United States in connection with a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state; or that property or any property exchanged for such property is owned or operated by an agency or instrumentality of the foreign state and that agency or instrumentality is engaged in a commercial activity in the United States.”

By way of example, in the 2005 case of Malewicz v. City of Amsterdam the heirs of Kazimir Malevich sued Amsterdam in federal court in Washington, DC to either recover artworks that the city’s Stedelijk Museum loaned to American museums or to acquire $150 million in damages.  The heirs claimed that the foreign museum unlawfully obtained the paintings.  Amsterdam argued that the Immunity from Seizure Act protected it from a lawsuit, but the federal district court ruled that Amsterdam had engaged in “commercial activity” under the FSIA by loaning the art to American institutions.  While IFSA may protect artwork from seizure, the FSIA did not protect Amsterdam from related damages said the court.  So the lawsuit moved forward.

The FCEJICA was introduced in order to remedy potential conflicts between IFSA and the FSIA.  The bill adds a new section to the FSIA that protects foreign nations from lawsuits in American courts related to loaned artwork.  The bill that passed the Judiciary Committee on February 28 and the full House on March 19 states:

“If a work is imported into the United States from any foreign country pursuant to an agreement that provides for the temporary exhibition or display of such work entered into between a foreign state that it is the owner or custodian of such work and the United States or one or more cultural or educational institutions within the United States, [and] the President, or the President’s designee, has determined . . . that such work is of cultural significance and the temporary exhibition or display of such work is in the national interest; and the notice thereof has been published . . . any activity in the United States of such foreign state, or of any carrier, that is associated with the temporary exhibition or display of such work shall not be considered to be commercial activity by such foreign state . . . .”

The bill adds that art stolen by the Nazis shall not be protected from legal claims filed in federal court.

A House report attached to the bill notes that "the intent of IFSA is being frustrated by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Recent court decisions have interpreted a provision of FSIA in a manner that opens foreign governments up to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts if foreign government-owned artwork is present in the United States in connection with a commercial activity and there is a claim that the artwork was taken in violation of international law." The report adds: "This has led, in many instances, to foreign governments declining to export artwork and cultural objects to the United States for temporary exhibition or display. Future cultural exchanges may be seriously curtailed by foreign lenders' unwillingness to permit their artwork and other cultural objects to travel to the United States. In order to keep the exchange of foreign government-owned cultural objects flowing, this legislation clarifies the relationship between the immunity provided by IFSA and the exceptions to sovereign immunity provided for in FSIA."

The Congressional Budget Office reported that enactment of the legislation "would have no significant impact on the federal budget."

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

This link contains a video of Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith's remarks on the floor of the House.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Politically-Incorrect Dissent on Rape in the Military

There has been a lot of media attention recently on rape victims and the prevalence of rape in the military.  As some of the individuals retell their stories, it is clear to see that they suffered from a traumatic experience.  However, being in the military myself, and a former military prosecutor no less, I do not share the opinion that there is an “epidemic” in our ranks.  Does sexual assault occur in the military?  Absolutely.  But does it occur at a rate any higher than what you might find on an average college campus or in the public writ large?  No.  And when sexual assault allegations arise, are commanders sweeping them under the proverbial rug?  Certainly not!

One of the major differences in the military justice system versus the state criminal justice system, is that the District Attorneys in the states can evaluate the allegations, and if they decide that the case lacks prosecutorial merit, they can refuse to present the case to a grand jury for an indictment.  Another major difference is if the grand jury says there isn’t enough evidence, the District Attorney can’t go forward.  Neither of these checks and balances are found in the military justice system.

Instead, unit commanders (called Convening Authorities - usually Colonels and higher) decide whether a case should proceed to trial.  For felony-level cases like sexual assault, they must first receive a recommendation from a neutral investigator, but the ultimate decision on whether to go forward with a case rests with the commander.

The neutral investigator (called an Article 32 Investigating Officer) hears the evidence that the government has against the defendant and makes a recommendation to the commander.  This sounds fair so far, but when the investigator recommends NOT going forward on a sexual assault case because of deficiencies in the evidence, all too often the commander is faced with a dilemma: dismiss the charges as recommended or forward the charges to a General Court-Martial.  The easiest decision is to send it forward.

But can you blame them?  What are the commanders supposed to do when the deafening chorus of politicians and news anchors are calling for more accountability for "rapists" in the military?  Does anyone really expect a commander (typically a rising star in the military) to risk their professional future by refusing to send a rape allegation to trial and face being labeled by the media as “hiding rapists” or being “soft on sexual assault?” No way!  They are going to take the easy way out.  The politically palatable way out.  They are going to kick the can down the road to the prosecutor and let him take the case to trial, warts and all, under the guise of letting “the military justice system runs its course.”

Please do not read this to say that I think all sexual assault allegations in the military have no prosecutorial merit.  Many do.  But can we ever expect the commander to make the hard call to dismiss a case when it lacks merit?  Not any more.  And then when the prosecutors do their very best with a case that would have never gone to trial in a state system, we ask: Why can’t you get the conviction?  The prosecutors may possess the trial skills of Perry Mason or Clarence Darrow, but they can’t change the facts of the case, the rules of evidence, or the burden of proof.  These cases are seldom black and white.  And in a Constitutional system that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, convictions are (and should be) hard to come by.

With all of this going on (our focus on the victims), what is baffling to me, is that we are forgetting about the accused.  What happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” Congress is asking for more convictions; going so far to change the military sexual assault laws in a shameless effort to secure more convictions, while, the accused is labeled a rapist before even having his day in court.  This is terrible and antithetical to our criminal justice system.  We can’t simply jettison the Constitution when it is politically appealing.

McClatchy put out a pretty good article on this issue last week (LINK).  Of the many the media outlets that have focused on this issue, they are the only one, in my opinion, that has its priorities straight.  Sometimes justice means that a person is convicted of sexual assault.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But this prejudgment of military defendants (or any defendants) has to stop.  By law, an accused is innocent until a verdict of guilty is returned and no sooner.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Instruction on Lesser-Included Instructions

Somehow I let this case slip down in my pile of blogworthy CCA cases.  It was released in November 2011. Sorry ‘bout that.

Goad v. State (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) presents some interesting facts.  Facts that almost sound like they are out of a law school hypothetical.  Here is the skinny version:

Goad and a friend knock on a neighbor’s door and ask if she has seen his dog.  They also ask if they can come into the house and look for the dog.  The State thinks that they were “casing” the house at this point.  After Goad leaves, the neighbor pulls her car around back so that Goad will think she is not home, hoping that he will not come back to bother her anymore.  Fifteen minutes later, the neighbor notices the curtains in her front room moving and then she sees Goad and his friend stick their heads through the window.  The neighbor screamed and then Goad and his friend retreated.  The neighbor called the police and Goad was later apprehended.

The State charged Goad with Burglary of a Habitation, on the theory that Goad entered his neighbor’s house with the intent to commit theft.  At trial, Goad requested an instruction on the lesser-included offense (LIO) of Criminal Trespass, arguing that he did not intend to steal anything, but only to look for his lost dog.  The trial court refused to give the LIO instruction and Goad was convicted of Burglary of a Habitation.

The 11th District Court of Appeals (Eastland) held that the trial judge erred in refusing to give the LIO instruction:
[T]he jury rationally could have found Goad guilty only of criminal trespass because the jury could have believed that Goad was looking only for his dog.
On State’s petition for discretionary review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals explained that for Criminal Trespass to be an LIO of Burglary...
[t]here must be some evidence directly germane to the lesser-included offense for the finder of fact to consider before an instruction on a lesser-included offense is warranted. …Anything more than a scintilla of evidence is sufficient to entitle a defendant to a lesser charge.
The State’s basic argument against the LIO instruction was that there was no “affirmative evidence” to negate the defendant’s intent to commit theft.  However, Judge Keasler wrote, “[w]e must consider all of the evidence admitted at trial, not just the direct evidence of a defendant’s intent.” The fact that the defendant had knocked on the door looking for his dog 15 minutes earlier, and the fact that he did not carry any traditional burglary tools, while not direct evidence of his lack of intent, were enough for the CCA to hold that an LIO instruction should have been given.  The CCA affirmed the Court of Appeals.

Presiding Judge Keller concurred, noting that “juries are entitled to choose among multiple reasonable inferences, as long as each inference is supported by the evidence presented at trial.”

Judge Alcala concurred, but wrote separately in an effort to point out that, in her opinion, the majority failed to specify the standard of appellate review under which the case was being considered.  This issue was apparently very important to Judge Alcala, because her concurring opinion is 16 pages in length (longer than the majority opinion and Presiding Judge Keller’s opinion combined).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Improvements in Expunctions and Non-Disclosures

Recently, a client called me to ask about getting his record “sealed”. It was an exciting feeling for me.  Getting asked to evaluate an expunction or non-disclosure is probably not that exciting to most attorneys. But, for me it was exciting because I spent several years evaluating expunctions and non-disclosures wearing the hat of a prosecutor. This was the first time I was being asked to evaluate the possibility of an expunction or non-disclosure as a criminal defense attorney.

After my first semester in law school, I began clerking for a district attorney’s office.  As a clerk, my primary duty was to evaluate the incoming petitions for expunctions and non-disclosures.  At that time, I was eager to dissect any statute put in front of me.  After reading, very slowly and carefully, Art. 55.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, I thought I had a handle on it.  Then, a situation with incoming petitions began to pop up.  Petitions were being filed to expunge misdemeanors before the statute of limitations had run.  According to my reading of the statute, this was not allowed.  Without going into more detail (and there is a lot to go into on this issue), I ended up helping an attorney in our civil division write a brief that eventually ended up in the Texas Supreme Court.  The opinion in The State of Texas v. Judy Beam, was handed down by Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson supporting my reading of the statute that the statute of limitations had to run on a misdemeanor before an expunction could be ordered. State v. Beam, 226 S.W.3d 392 (Tex. 2007).

The Beam case put a nail in the coffin for misdemeanor expunctions to be granted without having to wait at least two years.  The interesting issue in Beam was that it was clear that the legislative intent was for the statute of limitations not to apply.  The State knew that, but we felt that if they intended that to be the case they should have drafted it to reflect that.  If the wording of the statute is wrong and you have to look to the legislative intent behind every statute, what’s the point of codifying in the first place?  I’m glad we pushed Beam to the Supreme Court and got that ruling.  Even more so on the other side now.  What the Beam decision did was to force the legislature to go back to the drawing board and draft Art. 55.01 to reflect what their intent was.

The 82nd Legislature did just that.  SB 462 and HB 351 amended Art. 55.01 to expand eligibility for expunctions.  In addition to cutting the waiting period for expunctions, the legislature added a provision that states that regardless of the waiting periods, a person is entitled to an expunction if “ the attorney representing the state certifies that the applicable arrest records and files are not needed for use in any criminal investigation or prosecution, including an investigation or prosecution of another person.”

The new changes made by the 82nd Legislature make Art. 55.01 a better statute that now more accurately reflects not only the legislature’s intent on expunctions, but also the most just way to handle taking an offense off of someone’s record (that shouldn’t have been there in the first place).

The new changes to Art. 55.01 are a great improvement, but we still must do our best to educate clients about what expunctions are not. When the potential client called me he seemed to be under the impression that there is some magic eraser out there that can get rid of his criminal record. The bottom line is, expunctions never were meant to erase a conviction (unless it’s overturned on appeal or there is a pardon granted).

The potential client’s case was not qualified for either an expunction or a non-disclosure, but in light of the few years I’ve dealt with expunctions and non-disclosures, it was still exciting for me to talk to an actual person and hear their viewpoint on the expunction process.

If you have any questions or want to discuss the new changes to the expunction statute, feel free to call me at The Law Office of Luke A. Williams.

See our past posts on Expunctions and Non-disclosures:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Prescription for Acquittal

The State of Texas charged and convicted Bille Jean Avery of attempting to obtain a controlled substance “through use of a fraudulent prescription form.” The evidence presented at trial, however, revealed that the defendant actually used a legitimate prescription form, but that she forged some data on her prescription information in an attempt to obtain stronger pain pills.

In her appeal to the 13th District Court of Appeals (Corpus Christie), Appellant argued that she could not be convicted of using a “fraudulent prescription form” when the prescription form she used was legitimate.  The Court of Appeals agreed and acquitted her of the offense.

On discretionary review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Court of Appeals’ affirmed judgment of acquittal. In a unanimous opinion, the CCA explained:
Just as tax information should be recorded on a tax form to create a competed tax return, so too prescription information should be recorded on a prescription form to create a completed prescription.  The information that is written on the form is not the form itself…[W]e hold that “prescription form” refers to a pre-printed form designed to have prescription information written on it.
This was a case of a simple charging error by the Disctrict Attorney's office, but it goes to show that attention to detail can win the day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mali Cultural Heritage

The upcoming Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting in April focuses on the culture of Mali.  A brief Deutsche Welle documentary (in English) describing Mali's past and present heritage may be viewed below.


CCA Reverses Course on Polygraph Admissibility

Although polygraph tests are used from time to time in criminal justice matters, they have always been inadmissible at court because they are inherently unreliable.

HERE, Sarah Roland, a Denton County Criminal Defense Attorney, informs us about a troubling opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  A turning of the tide, if you will.  In Leonard v. State, the CCA overturned the 11th Court of Appeals (Eastland) and held that a polygraph test was admissible during a probation revocation adjudication against a person that was serving probation for a sex offense.
Because adjudication hearings are administrative proceedings, in which there is no jury and the judge is not determining guilt of the original offense, we hold that the results of polygraph exams are admissible in revocation hearings if such evidence qualifies as the basis for an expert opinion under Texas Rules of Evidence 703 and 705(a).
While the CCA is not saying that polygraphs will be admissible in an actual criminal trial, this "opinion is troubling," as Sarah puts it.  I agree.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pleadings Filed by Prosecution and Defense Attorneys Argue Lewis Dismissal Motion in US v. Khouli et al.

Lawyers for Joseph Lewis, II this past Friday filed a reply memorandum in support of their earlier motion to dismiss.  They claim that the prosecution does not have the evidence to prove Lewis guilty.  Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, demand that trial is the place where they will prove their case.

A federal grand jury in New York last year indicted Lewis and three others for their alleged roles in an Egyptian antiquities smuggling ring that involved sarcophagi and other artifacts.  All defendants are considered innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Lewis' pleading  lays out three separate arguments.  But the thrust of the defense counsels' memorandum is that Lewis was not deceitful about importing Egyptian cultural artifacts into the United States because he was neither involved with the importation process nor agreed to import the pieces unlawfully. "[T]here is no witness, no document, and no email that even alludes to Joseph Lewis participating in the importation process or agreeing with others that it would be handled deceitfully," the memorandum states.  The lawyers point out that Lewis "is not charged with importing contraband or of participating in a conspiracy to import contraband."

In support of the memorandum of law, defense lawyers for Lewis produced an email reportedly between Lewis and co-defendant Moussa Khouli dated April 12, 2009.  That email, in part, says the following:

"Hey Morris,

I am ready to wire the funds in the morning but because its a lot of $$$$, just to make sure that there are no misunderstandings; I want to doublecheck that you do guarantee the following:

1 - Provenance from your late father's collection, Israel 1960s; you have therefore established to the best of your knowledge, these items have not been illegally obtained from an excavation, architectural monument, public institution or private property.
2 - Clearance by US Customs (if the items are seized or detained more than 30 days upon arrival into the US you will issue a full refund)...."

The defendant's memorandum came in response to prosecutors' February 10, 2012 objection to Lewis' original motion to dismiss.  In that pleading, government lawyers reiterate that Lewis is charged with purchasing smuggled Egyptian antiquities transported into the United States, smuggling three Egyptian nesting coffins, conspiring to smuggle, and money laundering in support of smuggling.

The prosecution argues that "[i]t is 'axiomatic' that a criminal defendant 'may not challenge a facially valid indictment prior to trial for insufficient evidence,'" quoting federal case law.  Prosecutors add that "[t]he proper venue for testing the sufficiency of evidence is a trial, not a pre-trial motion based on 'defense counsel’s forecast of the ultimate trial evidence.'"  "Moreover, Lewis's characterization of the government's proof is based on a complaint against co-defendant Khouli and a series of search warrant applications, each of which explicitly states that it does not set forth all facts learned during the course of the government's investigation."

Federal prosecutors make efforts to resist presenting their case prior to going to trial.  They write:  "Accordingly, the government declines to respond to the particulars of Lewis's factual arguments, to correct misstatements of the government's legal theories, or to highlight relevant facts produced in discovery or know to Lewis that Lewis omitted from his factual recitation."


Mali, Guatemala, and Bulgaria Up for Discussion by CPAC - Public Session Slated for April 24

Lowland Maya mask from Guatemala.
Source: U.S. State Department
The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will meet to consider renewal requests by Mali and Guatemala for Memoranda of Understanding (MoU).  A public session will be held on April 24 to consider extending the bilateral agreements that would continue America's import controls over cultural property originating from these nations.

CPAC also intends to continue its discussion about Bulgaria's earlier request for a bilateral agreement.  That session, according to the Federal Register, will be a confidential meeting authorized by 19 U.S.C. 2605(h), which permits private discussions when "the President or his designee [determines] that the disclosure of matters involved in the Committee’s proceedings would compromise the government’s negotiation objectives or bargaining positions on the negotiations of any agreement authorized by [the CPIA]."

An MoU or bilateral agreement protecting jeopardized archaeological and ethnological objects may be enacted between nations pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property). Congress implemented the treaty by adopting the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.  Import protections granted under the CPIA last for five years and may be renewed thereafter.

Head of a Mali figure.
Source: US Department of State.
The United States enacted emergency import controls in 1993 over archaeological material from Mali's Niger River Valley and its Tellem burial caves at Bandiagara. This action led to the 1997 adoption of an MoU between the two nations.  The bilateral agreement was then extended in 2002 and 2007.  The last MoU was broadened to include archaeological objects from the Stone Age to the 1700s.

The United States also took emergency action in 1991 to cover Maya archaeological artifacts from Guatemala's Petén region, extending the protections in 1994.  In 1997, the U.S. and Guatemala entered into a bilateral agreement covering pre-Columbian archaeological material.  The countries extended the MoU in 2002 and 2007.  The 2007 MoU broadened Article 2's provision to include, among among other items, that "the Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall undertake an assessment with regard to improvements in broad areas such as law enforcement, cultural resource management, education, conservation, research, and the national museum system" before the agreement expired in 2012.

To attend or speak at the public session on April 24, you may reserve your place by calling  the Cultural Heritage Center of the Department of State at (202) 632–6301 by 5 p.m. EDT on April 3.  The meeting will be held at 2200 C St., NW. in Washington, DC.

Public comments may be submitted electronically to CPAC at and are due April 3 by the end of the day.  Enter docket number DOS-2012-0012 for Mali or docket number DOS-2012-0011 for Guatemala and follow the instructions on the web site.

The committee now only accepts electronic comments unless they are confidential under 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1).  Written submissions reasonably determined to qualify for confidentiality may be delivered or mailed to:

Cultural Heritage Center (ECA/P/C)
SA-5, Fifth Floor
Department of State
Washington, DC 20522-0505

Comments submitted to CPAC must address one, some, or all of the four determinations outlined by the CPIA.  Quoting 19 USC 2602, the four determinations are:

(A) [whether] the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party;

(B) [whether] the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;

(C) [whether] --

(i) the application of the import restrictions . . . with respect to archaeological or ethnological material of the State Party, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties [to the 1970 UNESCO Convention]) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and

(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and

(D) [whether] the application of the import restrictions . . . in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Tomorrow's Federal Register announcement of the CPAC meeting may be found here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Court Denies Alshdaifat Motion to Change Venue in United States v. Khouli et al.

The US District Court for the Eastern District of New York has denied Salem Alshdaifat's request to move the trial from the Empire State to his home state of Michigan.  Alshdaifat is charged in the case of United States v. Khouli et al. with participating in an antiquities smuggling ring along with three other co-defendants.  Like any defendant, Alshdaifat is presumed innocence unless the prosecution proves its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Alshdaifat's attorney filed a motion in November to move the court case to Detroit's federal court, citing personal and financial hardships.  The prosecution objected.  In a February 12, 2012 pleading, Assistant United States Attorney Karin Orenstein argued, among other points, that venue in New York is presumed to be proper, that having multiple trials in two separate circuit jurisdictions is unreasonably cumbersome, and that handling and presenting delicate cultural artifact evidence favors presenting the case in New York.

Judge Edward Korman's February 29, 2012 order states simply: "Argument heard.  Motion denied w/o prejudice to renew."


Author Josh Knelman Launches Hot Art in New York City on March 22

Joshua Knelman will debut his latest book titled Hot Art in New York on March 22, 2012.  The investigative book documents the story of an art and antiques thief as well as the stories of law enforcement officials and attorneys who work to combat art and cultural property crime.  The public is invited to the event, which will be held at the Flag Art Foundation located at 545 West 25th Street in Manhattan, between 10th and 11th Avenues at the he Chelsea Arts Tower.


Trial Court May Reopen a Suppression Hearing

In 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held in Rachal v. State, 917 S.W.2d 799, that when reviewing a trial court’s decision on a motion to suppress, an appellate court should look “only to the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing,” unless the “suppression issue is consensually re-litigated by the parties during trial on the merits.”

In a recent case in the CCA, the Appellant, Gary Lyn Black, who was convicted at trial of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, argued on appeal that:
a trial court, once it has ruled on a pretrial motion to suppress, lacks the authority to “re-open” the suppression issue unless the defendant has “made an election” to do so by either subsequently re-raising the suppression issue himself or acquiescing in the State’s reintroduction of the issue at trial.
Appellant relied on the CCA’s holding in Rachal to support his position.  The State countered by arguing that the Rachal holding “speaks only to a limitation on what is available for appellate review of a trial court’s ultimate ruling on a pretrial suppression motion,” and not to the trial court’s authority to re-open a suppress motion.  The CCA agreed with the State.

In an 8-1 decision that relied largely on a 1993 Court of Appeals opinion (Montalvo v. State, 846 S.W.2d 133 (Tex. App.—Austin 1993, no pet.)), the CCA explained:
A pretrial ruling on such a motion is interlocutory in nature. As such, it should be regarded as just as much the subject of reconsideration and revision as any other ruling on the admissibility of evidence under Rule 104 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, which a trial court may revisit at its discretion at any time during the course of a trial.
In Black’s case, the CCA went on to hold that the trial court had the discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, even mid-trial, to allow the State to present additional evidence.  To clarify that its current holding in Black did not disturb previous precedent, the CCA expressed a general rule and a corollary rule that explain what evidence appellate courts should consider when reviewing motions to suppress.
GENERAL RULE: In cases in which the trial court is never asked, or is asked but declines, to exercise its discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, appellate review of its ruling on the motion to suppress is ordinarily limited to that evidence presented at the pretrial hearing – the evidence that was before the court at the time of its decision.
The exception to the General Rule, the CCA provided, was “if the parties consensually broach the suppression issue again before the fact-finder at trial, the reviewing court should also consider” that evidence in gauging the propriety of the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress.
COROLLARY RULE: If at any point before the conclusion of final arguments at trial, the trial court should exercise its discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, the reviewing court should also consider whatever additional evidence may be spread on the record bearing on the propriety of the trial court’s ultimate ruling on the motion to suppress.
The CCA affirmed the holding of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Judge Meyers dissented, and is of the opinion that the trial court erred by reopening the suppression hearing without the defendant’s consent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fighting a Traffic Ticket: The Truth Revealed

With most people, misconceptions and misunderstandings guide their decisions when deciding whether or not they should fight a ticket. Below is some advice from a former prosecutor...

1) You're not the only one that thinks you can just "talk to a prosecutor" and get your ticket dismissed.
Two to three times a week, most courts hold conferences between the prosecutor and citizens who had received citations. During these conferences, most people go to the prosecutor immediately to ask for a dismissal on their citation. I would venture to say that in a metropolitan area, a municipal prosecutor gets asked for a dismissal between 25-50 times per week. Starting your conversation off with a prosecutor by asking for a dismissal is the least effective approach for negotiating a favorable result. The concept of a dismissal is WIDELY misunderstood and the bottom line is that dismissals are rare.

2) Instead of demanding your dismissal, start by pointing out legitimate issues with your ticket.
There are legitimate issues with citations. Those issues can result in dismissals. But for every one legitimate issue, there are one-hundred ridiculous excuses. A municipal prosecutor has heard them all and there is a really good chance that the prosecutor has heard your specific excuse many, many times. Most of the time, people come go to court with an assumption about the law and they hang on to it with everything they are worth. Do some research before coming to court to determine whether you have a "legitimate issue" or just "another excuse". Whether that means consulting with an attorney or jumping onto Google, come to court with a little research and you may actually put the prosecutor in a better mood.

3) Document your defense.
 If you have documentation (especially on vehicle equipment issues, inspections, registrations, licenses, and insurance), bring it to court and have it ORGANIZED and ready for the prosecutor to look at. If there is some legitimate discrepancy between the status of your vehicle or license (on the date of the citation) and the citation you received you might actually get that all-elusive dismissal, but you had better have documentation to support your defense.

4) "Fine, I'll take it to trial."
It's got a nice ring to it, but the reality of a trial is that most cases will come down to the officer's testimony versus the defendant's testimony. More than likely, the officer will testify that he's been an officer for multiple years, been through training and education specifically for observing and enforcing traffic violations. He'll also testify that he spends 90% of his 8-10 hour shift in and amongst traffic observing traffic and that he was focused solely on looking for your vehicle violating a traffic law. Meanwhile, you'll testify (if you choose to testify) that you're number one priority was not following the traffic laws (I dare you to say that it was), but that you were on the way to work, dropping kids off at school, going to the grocery store or had some other objective in mind. The bottom line with trial: The officer will testify that he observed you commit a traffic violation and you'll testify you didn't and the judge or jury will decide who they believe.

5) If you really want a chance...
..hire an attorney. He or she will analyze your citation based on current law and the rules of evidence and procedure and not just based on what you heard from your neighbor's friend's ex boyfriend. Ultimately, you may decide that hiring an attorney would cost more than it is worth, but it you really want a fighting chance, you should hire an attorney.