Archive for October, 2009

Why Conservatives and Defense Lawyers Should LOVE the New Hate Crimes Law

Friday, October 30th, 2009

hate crime

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed into law the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. As usual, the Act included provisions that had nothing whatsoever to do with National Defense Authorization. And one of the tacked-on provisions was the much-debated Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

We wrote about this back on May 1. It was one of our longer analyses, but our closing paragraphs sum it up fairly succinctly:

In short, we don’t have a legal or constitutional problem with hate crime laws. They actually seem to be a natural extension of our criminal jurisprudence. But [the House version of the bill] seems to have been passed without anyone actually reading it (not surprising, as it hardly spend any time in committee).

An administration and the same-party majority in Congress just want to push a law through, and so they will. And they will wind up passing a law that probably doesn’t mean what they wanted it to mean, and which might not stand up under scrutiny.
So what’s new?

Well, now we have a final version (read it here or in relevant part at the end of this post), codified at 18 U.S.C. §249. So let’s see what the law as passed actually says, whether it means what they wanted it to mean, and whether it might stand up under scrutiny, shall we?

As passed, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act amends the existing Hate Crimes law so that:

1. If you went after your victim because of the (actual or perceived) race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, “gender identity” or disability of any person (not just that of the victim)…

2. And you either hurt them on purpose, or you tried to hurt them with a weapon of some kind…

3. Then your maximum prison sentence gets increased to 10 years.

4. And you can get life if anyone died, if anyone was kidnapped, if there was aggravated sexual abuse, or you even tried to kill/kidnap/sexually abuse.

-=-=-=-=-

This is slightly — but only slightly — different from the version originally passed by the House back in the Spring.

To get federal jurisdiction, they need a federal hook. Only race, color, religion and national origin seem to be automatically federal. So the statute has a “crossing state lines” and “interstate commerce” hook for offenses caused by religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. (Why religion and national origin are included in both sections is beyond us.)

That’s not a huge hurdle, frankly. Interstate travel and interstate commerce are so broadly defined — and have been for generations now — that most crimes are going to fit the bill. If a weapon was used, for example, it had to have been made somewhere, and even if you made it yourself it affected interstate commerce as you didn’t buy one at Wal-Mart.

The Office of Legal Counsel has issued a memorandum saying the Act’s language passes constitutional muster. With respect to the Commerce Clause, we’re inclined to agree. The Commerce Clause may be an absolute mockery as interpreted throughout living memory, but it is what it is, and that’s that.

-=-=-=-=-

But isn’t this a thought crime, you ask?

Isn’t this just a second bite at the apple for the government?

Isn’t it already against the law to hurt, kill, shoot, blow up, kidnap, rape, etc.?

Doesn’t it put a greater value on the life of selected victims, as opposed to the rest of us?

Isn’t this the opposite of equal protection of the laws?

How is this just, you ask?

You’re not alone. It seems like this is the one common ground where conservative commentators and criminal defense attorneys seem to agree — they generally hate this law.

We happen to be both conservative and a criminal defense attorney. And yet we can’t help but think this law isn’t such a big deal. It’s really not that objectionable.

In fact, it seems to fit into our jurisprudence quite naturally.

-=-=-=-=-

Is this a thought crime? Yes, absolutely. Just like almost every other crime out there.

Crime is something so harmful to society that we restrain the offender’s liberty, take his property, or even take his life. Not every harmful act counts, therefore. We don’t kill people for accidents.

So how do we tell which harmful acts get punished, and which ones don’t?

We look at what the heck you were thinking. For any given act, your punishment will depend entirely on what was going through your mind at the time.

If it was just an accident, then it’s not your fault, and we’re not going to punish you. If you were just a little kid, or severely retarded, or insane, or otherwise can’t be accountable for your actions, then we’re not going to punish you. There’s no point in punishing you.

We’ll punish you a little bit if you should have known better, or you should have been careful. You weren’t trying to do anything wrong, but you should have paid more attention. Your mental state is the key. Your mental state was a little bit culpable, so you get punished a little bit.

We’ll punish you more if you were just being reckless. You weren’t trying to hurt someone, but you knew it could have happened, and you went ahead and did it anyway. Your mental state was more culpable, so you get punished more.

We’ll punish you a lot if you knew it was going to happen. It might not have been your purpose, you weren’t out to hurt someone, you were trying to do something else, but you knew that someone was probably going to get hurt in the process. Your mental state was a lot culpable, so you get punished a lot.

And of course, if you were really trying to hurt someone, and sure enough they got hurt, well then of course you get punished the most.

So all crimes (with limited exceptions for strict liability crimes) are thought crimes.

This hate-crime legislation is nothing more than a new twist on this very old concept. Just like with any other crime, it looks at what you, the perpetrator, thought you were doing. You had a belief about your victim, and because of that belief, you tried to hurt him.

It’s not your mental state about the risk of harm — as all the others are — it is different. It’s your mental state about the nature of your victim.

But that also makes perfect sense, in our jurisprudence.

-=-=-=-=-

Throughout our country’s history — from the fights against religious persecution, to the war against slavery, to women’s rights and the civil rights battles of the 1950s — we have come to accept a basic policy: IT IS BAD FOR SOCIETY WHEN PEOPLE ARE MISTREATED BASED ON ATTRIBUTES BEYOND THEIR CONTROL.

That is simply a no-brainer for anyone who loves freedom, individual rights, and equal justice. Americans cannot stand a bully, and will not tolerate those who hurt people for reasons their victims couldn’t help.

Nobody can help what race they happen to be. Nobody can help what religion they happen to have been born into. Nobody gets to choose whether to be born a boy or a girl. Nobody gets to choose what country they happen to have been born in.

Hurting someone because of uncontrollable attributes like these is a clear affront to society. Something we’d typically classify as a crime. It makes perfect sense to define a particular crime of hurting people because of personal attributes beyond their control.

And in recent years, our society has come to accept the fact that other attributes are also beyond our control. Nobody can help how their brains are wired with respect to sexual attraction, it’s inborn. Nobody can help the fact that they’re missing limbs, or are mentally retarded, or otherwise disabled — wouldn’t they if they could?

For our entire lifetime, there has been federal hate-crime legislation. The 1969 law covered race, color, religion, ethnicity and national origin. In later years, we added sex and disability. It makes perfect sense to now expand the already-existing law to include crimes committed against people who happen to be gay, or who were born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body.

This is not giving extra protections to these people. It is giving extra punishment to those who would hurt someone simply for having been born. Those offenders cause extra harm to society, more than the already grievous harm caused by “ordinary” murders, rapes and assaults. Extra harm to society means extra punishment.

It’s as simple as that.

-=-=-=-=-

Here is the relevant text of the bill.

Sec. 249. Hate crime acts

(a) In General-

““`(1) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, OR NATIONAL ORIGIN- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person–

“““““(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

“““““(B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if–

“““““““`(i) death results from the offense; or
“““““““`(ii) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

““`(2) OFFENSES INVOLVING ACTUAL OR PERCEIVED RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, OR DISABILITY-

“““““(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B) or paragraph (3), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person–

“““““““`(i) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and

“““““““`(ii) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if–

“““““““““(I) death results from the offense; or

“““““““““(II) the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill.

“““““(B) CIRCUMSTANCES DESCRIBED- For purposes of subparagraph (A), the circumstances described in this subparagraph are that–

“““““““`(i) the conduct described in subparagraph (A) occurs during the course of, or as the result of, the travel of the defendant or the victim–

“““““““““(I) across a State line or national border; or

“““““““““(II) using a channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce;

“““““““`(ii) the defendant uses a channel, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in connection with the conduct described in subparagraph (A);

“““““““`(iii) in connection with the conduct described in subparagraph (A), the defendant employs a firearm, dangerous weapon, explosive or incendiary device, or other weapon that has traveled in interstate or foreign commerce; or

“““““““`(iv) the conduct described in subparagraph (A)–

“““““““““ (I) interferes with commercial or other economic activity in which the victim is engaged at the time of the conduct; or

“““““““““(II) otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce.

““`(3) OFFENSES OCCURRING IN THE SPECIAL MARITIME OR TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED STATES- Whoever, within the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States, engages in conduct described in paragraph (1) or in paragraph (2)(A) (without regard to whether that conduct occurred in a circumstance described in paragraph (2)(B)) shall be subject to the same penalties as prescribed in those paragraphs.

(b) Certification Requirement-

““`(1) IN GENERAL- No prosecution of any offense described in this subsection may be undertaken by the United States, except under the certification in writing of the Attorney General, or a designee, that–

“““““(A) the State does not have jurisdiction;

“““““(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;

“““““(C) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence; or

“““““(D) a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.

““`(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION- Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the authority of Federal officers, or a Federal grand jury, to investigate possible violations of this section.

(c) Definitions- In this section–

““`(1) the term `bodily injury’ has the meaning given such term in section 1365(h)(4) of this title, but does not include solely emotional or psychological harm to the victim;

““`(2) the term `explosive or incendiary device’ has the meaning given such term in section 232 of this title;

““`(3) the term `firearm’ has the meaning given such term in section 921(a) of this title;

““`(4) the term `gender identity’ means actual or perceived gender-related characteristics; and

““`(5) the term `State’ includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and any other territory or possession of the United States.

(d) Statute of Limitations-

““`(1) OFFENSES NOT RESULTING IN DEATH- Except as provided in paragraph (2), no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense under this section unless the indictment for such offense is found, or the information for such offense is instituted, not later than 7 years after the date on which the offense was committed.

““`(2) DEATH RESULTING OFFENSES- An indictment or information alleging that an offense under this section resulted in death may be found or instituted at any time without limitation.’.

Feds Could Lose Galleon Case

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

sunken galleon

Colleagues joke that we ought to be peeved that neither Raj Rajaratnam nor any of his codefendants even called us. After all, we’re one of the few white-collar defense attorneys who also know how to defend wiretap cases. But because we’re not on the case, we’re now free to comment on it. (And we have been doing so, getting quoted this week by Forbes and Bloomberg, among others.)

And we think the feds could easily lose this case, if the defense attorneys do their job well.

You’d think that this would be a slam dunk. First of all, it was a case investigated by the fine folks at the SDNY, who are without exception bright, hard-working and of sound judgment. They tend to make sure they’ve built a rock-crusher case before they bother filing charges and issuing press releases. Unlike some other prosecutor’s offices we could name, the Southern District is definitely not amateur hour. When one defends a case they’ve built, one where they’ve ensured that all the potential holes are plugged, the bulk of the defense attorney’s role is simply fighting for a better plea offer.

Secondly, this was a freaking wiretap case. The defendants are on tape, we are told, using their own phones, committing the crimes in their own voices. How much more of a slam dunk could this be?

Well, from where we sit, it’s anything but a slam dunk. In fact, from the defense point of view, we actually think this case is winnable.

-=-=-=-=-

What are we talking about? Two things.

First, this may be the biggest insider trading case in history, but so far as insider trading cases go, this one ain’t the strongest.

Second, this may be the first time a securities fraud was investigated using wiretaps (and now that Spades have been broken, you can bet your sweet bippy that wires are going to start happening a lot more in these kinds of cases), but there are ways that a good defense attorney can fight that kind of evidence and win. Believe it or not, but it’s the truth.

-=-=-=-=-

First, let’s talk about the alleged insider trading.

Insider trading is a relatively new crime, only added to 18 U.S.C. during the new millennium. (We’re not so sure it should be a crime in the first place — it prevents those with relevant market information from acting on that information; it is an artificial yoke on market forces that affect not only share prices but also the flow of such information, causing inefficiencies and black markets in info; it prohibits those who worked to create a gain in share prices from realizing their fullest profits from their work; it prohibits the best and truest information from being a basis for share price; it encourages and protects the holding back of information that by rights should have been public in the first place. If we had our way, not only would insider trading not be a crime, it would be a requirement. But apart from Adam Smith and the Japanese, we’re not sure too many folks agree with us on this one.)

The crime of Insider Trading is committed when, first, there is some secret, non-public information. Next, there has to be someone (like an executive or director) who has a fiduciary duty not to disclose that information, a duty owed to the owner of the information (like the shareholders). Next, the secret info has to be shared in violation of that fiduciary duty. Finally, the person who uses that information had to know that it had been shared in violation of that fiduciary duty.

That’s a lot of steps. That’s a lot of room for reasonable doubt.

Look at this Galleon case. You’ve got some insiders, who allegedly spilled the beans to an informant, who then passed on that information to the Galleon crew. How the heck does one prove — prove — that Rajaratnam knew in his own mind that this second-hand information he got came from a breach of a third party’s fiduciary duty? He didn’t deal with the insiders, he dealt with someone else who had spoken with the insiders. Even if the informant said point blank that this was inside info, that doesn’t mean Rajaratnam knew it to be so. It’s like a big game of “telephone.” It’s hearsay by the time the info gets to him.

And once the secret info has been shared, is it even secret any more? The cat’s out of the bag. Maybe the insiders and the informant should be charged, but when the informant passed that no-longer-secret info on to Galleon, how is that insider trading any more? (Oh, and what hay we could make with the fact that the insiders themselves don’t seem to have been charged in the first place. That is verrrrrry suspicious.)

From what we’ve seen in the papers released by the DOJ, the evidence does not necessarily show actual subjective knowledge on the part of Rajaratnam that the information had really been shared in violation of a specific fiduciary duty owed by particular people to particular others. “Knowledge” is not the same as “probably” or “it must be so.” That’s the mental state of “recklessness,” not “knowledge.” The feds cannot prove this case by a kind of res ipsa loquitur argument.

The case just isn’t that straightforward on the merits. In addition to the arguments I just mentioned, and about half a dozen others off the top of my head right now, a good defense attorney is going to raise all kinds of doubt with the convoluted nature of the alleged schemes. How can one prove knowledge about the original state of the fiduciary breach when the information is supposed to have followed such a tortuous path, even going backwards in one instance, before being acted on?

And what was Rajaratnam’s job? What was the hedge fund’s job? Their job was to gather information. Every stock trader’s job is to gather information. You keep your ear to the ground, listen to the rumors, find out what the scuttlebutt is. And it seems like everyone and their mother has a tip. A rumor. A sure thing.

None of that is insider trading. That’s just Wall Street. The trick to being a successful trader is figuring out which “sure thing” is likely to be right. The decision may be based on a lot of number crunching, or on a gut instinct, but it’s always a judgment call. The successful trader’s judgment calls are just a little better than others’ are, that’s all. And Galleon was one of the successful ones.

The press has raised eyebrows at Rajaratnam’s “relentless pursuit of data,” as the WSJ puts it. Well, duh, that’s his freaking job. If he wasn’t relentlessly pursuing data, he wouldn’t be in the business. If the prosecution tries to make that look incriminating, like he was seeking or desperate for illegal info, a good defense attorney will defuse it with a simple dose of reality.

And the prosecution needs to convince all 12; the defense only needs one to be unsure. The defense would like to convince all 12, but they don’t need to. There is plenty of room for argument on the merits alone.

-=-=-=-=-

And while we’re talking about the merits of the case, this may be an opportunity for defense counsel to go to the prosecutors and convince them not to seek an indictment. It’s tough, when the prosecutors have made statements to the press and put their own integrity on the line. But a prosecutor of real integrity will always put that aside and do the right thing.

The trick is getting them to see that their present position is wrong. Stupid defense attorneys just whine and beg and plead, but that only works on stupid prosecutors. A halfway-decent prosecutor has made up his mind based on the evidence he’s got. That may only be a thin sliver of reality, and it may well be completely out of the proper context, but it is what he understands reality to be.

The only way you’re going to change a prosecutor’s mind is by either giving them new information that they didn’t already have, or by giving them a new way of looking at the evidence before them.

That is advocacy. And in a case like this, it may behoove defense counsel to advocate fiercely for a rethinking of the charges. Strategically, it may not be the best choice, because of all the press this case has garnered, meaning that the prosecution might just as well be presumed to be inflexible. But we did precisely this in the Bear Stearns subprime hedge fund case, and the manager we represented did not get prosecuted. And that case had just as much, if not more, publicity at the time. It’s an option, here, at the very least.

-=-=-=-=-

But what about the wiretaps? How do you get around that? Isn’t that pretty much the defendants convicting themselves out of their own mouths?

No way.

Wiretap evidence is anything but a sure thing. We know. We did wires for years in the Rackets Bureau of the Manhattan DA’s office, and now we defend them. We’ve taught a nationwide CLE on how to successfully defend them for West LegalEdCenter. Wiretaps are not a sure thing.

They can be defeated with technicalities. Eavesdropping is probably the greatest invasion of privacy that the government can inflict, and so we make law enforcement jump through all kinds of hoops before they are allowed to get an eavesdropping warrant. There are so many i’s to dot and t’s to cross, that the feds hardly use wiretaps in the first place. You’d think otherwise, but it’s so. Plus, they have to go through so many steps in the chain of command to get permission to apply for a warrant, that by the time they could have done so the need or probable cause has evaporated. State prosecutors do way more wires than the feds do.

Because the feds rarely do them, they’re not necessarily as on the ball as certain state-level offices might be. And except for those few high-caliber state offices, the locals can be even more error prone.

That’s big, because little errors in wiretaps have big consequences. Usually, they mean the government loses the case. A little oversight leads to the suppression of all the evidence derived from that point forward in the case, and a multimillion-dollar investigation just went down the toilet. No bullshit.

What kinds of technicalities are there? Tons. Some are just stupid. One particularly stupid requirement is the “sealing” requirement. The idea is that we don’t want to risk having the tapes or CD-ROMs of the intercepted conversations tampered with. We don’t want Nixonesque 17-minute gaps in the evidence. We want the assurance that the evidence never had a chance to be fucked with, and is as pristine now as when it first came in. And so the law requires that the tapes or CDs be sealed immediately, which usually means having them wrapped in evidence tape and having a judge sign and date the tape with a Sharpie.

But “immediately” doesn’t mean “immediately.” Instead of sealing the tapes right after they were recorded, the law says they have to be signed within 24 hours after the expiration of the warrant. Warrants are typically good for 30 days. So the whole month’s worth of tapes or CDs have to be assembled and sealed no later than 24 hours to the minute after the expiration of the wire. And that can be a tough deadline to meet. Especially when, say, it’s 5:04 on a Friday afternoon and all the judges are on their way out of town for the weekend. Or when, out of the hundred or so tapes for that month, one of them by accident didn’t make it into the group to be sealed, which can easily happen. Or when the judge took forever reading that 160-page renewal application, and the deadline passed when he’d only signed half the tapes.

This 24-hour rule is not a “good faith” or “close enough” rule. 24 hours and one minute means the evidence on those tapes cannot be used, and any evidence that resulted from what was heard on those tapes must be suppressed. The case is over. It’s technicalities like these that make prosecutors sweat and cross their fingers and hope the defense attorney won’t be paying attention.

Another technicality, believe it or not, is who signed the warrant application in the first place. The law is very particular about who is allowed to sign the application. Only certain enumerated DOJ officials, or the elected head of the DA’s office, are allowed to do it. We once had to work pretty hard when a very good defense attorney named Marty Adelman noticed that we’d had a substitute sign on behalf of Mr. Morgenthau when the boss was out of town. We had to prove that he really was legitimately unavailable, not merely at a function or indisposed, and that the substitute was the legitimate second-in-line. We’d done it right, of course, but others don’t. At one point, about a gazillion wiretaps had to be thrown out because the U.S. Attorneys in D.C. were having them signed by someone not on the authorized list.

The big thing, of course, when trying to controvert an eavesdropping warrant, is not the technicalities but the probable cause.

There has to have been probable cause to believe that a particular crime, listed in the wiretap statute, was being committed. That evidence of that crime would be found by listening in on a particular phone. That a particular named person would be using that phone, whose conversations would be evidence of the crime. And traditional investigative methods like surveillance, undercovers, informants, subpoenas, etc. wouldn’t get the job done.

That’s a lot to prove. The warrant applications have a heavy burden to meet. A good defense attorney is going to look for chinks in the armor, weaknesses in the alleged probable cause, and is going to fight hard to get the warrants and all their fruits thrown out.

And doing that work, and making the prosecution work hard to defend itself, and letting them know that they’re going to be working this hard for the rest of the case, can convince them to rethink their plea position at the very least.

When looking at probable cause, a decent attorney is going to notice whether the warrant application sections laying out the arguments are just boilerplate, cut-and-pasted from earlier applications, or whether they actually are tailored to the investigation as it then stood. Boilerplate, if it doesn’t really apply here, is a fraud on the court! That warrant and everything thereafter just got thrown out.

-=-=-=-=-

Well, what if the defense litigated the eavesdropping, but it’s all still coming in? They’ve got a trial on their hands. What do they do now? They can’t fight the tapes in front of a jury can they? How can you possibly cross-examine taped evidence?

It ain’t easy, but a smart lawyer can do it.

First of all, you have to realize how wires get started. They don’t come out of the blue. Probable cause does not land in some cop’s lap.

There’s an easy way, and a hard way, to start a wire. The hard way is to have all this suspicion, based on historical intel about your players, surveillance of their movements, and scuttlebutt from the community. Then you track down their phone numbers, and subpoena tons of call records to see who they’re calling and when. Then you look for patterns, and see what you can dig up about the people they call. And you try to put together a res ipsa argument that this criminal activity must be going on over that phone. That ain’t the easy way.

The easy way, like with any investigation, is to flip an informant. Someone screws up, and now needs to work off a likely sentence. The only way they can do that is by getting someone else in trouble. So they agree to wear a body wire, or introduce an undercover, or (usually) consent to the recording of their own phone calls with the target.

Bang. Right there, we’ve got all kinds of arguments for reasonable doubt. Arguments to piss the jury off at the government and want to acquit our client.

Because what is the informant trying to do? He’s trying to get our client in trouble. He’s trying to elicit an incriminating statement over the phone that’s going to let the government tap that number. That doesn’t just happen.

No, that call is going to be scripted. Or rehearsed. Or both. That call is going to have a purpose, and Mr. Informant is going to do whatever he can do to manipulate that conversation so he gets the incriminating words he wants. Or at least words that sound incriminating.

You see where this is going, don’t you? You may never use the word “entrapment” itself, but by golly you’re going to plant that concept in the jury’s mind. That informant was out to save his own skin. That informant did not tell our client the truth. That informant lied about what that conversation was about. Those lies were scripted and rehearsed with the agents beforehand. This whole case is built on lies. And the conversation didn’t go according to plan. Our client was not about to incriminate himself. So that informant manipulated him, changed the subject, hounded him, cajoled him to say things he otherwise never would have said. Throw some in-check indignation, and you can have one pissed-off jury.

And you fight the recordings themselves. “But look at the transcripts, they’re cut and dried,” you say? Poppycock. Those transcripts are nothing but interpretation. Any defense lawyer who sits back and relies on the government’s own interpretation of what is on those tapes needs to find another line of work.

Because everything on those recordings is open to interpretation. Nobody in the real world speaks in clear prose, with footnotes explaining their jargon and inside references. Nobody talks like that.

People throw ideas around. They talk things through. They change their mind. Taken out of context, a statement on Day 1 can sound really incriminating. But in context with a statement on Day 2, it’s perfectly innocent.

People talk in code. Not just spies and crooks, but everyday folks. Nobody spells it all out, that would infuriate the listener. Stuff that the other person also knows goes unsaid. People use jargon that outsiders can easily misinterpret. Phrases like “you’re going to put me in jail” could really be a schtick between friends for “my boss isn’t going to like this,” rather than the literal meaning. But taken out of context, perfectly innocent words can sound damning. Any one of us could face prosecution if our own conversations were selectively lifted out of context.

So it is critical that the defense listen to all of the intercepts, not just those highlighted as the prosecution’s greatest hits. The defense needs to get the whole context, and be able to explain ostensibly incriminating conversations as being perfectly innocent. The client should help as much as possible.

Other room for interpretation is what the freaking words were in the first place. We had plenty of occasions where we listened to a tape and heard one phrase, our detectives heard at least two different phrases, and our trusted paralegals heard it yet another way. Nobody enunciates every consonant. Speech is casual. It’s rushed. It’s muddled. It’s amazing that our brains can separate out as much as we do. But in doing so, we often see patterns where they don’t exist, and hear words and meanings that were never said. It’s like optical illusions for the ear, and they happen all the time. Have an inaudibility hearing if you have to, and get the statement tossed altogether if need be.

So any fool who relies on the government’s transcripts deserves to be called a fool. Make your own dang transcript, and make sure you can sell it to the jury. You want to be the voice they trust.

There are tons of other ways to tear the intercepts apart. These are just a starter. But this post is already getting far too long and we’re getting sleepy.

-=-=-=-=-

The point is that the Galleon case is built on wiretaps, and the “greatest hits” released by the DOJ in its press releases seem eminently attackable. The rest of their recordings are probably even more open to attack. And the merits look pretty darned shaky to begin with. They have to prove actual knowledge, that doesn’t seem to be all that obvious. The ties to the people with the actual fiduciary duty are second-hand at best, and the tie is a lousy rat out to save their own skin. And the insiders are suspiciously not even being prosecuted themselves?

Based on the little that has been released, this case seems to be a prime candidate for reasonable doubt. It just doesn’t look like a slam dunk. The defense has a pretty good shot at winning.

We’ll keep watching, and wish the best of luck

We Missed Our Own Anniversary

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

cupcake

So the Criminal Lawyer turned 1 year old, and we didn’t even notice. Our first post was on October 6, 2008. We promised…

…to give you thoughtful observations on the jurisprudence of crime. We will cover notable cases and events, offer analysis of deeper trends, and even throw in some juicy gossip from time to time.

We like to think we’ve been keeping our promise. We’ve delved into international criminal law, Supreme Court arguments, what the law is and what it ought to be. We’ve even gossiped about the latest crime show to get greenlighted.

And we have no intention of stopping any time soon. At first, we have to admit, we had some trepidation that we might lose interest, or that there wouldn’t be enough readers to make it worth our time. But we soon found that we love writing this blog. And we continue to be amazed that so many of you actually read this stuff. So we’ll stick around a while yet.

We considered writing a longer piece here about “why we blog.” But there’s really nothing to say, other than that we enjoy it. We love criminal law, we love thinking about the whys and wherefores of it. And we’ve found that the discipline of writing about it forces us to actually think through our own thoughts, which has made us all the better for it. (And we have fun photoshopping all these pictures, too. Yes, we do our own art, coding, web design, all of it.)

We’ve tried to avoid the danger of turning into yet another blawg that talks a lot, but has nothing to say. There are plenty of those out there. So we have made an effort to pick and choose what we write about. You’re not going to get a stream-of-consciousness, what’s-on-our-mind-today sort of blog here. Those are fine, just not us.

And it’s not one of those SEO-maximizing, marketing puff piece things. We’re not doing this to try to attract clients, nor should we. Blawgs that are made to attract clients are so painfully bad. It’s so obvious. It’s like meeting someone at an event who’s not there to have fun, but only wants to network. We don’t want to be that guy, and we’re not that kind of blawg.

We’ve also tried to steer clear of the topics that everyone else is talking about. Why? Because everyone else is already talking about them. We’d rather not be just one more drop in the bucket, thanks.

So we’re going to keep listening for cool and quirky stories that interest us. Stuff that inspires us to examine an underlying philosophy or social policy is going to grab us more than the latest DOJ press release. That means more talk about Supreme Court cases than notable arrests. More talk about the law than the practice thereof. That’s what we like to write about.

So happy belated birthday to us, and thanks for reading!

Shameless Self-Promotion

Monday, October 19th, 2009

We apologize for not posting something last week, but an unending stream of urgent matters kept us in court or otherwise engaged the whole time. Clients obviously take priority, you know how it is.

You’ll hear from us more this week, we promise. For those of you who can’t wait, you’re welcome to listen to the third installment in our “Hope for Hopeless Cases” series with West Legal Ed Center this Wednesday. This one’s topic is how to calculate economic loss to advocate for better sentences in white-collar cases. You can check it out here.

Gluttons for punishment can also check out our first two lectures, on defending internet child porn cases and defending wiretap cases.

We’ll catch up with you here in a day or two. There’s got to be something newsworthy in the world of criminal law this week that we could write about…

How the Court Should Rule in Shatzer

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

The Supreme Court heard a very important argument this week in the case of Maryland v. Shatzer. It was one of those situations where the oral argument makes a huge difference in the outcome of the case. We read the briefs earlier this month, and remarked to colleagues that both sides’ arguments seemed eminently reasonable. So reasonable that we couldn’t form a strong opinion either way.

But the oral arguments convinced us thoroughly: Both sides are stupid.

-=-=-=-=-

The case involves custodial interrogation, and whether and when it can be started again after someone has asked for a lawyer.

When someone is in custody, and they ask for a lawyer, interrogation is supposed to stop. If the police keep questioning anyway, then the defendant’s answers cannot be used to prove the case against him.

So even if someone confesses to the crime at that point, the confession cannot be used to prove he did it. Even if there is no evidence of duress, and there is every reason to believe that the confession is perfectly reliable, it cannot be used.

The underlying policy is that our criminal justice system puts a greater value on not overriding someone’s free will. We don’t want people to be forced to hang themselves. Getting into someone’s mind, and making them testify against themselves, against their will, is abhorrent to us. It reeks of torture, the Inquisition and Star Chamber.

That explains why custodial interrogation gets the Miranda rights, but there is no similar concern with taking non-testimonial evidence from someone against their will. A breathalyzer, a blood test, a voice exemplar, a vial of spit — we don’t really care whether you want to provide the evidence or not. The evidence exists independently of your free will. But a confession during interrogation is solely a matter of free will.

And confessions are dramatic evidence, to be sure. Once evidence of a confession comes in at trial, it’s nigh impossible for a jury to think the defendant didn’t do it. It’s a game-ending bit of evidence, in most cases.

Police custody, in and of itself, is such an extreme and distressing situation that the law just presumes it to be coercive. If an objectively reasonable person would not have thought he was free to leave, then he’s being compelled to sit there and deal with the cops. There’s compulsion, because the cops can keep questioning you until you break, and confess. Maybe it’s a true confession, and maybe you’re just saying it to make it all stop, but either way your free will was overridden.

And so we have the Miranda rule, which says that defendants must be informed of their right to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer present during any custodial questioning. If someone’s questioned in custody without being given these warnings — even if they’re a respected jurist who already knew them — then his answers cannot be used against him. And if he is given the warnings, and exercises his right to remain silent or his right to counsel, but the police keep questioning him, then his answers cannot be used against him.

If the defendant says he won’t talk without a lawyer present, then allquestioning must cease. This is a per se exclusion, period. The police cannot re-start questioning unless the defendant himself initiates further discussion. Unlike the right to silence, which can be waived down the road after new Mirandawarnings, the right to a lawyer once asserted can never be waived again, no matter how many times the police re-Mirandize him. It can only be waived if the attorney is actually present at the time. That’s the principal rule of Edwards.

(Note that asking for a lawyer here is the same as saying you won’t talk without a lawyer present. Unlike the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, where once you’ve actually been charged with a crime you’re entitled to have a lawyer provided, this is the Fifth Amendment right to counsel. The cops don’t have to get you a lawyer, they just have to stop questioning you until you get one.)

This is a bright-line rule. Our jurisprudence likes bright-line rules here. We don’t want the cops to have to think about what they can and cannot do; we want them to know. We don’t want a balancing test of competing principles, because that means the courts would have to get involved and decide what can and cannot be done. It would have to be decided after the fact, on a case-by-case basis. Without a bright-line rule, the police would probably engage in more improper interrogations than otherwise, because who knows what some judge down the road might think was okay? And who knows whether the case would even get that far?

So bright-line rules here protect defendants’ interests, police interests, and the courts’ interests. And Edwards is nothing if not a bright-line rule.

The problem with bright-line rules is that they are absolute, they have no exceptions, and so unless they are narrowly-tailored they can have absurd results.

And that is why this week the Supreme Court heard the case of Maryland v. Shatzer.

-=-=-=-=-

Six years ago, Michael Shatzer was in state prison, serving a lengthy sentence. Meanwhile, a social worker got a report that Shatzer had (before going to prison, obviously) forced his then-three-year-old son to perform fellatio on him. The social worker told the cops, and an officer came to the prison to talk to Shatzer about it.

Shatzer was taken to an interrogation room, and was given his Miranda rights. Shatzer asked for a lawyer, and the officer ended the interrogation. The officer went away, and Shatzer was taken out of the interrogation room and returned to his regular custody. The investigation was eventually closed.

Nearly three years passed. Shatzer remained in prison.

Now his son was a few years older, and was able to give more details about what had happened to him. The police began a new investigation, which was assigned to a new police officer.

The new officer went to the prison, Shatzer was taken to the interrogation room, and the officer Mirandized him.

This time, Shatzer waived his rights, and agreed to speak with the officer. He flatly denied the allegations that he had forced his son to perform fellatio on him. But he did admit to having masturbated in front of his little boy.

A few days later, the questioning continued. Shatzer was Mirandized again, and he again waived his rights. He took a polygraph test and failed it. Then he started crying and said “I didn’t force him. I didn’t force him.”

At this point, he finally asked for a lawyer, and the questioning ended.

Shatzer was prosecuted for sexually abusing his son. He tried to suppress his statements, on the grounds that he should never have been questioned the second time, under the Edwards rule. He’d asked for a lawyer, and that per se prohibition never evaporated.

The trial court said no, the statements could come in, because the intervening three years constituted a “break in custody” that ended the Edwards prohibition on further questioning. Custody had ended, so the compulsory situation had gone away. The new questioning was a new custodial interrogation justifying a new Miranda warning that was properly waived.

After Shatzer got convicted, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed. The appellate court held that the passage of time cannot constitute a break in custody. The court held that, if there is a break-in-custody exception to Edwards, it first of all would have to mean something different than the break-in-custody exception for the right to remain silent, and secondly it wouldn’t have existed here anyway when Shatzer had remained in prison the whole time.

The state appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Edwards prohibition must evaporate over time, so that a substantial lapse of time between interrogations would allow the cops to re-Mirandize and try again. The point of Edwards is to prevent the cops from “badgering” a defendant into answering questions without a lawyer, the state said. (At the end of its brief, Maryland even suggested that the bright-line rule ought to be overturned.)

Shatzer’s brief argued that the bright-line rule had to be maintained, to ensure that defendants aren’t coerced into making confessions. If a defendant asks for a lawyer, and all he gets is another reading of his rights, he’s hardly going to expect a second request for a lawyer to be effective, and so he might as well speak. It would undermine the whole point. And if a “break in custody” is all it takes to restart the Edwards rule, then all the cops would have to do is release, rearrest and repeat until the defendant finally gave in.

-=-=-=-=-

Both merits briefs seemed eminently reasonable.

But the oral arguments were frankly idiotic. Both sides made absolutely unreasonable claims that could only undermine their arguments.

For example, Chief Justice Roberts let Maryland’s A.G. get three sentences out before cutting to the point: “A break in custody of one day, do you think that should be enough?” Maryland’s response: Yes.

Roberts pressed on: “So what if it’s repeatedly done? You know, you bring him in, you give him his Miranda rights, he says ‘I don’t want to talk,’ you let him go. You bring him in, give him his Miranda rights, he says ‘I don’t want to talk.” You know, just sort of catch-and-release, until he finally breaks down and says ‘all right, I’ll talk.” Maryland’s response: “We would suggest that the break of custody would be the end of the Edwards irrebuttable presumption.”

Shatzer’s position was even worse, if you can believe it.

The Public Defender opened her mouth to speak, and Justice Alito jumped down her throat. Her first words were that the Court couldn’t create any exceptions to the rule. Alito said, hold on, let’s say “someone is taken into custody in Maryland in 1999 and questioned for joy riding, [invokes his right to counsel, is] released from custody, and then in 2009 is taken into custody and questioned for murder in Montana…. Now does the Edwards rule apply to the second interrogation?” The lawyer’s response: “Yes it does, Justice Alito.”

As one might expect, the justices went to town on the lawyers. Scalia, as usual, got in some good laugh lines at their expense. We’ll leave the entire oral argument to your own reading enjoyment (you can read it here), but these opening exchanges sum it up pretty well.

Maryland’s position is idiotic. They want a bright-line rule that any break in custody ends the Edwards prohibition. It would allow precisely the catch-and-release badgering that Roberts suggested. They argued that, during the release period, if the defendant didn’t go out and get a lawyer, then they’ve essentially revoked the request to have an attorney present at any future questioning.

Shatzer’s position is equally idiotic, if not more so. He wants a bright-line rule that any invocation of the right to counsel essentially immunizes a defendant from any further police questioning in any subsequent action anywhere, for the rest of his life, whether or not the police could have even known about his prior invocation of the right. A police officer in Alaska would have to ascertain whether a suspect had ever been interrogated by police anywhere else in the country at any time in the suspect’s life, and whether the suspect had asked for a lawyer then. That’s flatly impossible and unrealistic.

Both of the parties claim that the existing bright-line rule might create absurdities in theory. To prevent them, they each propose reductio ad absurdum rules at the extreme ends of the spectrum, guaranteed to create absurdities in practice. Well done, folks.

(The lawyer for the United States, as amicus, did make an important point — that the whole purpose is to make sure people aren’t being compelled to incriminate themselves against their will — but the rest of his time was eaten up by nonsense about how long a break in custody would count as enough of a break to evaporate an assertion of the right to counsel.)

-=-=-=-=-

So what should the rule actually be? Seriously, this is not rocket surgery here. The answer seems perfectly obvious:

1) If a suspect was in custody, was read his Miranda rights, and invoked his Fifth Amendment right to have a lawyer present during questioning…

2) And if there was a break in custody, so that an objectively reasonable person would have felt free to leave his questioners…

3) Then there is a rebuttable presumption that his invoked right to counsel continues to be invoked with respect to any subsequent questioning about the same underlying allegations.

4) The state can rebut this presumption with facts that demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that the suspect no longer desired the presence of counsel during questioning. (This will necessarily be extremely rare, though not at all inconceivable.)

The rule could be streamlined even further, by deleting the phrase “there is a rebuttable presumption that” from #3, and deleting #4 altogether.

This rule provides all the protections that defendants, law enforcement and the courts require. At the same time, it avoids the absurdities of the existing bright-line rule, and of the more extreme bright-line rules proposed by the parties in this case.