Wednesday, November 24, 2010

State v. Ciccone - Notice of Appeal

In the third criminal case of the day, the Supreme Court dismissed Albert Ciccone's appeal from two murder convictions because the notice of appeal was untimely.

The District Court pronounced sentence on June 7, 2005, but the filing stamp bore a handwritten notation of May 7, 2005. On June 21, 2005, having noticed the discrepancy, the District Court entered an amended judgment. Forty-two days later, Mr. Ciccone's notice of appeal was filed.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as untimely holding that the time for appeal began on June 7, 2005. The Court wrote that a party cannot complain of prejudice due to the lack of notice that the 42-day window for appeal had begun unless both 1) the clerk cannot prove it served the document and 2) the party did not actually know that a final judgment had been entered. Here, even though the judgment bore the wrong date, a copy of it had been served on counsel on June 8.

The lesson: File the notice of appeal sooner rather than later because the 42-day window for appeal begins to run as soon as the judgment is entered -- even if the judgment contains errors that will later have to be corrected. It is not difficult to withdraw an appeal that the client later decides was ill-advised. It is impossible to file a late appeal.

Busy Day at the Court

The Court issued seven (!) new opinions today (and one substitute opinion), including three criminal cases.

In State v. Ruiz, the district court would not permit the defendant to cross-examine a codefendant about the mandatory prison sentence he avoided by agreeing to testify for the State. The Supreme Court held that the lower court erred by not conducting the analysis required by IRE 403 and vacated the conviction.

Morrison and Ruiz were both charged with trafficking in methamphetamine. Morrison agreed to testify against Ruiz in exchange for a reduction in the charge against him to delivery of a controlled substance, thus avoiding the three year mandatory minimum sentence. The State agreed to recommend probation if Morrison testified truthfully. During Ruiz’s trial, the prosecutor, outside the presence of the jury, stated that there should not be any mention of the mandatory minimum that Morrison avoided and the district court limited Ruiz's cross-examination in that way.

The Supreme Court found the district court erred. First, it noted that the district court found that evidence of the mandatory minimum was relevant and thus presumptively admissible under IRE 402. It then noted that relevant evidence may be excluded under Rule 403. "To exclude evidence under Rule 403, the trial court must address whether the probative value is substantially outweighed by one of the considerations listed in the Rule." However, "[t]he district court here did not conduct that analysis. It merely said, "You can’t talk about minimum mandatories." It concluded that "[b]ecause it excluded the evidence without conducting the analysis required by Rule 403, the district court erred."

Because it vacated the conviction under IRE 403, the Court did not reach Ruiz's claim that his right to confront witnesses was violated.

This case may be helpful to us because it suggests the Court must do the 403 weighing on the record. That only makes sense because a mental weighing of 403 factors is not reviewable on appeal. What's more, on the record weighing will lead to fully thought out and hence better decisions by the trial courts.

State v. Ruiz,

In State v. Moore, the Court held that the district court did not have authority in a criminal case to direct the Idaho Department of Correction to return a presentence investigation report.

Moore filed a post-conviction petition under Estrada v. State and got his sentence vacated. Before the resentencing, Moore asked the district court to order the IDOC to return its copy of the first PSI to keep it from being taken into account when Moore was considered for parole. The district court denied the request holding that it did not have the authority to do so.

The Supreme Court agreed. It noted that while IC § 20-237 requires that "a copy of the presentence investigation report, if any, . . . shall be delivered into the custody of the director[,]" it does not "grant the court authority to demand the return of a PSI." In response to the argument that the Court Rules gave the district court authority, the Court stated that the separation of powers clause of the Idaho Constitution (Article II, § 1), would prohibit the Court from directing the IDOC, who was not a party to the case, to take an action under a Court Rule. "This Court has no authority to determine the Department's record retention policies." Thus, it held that the district court did not err.

The Court went on to note, however, that "[i]f Moore contends that the Department's consideration of some of the information would violate his Fifth Amendment Rights, he can address that matter with the Department."

State v. Moore,

We'll put up a post on the third criminal case later today. In the meantime, here's a link:
State v. Ciccone,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tonight on Frontline

The PBS program Frontline has a show on tonight about the Norfolk Four.

You might remember that four sailors stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, falsely confessed to the rape and murder of the wife of another sailor. The sailors and experts explain that high-pressure police interrogation techniques led them to falsely confess. It's also a story of police and prosecutorial misconduct because the State wouldn't back off the prosecutions even after the only suspect who left DNA evidence at the crime scene confessed and told the police he did it alone, a scenario which fit the rest of the forensic evidence.

False confessions are real and are a real problem for defense attorneys. Most potential jurors believe that they would never confess to a crime they didn't commit and it's our job to overcome that mindset. This show might give us some ideas on how to do that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Three Arguments Today

The Court hears argument in three criminal cases today.

State v. Robert W. Skurlock: Thirty-two or thirty-three minutes after sunset on February 27, 2009, the Sandpoint Police executed a "daytime"search warrant on Robert W. Skurlock’s motel room and found some marijuana. The court denied the subsequent motion to suppress, relying on State v. Burnside, 113 Idaho 65, 741 P.2d 352 (Ct. App. 1987), which defines "daytime" as the period from "dawn to darkness where darkness is the point at which insufficient natural light exists with which to distinguish another’s features."

On appeal, Mr. Skurlock argues that Burnside should be overruled. Instead, he asks the Court to adopt the bright-line standard in State v. Simmons, 866 P.2d 614 (Utah App. 1993), which prohibits "daytime" warrants from being served one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise.

State v. Walter E. Moore: Mr. Moore was granted a new sentencing hearing for the crime of L&L after a successful post-conviction Estrada claim. Before the resentencing, he asked the court to order that the original PSI and psychosexual evaluation be removed from his IDOC files. The district court denied the motion believing it had no authority to grant the motion.

Mr. Moore argues on appeal that the district court had the authority to remove the reports and evaluation from the IDOC files. He also argues that his sentence of life with thirteen years fixed should be vacated or modified.

State of Idaho v. Jim Howard, III: A jury found Mr. Howard guilty of DUI, but the district court judge found him not guilty of the felony enhancement because it excluded proof of one of the two prior convictions, a California conviction, for not satisfying the state and federal requirements for full faith and credit under I.C. § 9-312 and 28 U.S.C. § 1738. The State appealed, arguing that the California judgment should have been considered because it was admissible under the Rules of Evidence.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as barred by double jeopardy. The Supreme Court granted review of both the full faith and credit and the double jeopardy issues.