The Decision From Hell (Part 3)
In Part 1 of this series of posts about the decision from hell, as I have come to call it, I criticized the first part of the Kentucky State Court of Appeals decision in Crane Station’s case.
That part affirmed the circuit court’s pretrial and supplementary post trial decision denying her motion to suppress evidence. In so doing, the Court of Appeals ignored binding legal precedent by United States Supreme Court and Kentucky State Supreme Court cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals, in effect, established a new rule that trial courts may consider evidence acquired after an investigatory stop without the requisite reasonable suspicion in determining whether a police officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. In other words, an otherwise unlawful investigatory stop becomes lawful, if the officer discovers evidence of a crime!
In Part 2, I criticized the Court of Appeals decision that, even if the circuit court improperly restricted her from cross examining the arresting officer, the error was harmless and the conviction should be affirmed. I pointed out there is no question that (1) the trial judge improperly restricted the cross examination and (2) the error violated her Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Further, because the error involved a constitutional right, the Court of Appeals had applied the wrong rule in determining whether the error was harmless.
If the Court of Appeals had applied the correct rule in Crane’s case, it should have reversed her conviction. Why? Because the correct rule would have required it to conclude that the error affected the outcome of the trial, unless the prosecution could have satisfied it beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not. I demonstrated how that was an impossible in Crane’s case.
Now, let us proceed to take a look at, believe it or not, the most egregious error committed by the Court of Appeals.
After the prosecution rested its case, the defense asked the trial judge to enter a judgment of acquittal on the DUI charge. The trial judge denied the request and the jury subsequently convicted Crane of DUI. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial of her request.
The problem with this decision is that it ignores the results of two scientific tests of Crane’s blood sample by analysts at the Kentucky State Crime Laboratory that conclusively established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.
KRS 189A.010, which defines the crime of DUI, required the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Crane operated her motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance or combination of substances which impairs one’s driving ability.
The Court of Appeals said,
The evidence elicited at trial established that Leatherman admitted to Deputy McGuire that she was taking three prescription medications, including Clonazepam, which contains a warning regarding driving while on that medication. Deputy McGuire also testified to his observations of Leatherman’s behavior, including the results of the HGN test showing intoxication.
Furthermore, Mr. Wilkey (the 911 caller) testified at trial that Leatherman and her husband visited him several months after the incident regarding his upcoming testimony. He reported that Leatherman told him that she was unable to remember what they discussed because she was “whacked out.” This evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is of sufficient substance to permit the question of guilt to go to the jury. (citation omitted)
Putting aside for the moment that I was there, she did not say that or anything like it, I told her lawyer that she did not say that, I asked him to call me as a witness, and he failed to call me as a witness,
The simple fact remains that two scientific tests established to a reasonable scientific certainty that she had no alcohol and no drugs in her blood.
That simple fact also establishes to a reasonable scientific certainty that the deputy and the 911 caller were mistaken or lying when they testified that she appeared to be intoxicated. Further, the HGN test is just a non invasive screening test that indicates possible alcohol or drug impairment that needs to be confirmed by a breath or blood test. Here, the blood test did not confirm impairment and the HGN was not even administered in the proper fashion.
This is a very dangerous precedent, if it is allowed to stand, because it basically says that mistaken and unreliable eyewitness testimony can trump scientific test results that establish innocence to a reasonable scientific certainty.
So much for exculpatory DNA testing . . .
I guess this is the Kentucky Court of Appeals solution to ‘solving’ the alarming, embarrassing, and escalating number of wrongful convictions of innocent people, including many people on death row, as conclusively established by post conviction DNA testing.
Do not attempt to reform the system because that would involve admitting something is wrong. Instead, just disappear wrongful convictions altogether by setting up a false equivalence that a scientific test result is not more accurate and reliable than a lay witness’s opinion and let a jury decide which to believe.
Will the Kentucky State Supreme Court deny Crane’s motion for discretionary review and allow this case to rewrite federal and state constitutional law and ‘solve’ the wrongful conviction problem by ignoring and disappearing it?
Cross posted from my law blog.