Thursday, November 21, 2013

The neverending trial story

James Holmes, the man accused of perpetrating the Aurora, CO theater massacre, is now without a trial date. His case is indefinitely postponed while the attorneys wrangle over mental health examinations. The state got one performed and now wants some kind of clarification or re-exam. (Which, btw, suggests that, duh, the guy is insane, just as the defense has always maintained.)

So now there will be more psychological evaluations, more motions hearings, more everything but resolution of the case. And, sure enough, the comments online are expressing deep consternation about the fact that the alleged shooter isn't already a pile of bones. (Yep, actual comment. Not making that up. That's a fairly tame one, frankly.) How shameful it is that someone didn't just take him out back and put a bullet in his forehead. How unfair it is to the survivors and families that this will drag on longer and longer. How awful those blood-sucking leeches of bleeding-heart liberal defense attorneys are who defend this guy, gumming up the works so justice can be delayed forever. (Do we suck blood because we have to continually replenish the supply our bleeding hearts spill everywhere? Probably.)

I just want to point something out, though. That this case isn't resolved yet isn't on the defense. This one is squarely on the state. However long this case drags out, whatever twists it takes, remember one thing: the accused offered to plead out long, long ago. This case would be reduced to nothing but files stashed away in a storage room somewhere by now if the prosecutors weren't so dead-set on killing an insane man.

So if you want to be mad that someone is delaying justice, be sure you're focusing your anger where it belongs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hey Liz Cheney

This is what it looks like when you put your family member ahead of some group you want to be a part of.

Of course, I don't know what any of these familial relationships look like in real life, behind closed twitter accounts. But if I had to pick a new family for myself, I'd sure pick the dad who would risk his livelihood to stand by me rather than a sister who would disapprove of my family to score political points in a race she has no chance of winning anyway.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In which I throw my red wine glass at my favorite Thursday tv show

Oy, it's bad enough when shows and movies about the law absolutely butcher trial procedures. Arrested today, tried tomorrow! Attorneys presenting testimony and evidence instead of asking questions of witnesses! Attorneys dramatically ending their cross-examination of a witness by declaring they're calling a new witness! Yeah, none of those things happen in real life.

But tonight, Grey's Anatomy (which I'd always thought got the medicine part more or less right) is tackling medical malpractice. And it's ruining my Thursday night escapism because it's laughably inaccurate. Being me, I can't let this stuff go. Not from a show that's so far out of its regular field.

The surgery in question happened 4 months ago. As in earlier in 2013. And yet we're supposed to believe it's already reached trial. That would never, never, ever in a billion years happen. Few types of cases take longer to get to trial than medical malpractice cases. Why the hurdle for getting a law suit started on a medical malpractice claim is such that no law suit would ever even be filed only four months after a surgery. Try a year and a half.

And then it would be years more before the case saw the inside of a courtroom. Years of discovery and interrogatories and depositions and motions and expert consultations and etc., etc.

Ok, so it's ludicrous beyond belief that the case is already being tried 4 months after the surgery. Then we had a doctor on the stand trying to answer questions by the plaintiff's lawyer. She was clearly trying to explain why the defendant doctor did what she did and how it wasn't malpractice, but the plaintiff's lawyer cut her off, saying it was a yes/no question. The witness left in despair, being made to feel she hadn't been allowed to explain. Of course, in an actual trial, the defendant's lawyer also gets to question witnesses. Any decent trial lawyer would immediately start the examination of this witness by asking her to say what she'd wanted to say to the other lawyer. Crisis averted, problem solved.

Honestly, it's like they're not even trying. I hope Scandal doesn't try to get too far into any trial stuff. Girlfriend needs her harmless escapism free of really bad law stuff.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One wrongful conviction saga comes to a deligtfully abrupt end

Every once in a while, it happens. Every once in a while, a prosecutor pleasantly surprises me. Today is one of those days. Living so near to Missouri, I have been aware of the Ryan Ferguson case for years. He was still just a teenager when he was accused of a murder in Columbia, MO. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence and his father has worked doggedly to keep the case in the news and build a public groundswell of support for Ryan. Over the years, the case against Ryan has fallen apart. The CBS 48 Hours reporter who researched the case for that show has unabashedly proclaimed her belief in his innocence. (Yes, press, it is actually ok to take a position on something once you've done your research and know the facts.)

Finally, last week, an appellate court in Missouri granted Ryan a new trial. Immediately, his dad and lawyer were talking about how quickly he would be released. I'm a cynical pessimist with a background in appellate practice, so I thought that was naive talk because I assumed the state would appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. I further assumed that the prosecution would insist on retrying Ryan because that's the usual course of things. Prosecutors don't tend to give up. Often, even when there's a new DNA result that doesn't match the defendant and the theory all along has been that there was a single perpetrator, prosecutors are more willing to amend their theory that there was a second attacker rather than admit the defendant wasn't involved. (This is not always true, of course, but it does happen.)

But today, those prosecutors in the position to make a decision about the Ryan Ferguson case decided to do the right thing and let the case go. Just a few hours ago, Ryan left the Boone County Jail (in a car decked out with his picture, which I'm presuming was part of his father's billboard campaign to free him). These prosecutors recognized that they had no case against Ryan and so decided to acknowledge that truth rather than cling to a discredited theory of guilt. I hope this also means they will reopen the case and work to find the actual killer.

There's another twist to the Ryan Ferguson saga, though. There's still someone in prison for this murder, a person whose conviction is based on the same theory of guilt as Ryan's was. In fact, the other individual, Charles Erickson, was one of the two witnesses who truly implicated Ryan at trial. But Erickson's testimony was always problematic and he has long since recanted. (Hint: when a defendant talks about his memories of the crime in terms of a "dream," that's a sign of a possible false confession.) Erickson is not currently in any position to have his conviction overturned as he entered a plea. He's sort of the forgotten man in this saga, probably earning less sympathy from most people for having brought this on himself by claiming he and Ryan were the culprits. (I'm not sure how it came about that he gave the statement and testimony he did.)

So while it's fabulous to see Ryan Ferguson going home tonight, the work of the prosecutors dealing with this murder case isn't done. If Ryan Ferguson wasn't involved, then the guy he was with that night without whose false claims you wouldn't have convicted Ryan wasn't involved, either. So you still have one wrongly convicted guy behind bars and you still have a wrongly-free murderer on the loose. One error corrected, two to go.

You didn't think I would really be satisfied by a prosecutor's actions, did you?
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