Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thoughts for the New Year

As we say goodbye to the old year and enter a new year, I encourage everyone to live each day like it's your last.  We tend to take our everyday existence for granted -- until we hear of a loved one, a friend or a colleague who died way too early.

Don't keep putting off your dreams to some day down the road -- that day will never come and you will look back later in life wondering why you never got around to it.

Don't be afraid to lose (and lose BIG).  It's when you have something at stake that you perform your best.  Without someone being willing to lose big, we wouldn't have many of the constitutional protections we tend to take for granted.

Remember, it's okay to show vulnerability.  Letting go of your fear gives you permission to excel.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The truth about red-light cameras

So, according to today's Houston Chronicle, it appears that the introduction of red-light cameras in Houston has NOT reduced the number of accidents.  Despite a city-financed study showing the number of accidents at monitored intersections doubled in the first year after installation, Mayor Bill White (who has yet to meet a revenue-raising measure he didn't like) insists that the figures would have been worse but for the cameras.

The number of rear-end collisions increased from 55 to 90, the number of side collisions increased from 220 to 427 and the number of sideswipe collisions increased from 72 to 167 at the monitored intersections.  A Washington Post study showed that the number of accidents at monitored intersections in Washington, D.C., between 1999-2005, increased at a higher rate than at non-monitored intersections.

Apologists for the cameras claim that the increased number of accidents at those intersections are not due to the cameras but, instead, to the increased number of accidents in the city despite information from the Houston Police Department that the number of accidents in the city has decreased every year since 2004.

This latest data makes a very strong case for the camera opponents' assertion that the purpose of the cameras is increasing city revenues, not safety.  Since September 2006, more than 387,000 citations have been issued and the city has raked in over $20 million.

Supporters love the cameras because the $75 civil citations sent by mail to the registered owner of the car are virtually impossible to fight, as the burden has been shifted from the state to the citizen to prove he or she didn't run the light.  At unmonitored intersections, running a traffic light is a Class C misdemeanor meaning the burden is on the prosecution to prove the citizen ran the light.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Farewell to Sharon Levine

This morning, as we were eating breakfast with our girls, my wife asked me where Emory University was.  I said it was in Georgia and I asked her why.  She said she was reading the obituary of an attorney who was only 38 when she died after battling Hodgkins Disease.  I asked who and she read the name Sharon Renee Levine.

Sharon Levine, by her hard work and dogged determination, set into motion the events that led to the downfall of Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.  Ms. Levine represented one of the Ibarra brothers who were arrested for videotaping a police raid on a house in their neighborhood.  Believing that her client had been arrested without cause, Ms. Levine took the matter to trial - twice.  After the first trial ended in a hung jury, the state offered a $1 fine in exchange for a guilty plea.  Again Ms. Levine and Mr. Ibarra declined and set the matter for trial. 

The jury in the second trial found Mr. Ibarra not guilty.  That verdict set the stage for the civil rights suit filed by the Ibarra's against Harris County.  The judge in that matter ordered then-D.A. Chuck Rosenthal to turn over e-mails to the Ibarras.  After defying the court's order, Mr. Rosenthal was forced to resign from office earlier this year.

The toppling of the Rosenthal regime was the result of Ms. Levine's tireless devotion to her client in a fairly meaningless (except for Mr. Ibarra and his family) case.

Rest in peace, Sharon.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bailouts and public disclosures

Congress handed the banking industry a blank check earlier this year in response to Henry Paulson's doomsday-esque plea for a bail out of the financial sector. The banks readily lapped up OUR money like a junkie waiting for his next fix.

But now that questions are being asked about what those funds were being used for, the banking industry refuses to release that information to the taxpayers. What we know, so far, is that AIG continued to lavish its discredited executives with perks and that many other banks and brokerage firms showered their leaders with "retention" bonuses. Why anyone would want to retain the people who ran the companies into the ground is beyond my comprehension.

Loren Steffy, a business columnist for the Houston Chronicle summed up the hypocriscy of the financial sector with this column.

The men behind this financial farce have looted their clients, their stockholders and the taxpayers to line their own pockets. It's time for Congress to require the banks and brokerage firms to disclose how our money was spent. It's time for the banks and brokers to realize that when you borrow someone else's money, you have to play by their rules.

It's time the financial industry understand that beggars can't be choosers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Here's hoping that everyone has a joyous and festive holiday of whatever variety you and your family celebrate this time of year.

I extend my sympathy to all of y'all who have lost a loved one this past year.

Finally, I hope that those families who are separated due to incarceration are able to be together soon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The more I learn, the less I know

The other night I was watching Anthony Bourdain trekking through Peru and he made a comment (I'm sorry but I don't know who said it first) that the more he learned, the less he knew.  

At first it sounded quite paradoxical, but then, as I thought about it, it began to make sense.  When we are born we know nothing, our world is the six inches in front of us; but, as we absorb all that we come into contact with, our world expands.  

As a child we are the center of our own universes.  Everything outside is a mere abstraction.  But the more knowledge we absorb the more we come to understand that we are but a small piece in a much larger mosaic.

The same dynamic continues as we move into adulthood.  Seven years ago my (now)wife and I spent the holidays backpacking through Spain.  In those two-and-a-half weeks I learned a lot about Spain, her traditions and her history, but I also learned a lot about myself, my relationship with my wife and my country.  Things kind of fell into perspective as I sat in a church that was built before the pilgrims landed in the Americas for midnight mass.

As a criminal defense attorney I find the more I learn about DWI law, the breath test machine, police coordination tests, jury selection and closing argument, the less I know.  Every new door I open up reveals another.

Strive to know less.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"No Refusal Weekend" announced in Harris County through the New Year

Harris County will be carrying out another "No Refusal" assault on your rights between now and the New Year's weekend.  Interim Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson made the announcement on Friday.  Here is the press release issued by the DA's office:

(Houston, TX) – The District Attorney’s “No Refusal” DWI program will be working with area police agencies to enhance enforcement against drunk drivers during weekends and holidays through New Year’s Day, District Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced Friday. 

Warren Diepraam, chief of the DA’s Vehicular Crimes Section, reported that initial figures indicate that the 16-month-old “No Refusal” is a valuable law enforcement and prosecutorial tool in the fight against impaired drivers. 

The program brings together prosecutors, a nurse, a judge and police experts at one facility. They expedite the process of obtaining scientific evidence on DWI suspects as soon as possible. Warrants for breath or blood samples are sought on drivers who refuse requests to voluntarily provide them. 

Prosecutors have prepared about 300 warrants during most major “drinking” holidays since the program was introduced over the 2007 Memorial Day weekend. Initial findings show the program: 

** Provides solid evidence against those who are more impaired than suspects who provide breath samples. The average breath test result is about .13 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), compared to .17 for the average blood test (.08 is the legal limit). 

** Takes the guesswork out of decisions to prosecute. Only 2 percent of the suspects were under the legal limit of .08 and had no other intoxication substance in the blood. So the officers’ decisions to arrest are overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence, and potentially innocent subjects go free. 

** Increases the rates of motorists consenting to provide breath or blood samples. The statewide refusal rate is about 50 percent. During “No Refusal” program nights, that refusal rate has dropped to as low as 35 percent. When combined with mobile testing units, the refusal rate has dropped to as low as 20 percent. 

I'm particularly amused by the claim that the "No Refusal" program "expedite[s] the process of obtaining scientific evidence on DWI suspects."  Waterboarding and other forms of torture have also proven somewhat effective at obtaining evidence.

The press release also notes that about 50% of citizens arrested on suspicion of DWI exercise their right to refuse the breath test while during a "No Refusal" weekend the refusal rate dips to as low as 20%.

The surest way to avoid being arrested for DWI during one of these assaults on your rights is not to get behind the wheel if you've had anything to drink -- call a cab, call a friend, use a designated driver.  However, if you plan on drinking and driving, please limit your consumption to no more than one alcoholic drink an hour - as the body burns off alcohol at the rate of about one drink per hour.

If you do find yourself wrongly accused of DWI, contact my office immediately.

Monday, December 22, 2008

DWI Crackdown? Or crackdown on your rights

In order to stop and detain a driver, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is breaking the law. This could be anything from not signaling a lane change to having an expired inspection sticker to swerving into oncoming traffic.

Once the citizen has been detained, the police must have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed in order to place the citizen under arrest. Officers typically rely on several "signs of intoxication" including glassy or bloodshot eyes, the smell of an alcoholic beverage, the admission of drinking alcohol and slurred speech. If the officer administers police coordination exercises at the scene, the results of those flawed and unfair tests will also be considered.

In Texas it is not against the law to have an alcoholic beverage and then drive. It is only against the law if the driver has lost the normal use of his or her mental and/or physical faculties at the time of driving.

MADD is touting the national crackdown on drunk driving that will be hitting the nation's roadways this week and next. This crackdown represents yet another assault on our constitutional rights as local police, prosecutors and courts will be teaming up to make it easier to turn ordinary citizens into criminals by forcing those accused of drunk driving to give up evidence that can be used against them.

Remember that you have the right to refuse to perform any roadside or station-house coordination exercises a police officer asks you to do. You also have the right not to answer any questions aside from identification questions. You have the right to refuse to blow into the state's breath test machine. In short, you have the constitutional right not to incriminate yourself.

If you feel your rights were violated or that you were wrongly arrested for DWI, contact my office immediately.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Criminalizing childhood

In this morning's Houston Chronicle, state and metro columnist Rick Casey questioned our lawmakers' priorities in defining crimes. Four middle-school students at a suburban Houston school who wrote on the wall of the girls' restroom have been charged with felonies.

Per our sage lawmakers in Austin, taking a pen and writing on a bathroom wall is a worse offense than hazing, possessing two ounces of marijuana, stealing $1499, engaging in prostitution, carrying a prohibited weapon, making a terroristic threat, assaulting a family member, or a second drunk driving offense.

Teenagers do stupid things. I did some things during my teenage years that were incredibly stupid and I'm sure y'all did, too. But just because something is stupid doesn't mean it should be a crime -- and it certainly doesn't mean that a teenager should have to carry the stigma of a conviction for the rest of his or her life.

Somewhere along the way we, as a society, have lost our common sense. In days past if you got into a fight at school, got into an argument with a teacher or administrator or wrote on a wall or door you were punished by the school (and then by your parents). Nowadays you're likely to find yourself in court facing a criminal charge - with your parents footing the bill for hiring an attorney.

Are we, as Mr. Casey ruminated, criminalizing childhood?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Last minute gift ideas

Here are two items you might consider for that person that's really hard to shop for:

David Steele Enterprises, Inc. has created the iBreath accessory for the iPod and iPhone.  The device connects to the bottom of your iPod or iPhone and contains a breath wand.  You blow into the wand and if the reading is .08 or higher, an alarm sounds.  No word yet on how accurate the devices are, how they are calibrated, what assumptions they make about partition ratios, whether the source code is available for inspection or how often the state's breath test expert supposedly performs maintenance on the device.

Earlier this year Taser released the Taser C2 that features an MP3 player capable of holding up to 1GB of music.  Nothing like rocking out while your would-be attacker writhes on the ground.  There's also a selection of stylish patterns to choose from. It certainly beats the basic black and yellow worn by the Harris County Sheriff's Department. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another bad idea

Here's word that the State of Georgia, upset because it didn't get the okay to kill a citizen convicted of murder, wants to mete out death by non-unanimous jury verdicts.  Nevermind that we're talking about a person's life.  Nevermind that you can't have proof beyond a reasonable doubt with a non-unanimous verdict.  Nevermind that Brian Nichols was sentenced to multiple life sentences without parole.

The prosecutor even wants los federales to pursue criminal charges and, in turn, the death penalty.

Look, for whatever reason, the jury did not agree that Mr. Nichols deserved the needle.  That shouldn't be blamed on a legal system that demands a unanimous verdict for death.  Blame it on the prosecutor for not doing his job during voir dire.  Blame it on the prosecutor for not bring enough evidence to support his case during trial.  Blame it on the one juror who refused to consider the death penalty.

But don't take potshots at the due process provisions of the 14th Amendment.  Don't sacrifice the 8th Amendment's proscriptions against cruel and unusual punishments.  Don't throw out our 5th Amendment protections against double jeopardy.  Don't discard our notions of federalism.

Bad cases make (very) bad law.

Our justice system is not a blood sport.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bill of Rights

Today is the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.  Celebrate by reading the document once again and revel in its simplicity.  Pay close attention to the 9th Amendment that reserves all remaining rights to the people.

I would also encourage you to read this post on freedom and safety by my colleague, Mark Bennett.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Greed is good?

Bernie Madoff's alleged swindle of over $50 billion was made possible, in large part, by the greed and avarice of wealthy individuals who bought the premise that they could earn huge returns on their investments without any risk.

This was not a man trying to swindle poor old widows out of their monthly social security checks. He wasn't trying to scam someone into believing they could make millions off the internet doing nothing. His victims weren't those so gullible as to believe that a bank in Nigeria would be depositing millions into their bank accounts.

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works.

Mr. Madoff scammed the sophisticated and the wealthy.  He scammed them because they were blinded by the dollar signs he dangled in front of them.  He scammed them because the Securities and Exchange Commission was (once again) asleep at the wheel.  He scammed them because during the Bush years no one wanted to rock the boat and actually regulate the financial markets.

Certainly there are some very wealthy people who lost a lot of money, but losing money is a kinder fate than that which awaits the avarice in Hell -- sitting in a cauldron of boiling oil.

Here's more on the Madoff saga:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Forced blood draws in Texas

If you are arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Texas, Chapter 724 of the Texas Transportation Code authorizes a peace officer to request a sample of your breath or your blood for testing.  In fact, Section 724.012(b) requires an officer to request a sample of your breath or blood if you're arrested on suspicion of violating the state's DWI statute.  Per Section 724.012(c), the officer gets to decide whether to request breath or blood.

Section 724.019 allows a citizen accused to request an independent blood test within two hours of providing a sample pursuant to a request from a peace officer.  I have yet to speak to a client who was informed of this right after blowing into the state's breath test machine.

Section 724.017(a) only authorizes a physician, qualified technician, chemist, registered professional nurse or license vocational nurse to take an evidential blood specimen from a citizen accused of DWI.  Interestingly enough, per Section 724.017(c), the term "qualified technician" does NOT include emergency medical technicians or service workers. The blood must be drawn in a sanitary place. Neither the back of an ambulance, the police station nor the county jail are considered to be sanitary places.

While the results of blood tests are looked upon as more accurate that breath test results, there are several avenues available to attack the results.  The state, for instance, must prove up the chain of custody for the blood sample and, based on Crawford, affidavits will not suffice.  The prosecutor will have to bring in every person who handled the blood specimen.  The state will also have to prove that the sample was collected, stored and tested in accordance with the procedures for the particular sample kit used to collect the specimen.  Expiration dates, tube caps and placement of labels become important issues in attacking the validity of a blood test result.  

The warrant authorizing a forced blood draw must be signed by an impartial magistrate and must contain the allegations within the four corners of the document.  On many "No Refusal" weekends, either MADD or a victims' rights group will donate the funds to supply a judge and registered nurse in case a citizen accused declines a breath test.  How neutral and impartial is a judge who's being paid by MADD going to be?

As I have said many times before, and will continue to say, the best way to avoid being arrested for driving while intoxicated is NOT to drink and drive.  But, if you do, and if you're falsely accused of DWI, contact my office.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad choices

The other day I was down at the Galveston County Courthouse for docket call in one of the misdemeanor courts.  The judge called a name and a young lady answered and then asked "Do I need a lawyer?"

Nothing good comes after that question by a citizen accused of a criminal act.  And, sure enough, after the judge read her her options (talk to the prosecutor, ask for time to hire an attorney or ask for a court-appointed attorney), she chose to talk to the prosecutor.

I could only shake my head.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Personal responsibility in the Bush era

For the last eight years the buzzword from President Bush has been personal responsibility. Prosecutors tell me continually that my client needs to accept responsibility for his actions.

But, when it comes to the executives running the major banks and brokerage houses in this country, personal responsibility means going to Washington with your hand out and asking for the taxpayers' (it's our money, after all) money so they can continue to pay themselves obscene salaries, perks and bonuses. These so-called financial experts gobbled up risky investments without taking the trouble to hedge their bets. The partners and shareholders ate it up. No one stood up and questioned the strategy. And then, when it all came crumbling down, no one wanted to take responsibility for it.

And what do our elected officials do in response? They open up our checkbook, hand it to the bankers who lost the money in the first place and don't ask for any accounting of where the money's going.

It's all part of the privatization of gain and the socialization of loss in our society. The profits from these schemes find their way into fewer and fewer hands while the costs of bailing out the banks is spread among everyone.

There's not enough money to provide health insurance for the nation's uninsured children. There's not enough money to expand social services in our inner cities. There's not enough money to make college affordable for everyone. But there's enough money to hand the banks and brokerages a blank check for $700 billion.

There's no sympathy in the DA's office for the kid who makes a very bad choice. There's no sympathy for a young adult looking at a charge that could make him virtually unemployable. There's no sympathy for a citizen accused with a family facing the prospect of years in prison. There's no sympathy for the ever-growing numbers of young African-Americans and Latinos being institutionalized in our jails and prisons. There's no sympathy for the working poor who can't afford legal representation.

No one on Franklin Street, or in Austin or in Washington wants to accept any responsibility for the situation. But everyone will continue to chant the mantra personal responsibilty as the assault on the working poor and minority citizens continues.

P.S. I'm certain that some of y'all have posted articles dealing with this subject. Feel free to notify me on Twitter, e-mail me or leave a comment with a link and I'll be more than happy to include it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Celebrating Human Rights Day

On December 10, 2008, a display of documents including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were dedicated in the foyer of the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center.

My colleagues Mark Bennett, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer's Association (HCCLA); JoAnne Musick, president-elect of HCCLA; and Robb Fickman, former president of HCCLA spoke at the dedication.

Mark, whose comments can be read here, reminded us that there is nothing in any of these documents about docket control or judicial efficiency.  He also pointed out that these documents were concerned with freedom and liberty, not safety and security.

Ms. Musick and Mr. Fickman spearheaded a two-year-long effort to have these documents hung in the courthouse.  What an absurdity it is that we have to fight to put the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in a courthouse.

I am hardpressed to think of a better way to celebrate Human Rights Day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Human Rights Day

Today is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is designated Human Rights Day.  I believe, however, that we should declare every day to be Human Rights Day.

Everyday in courtrooms around the world, dedicated members of the criminal defense bar fight to protect our rights.  It doesn't matter if the lawyer is in Europe, Asia, Mexico or Houston; it doesn't matter if you've never committed or been charged with a crime - our rights are on the line everyday.

When an attorney asks that the confession of an alleged murderer be suppressed because of police interrogation tactics, when an attorney seeks to have evidence in a dope case suppressed because of a 4th amendent violation, when an attorney seeks to reduce the bail asked of his client accused of peddling kiddie porn - our rights are being defended.

I'm asked often how I can defend people accused of serious crimes and I answer that I'm not defending a crime, I'm defending the Constitution.

Whether it's the attorney arguing a case before the Supreme Court, the attorney arguing before a state court of appeals, the attorney writing the appellate brief or the attorney who stood up and preserved error at trial, they are fighting for our rights everyday.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Brace yourself for another "No Refusal" weekend

Here's a preview of NHTSA's anti-drunk driving campaign for the holiday season.  I don't have any specific dates for when the enforcement campaign will be put in place in Texas, but rest assured there will be another "No Refusal" weekend over New Year's.

If you are stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on New Year's Eve, you will be asked to submit a breath sample on the state's breath test machine.  Should you refuse, a judge will sign a warrant for a forced blood draw.  While the results of these tests can be challenged on both scientific and legal grounds, the process can be both humiliating and painful.

Warren Diepraam, the head of Harris County's Vehicular Crimes section, described the genesis of the "No Refusal" Weekend in this article published on the Texas District and County Attorney's Association website.

The question is, should you refuse the breath test if asked on a "No Refusal" Weekend?  My colleague Mark Bennett provided this advice and I can't say that I disagree with him.

My advice, as always, is the best way to avoid being arrested for driving while intoxicated is not to drive if you've been drinking.  But, if you are arrested for DWI, contact my office immediately.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Lake Raven, Huntsville State Park, December 5, 2008 

Work to live, don't live to work.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Zen and the art of trail running

On Saturday I spent a wonderful day running along 31 miles of trails through Huntsville State Park. The weather was fantastic - sunny skies with temperatures in the 40's. I didn't run my fastest time, but I finished and that's what I had set out to do.

Few things are more relaxing than running through the forest listening to the caws of the ravens, seeing squirrels scurry about and smelling the scent of the piney woods. For a few hours on a late fall day you can lose yourself in the run and push all of the day-to-day stress away.

Trail running is very different than road running. On the trails your world consists of the 5-6 feet in front of you. You have to keep a constant watch for exposed roots, rocks, limbs and gullies. Lose that concentration for just an instant and you can end up eating a mouthful of dirt.

It's much the same in trial work. During trial you have to pay attention to the minutest detail. You have to listen to every question asked by the prosecutor and every answer given by the witness. At the same time you're listening for the narrative, you have to be ready to object at a moment's notice. As on the trails, lose the focus and you could cost your client his liberty.

But, at some point you learn how to focus on the details without losing sight of the bigger picture.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kissing time

In engineering lingo, KISS means "keep it simple, stupid." It's a mantra that we as criminal defense attorneys need to keep in mind when preparing our cases for trial.

As I was watching a show on Discovery Channel about natural disasters, I saw an interview with an engineer from Iowa State University who had constructed a tornado simulator. The device, which can simulate tornados with winds in excess of 300 mph, only has four components.

A good story only needs a protagonist, an antagonist and an event. Too many characters, too many subplots and too many twists will weigh down a book or a movie - rendering it unreadable or unwatchable. The books and movies we remember are very simple stories.

Jurors don't have enough time or energy to absorb a complex story. They have a host of other things on their minds such as the inconvenience of serving on a jury, a project at work, problems at home, children and the like. Don't be guilty of confusing the jury, let the prosecutor spin a complex yarn and lose the panel.

Don't overthink your case. Boil it down to its essential elements and present it to the jury in a way in which they can follow the story. If you can describe your case within the construct of a story to a stranger, or a person with no knowledge of the case, then you're on the right track.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Doctor who treated Plaxico Burress suspended

Dr. Josyann Abisaab, the doctor who treated Plaxico Burress for his allegedly self-inflicted gunshot wound, failed to report the incident to the police and signed off on documents identifying Mr. Burress by a phony name, has had her privileges at New York-Cornell Hospital suspended.

Dr. Abisaab was summoned in the middle of the night by an as-of-yet unidentified person (who may have been the Giants VP of medical services, Ronnie Barnes.

Dr. Abisaab may face charges for her failure to report the incident.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Protecting their own

Here's a shocker... acting Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson today announced that his predecessor, Chuck Rosenthal, will not face criminal charges for his use of government property in personal campaigning.

Magidson said that, following an eight-month long investigation by the state Attorney General's Office, he does not believe that Rosenthal committed any criminal acts.  Maybe it's time to criminalize prosecuting while impaired.

Monday, December 1, 2008

HGN and hearsay

The Amarillo Court of Appeals has reversed a DWI conviction because the trial court allowed the prosecutor to introduce a letter from the American Optometric Association regarding the validity and reliability of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. 

In Wells v. State, No. 07-07-0471-CR (Tex.App.--Amarillo, 2008), the Court held that it was reversible error for the trial court to have allowed the arresting officer to identify the letter and then to allow the prosecutor to read it into evidence.  The Court pointed out that there was nothing in the record to indicate the officer was an optometrist, a member of the AOA or had any knowledge of any test or studies that backed up the AOA's position.

Interestingly enough, the prosecutor introduced the exhibit at the end of the state's case in chief (at the end of the first day of trial) and reintroduced it during closing argument.  Defense counsel (correctly) objected on the grounds that the document was hearsay and that the defendant was being denied his right to confrontation under Crawford.

Now when the prosecutor asks the arresting officer about the so-called validation studies and the supposed accuracy of the NHTSA battery of police coordination exercises, stand up and object with the Wells opinion in your hand.

Dumb and dumber

At the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan, in the early morning hours Saturday, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg. At least that's what we're supposed to believe.

Mr. Burress had a Florida-issued concealed weapons permit (that expired last May). New York does not recognize any other state's concealed weapons permits.

For some reason Mr. Burress felt he needed to carry a loaded handgun in his waistband when he went out that evening - to a posh Manhattan nightclub. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that alcohol and loaded handguns are a bad idea.

At some point the gun (allegedly) slipped from Mr. Burress' waistband and he claims that when he tried to grab it through his pants the gun fired and the bullet passed through his right leg. Apparently no one heard the gun go off because no one came to his aid.

Mr. Burress' teammate, linebacker Antonio Pierce, decided to take the gun and hide it in New Jersey. Mr. Burress declined an ambulance ride to the hospital and relied, instead, on private transportation.

Ironically enough, Plaxico Burress was not scheduled to play for the Giants this past weekend due to a leg injury.

It will be interesting to find out what really happened that evening. Why was Mr. Burress carrying a loaded handgun to a nightclub? If it was for protection, maybe he should think twice about where he goes or with whom he goes. Why would his teammate take the handgun and hide it? If Mr. Burress was shot accidentally there would no reason to hide the weapon. How did Mr. Burress get the handgun past the metal detector?

Mr. Burress is now facing a weapon possession charge and has turned himself in to police.