Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Criminal Detection, Rajasthan Style

In the middle of cleaning up my desk I ran across a copy of this news item that I unaccountably forgot to blog. According to the Express of India it was reported to the panchayat or village elders of Ranpur that rice and wheat had been stolen from the village school. After a few days with no identification of the thieves forthcoming the village council knew just what to do.

The village elders issued an order that compelled 150 of the local gentry to retrieve a copper ring from a kettle of boiling oil. Those who declined to offer were considered to be guilty. Had they not complied the villagers would have been ostracized, and out of fear they agreed to.

The village elders were arrested.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Social Workers At Risk? News From Kentucky

It is reported today that a social worker in Kentucky who was escorting a child that had been removed from the home for a supervised visit with mom and dad was stabbed to death by mom and dad, who abducted the child and fled.

The child had been removed from the home for abuse some months previously.

An Amber Alert has been issued by the state of Kentucky for Saige Terrell, child of Renee Terrell and Christopher Luttrell, who were last seen driving a 2000 Daewoo station wagon.

The object lesson for all officers and social workers has to be this: interactions with parents of children removed from the home by human service agencies is definitely not risk free.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Up to No Good? Suppression of Statements Made Fails Seibert Test

State v. Titus, No. 05-1307 (Iowa Ct. App. October 11 2006).

Titus, driver was involved in a traffic accident and during the investigation the passenger's jacket was found in front of a K-Mart, with a revolver in the pocket. While in the back of the squad car Titus made voluntary statements about the revolver to the investigating officer. Transported to the station, Titus had a conversation with another officer that lasted a short time.
At that point, the second officer advised Titus of his Miranda rights which he waived and gave a statement. Charged with being a felon in possession, Titus moved to suppress the statements he made, alleging that he was in custody and was not advised of his rights before being actively questioned.
The trial court suppressed the statements Titus made before he was read his rights, but admitted all statements made thereafter.

Titus appealed based on Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004).

As it happens I know a little bit about this subject because I argued the same thing about two weeks after this decision came down. The decision concerns a split interrogation practice of getting the defendant to make damaging admissions and then sanitizing the process with the invocation of Miranda after the defendant's resistance has been compromised. In police circles it is called "beachheading" and is taught by some trainers as a way to get around Miranda.

The state countered with Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985), which concerned spontaneous admissions made by a defendant who was being talked to, who was then transported, Mirandized, and then proceeded to dig his own grave and pull the dirt in on top of himself.

Finding that there was no police strategy to evade Miranda, the court of appeals concluded that the giving of the Miranda warning prior to the second interrogation cured the condition that made the first statement inadmissible.

The takehome for officers is self evident. Never neglect the warning.

Sufficiency Of Possession With Intent Evidence Claim Fails

In State v. Grant, No. 05-0020 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2006) a defendant was convicted of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to show intent to deliver the drugs in his possession.

During a consent search of the defendant's residence for other drugs, officers found an address book with the names and addresses of two people known as manufacturers and distributors of methamphetamine. On inquiry the defendant led officers to a sealed tin in an air duct, where eight individually wrapped baggies containing an aggregate 5.38 grams were secreted.

Officers testified at trial that the individually wrapped baggies were indicative of packaging for sale. Information developed on cross examination suggested there was no other indicia of sale, such as scales, cash, packaging materials and accounts of transactions, and that the amount was not in and of itself more than might be of personal use.

The court of appeals found that the substantial quantity of the drugs and the way in which it was packaged was sufficient for the trier of fact to conclude that the defendant possessed the drugs for resale.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Community Caretaker Function Supports Vehicle Stop, OWI Arrest.

In State v. Brunk, 05-1468 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2006), a defendant moved to suppress evidence.

Ottumwa dispatch received an anonymous call that a man in a red pickup next to a restaurant looked unwell. An officer was dispatched and saw a red pickup leave the restaurant parking lot. The officer called his dispatcher to make sure that the description of the truck matched what he saw and when so advised, he stopped the vehicle although he did not observe any traffic violations.

A preliminary breath test and other observations revealed an intoxicated driver and the defendant was arrested and prosecuted for drunk driving. He moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that there was no reasonable cause to stop his truck. The trial court denied his motion, finding that the community caretaker exception justified the stop. This appeal followed.

The court of appeals conducted a three step analysis. Concluding that there was a seizure, the court examined what the officer knew when he stopped the vehicle. It was reasonable for the officer to briefly stop the vehicle to ascertain whether the driver needed assistance or was safe to continue. The public need and interest required the officer to determine the driver's condition outweighed a minimal intrusion, and the officer did no more than was required to determine whether the driver needed assistance.

No Evidence That DWI Suspect Was Refused Right to Contact Family Member

In State v. Boone, 05-2011 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2006), a driver moved to suppress breath test results. The defendant argued that she made a legitimate request to contact a family member under section 804.20 of the Code but was not allowed to do so until after the test. The court denied her motion and she was convicted at a bench trial.

The court of appeals found that the only evidence whether there'd ever been a valid request to contact a family member was in the testimony of the officer and the defendant. The evidence of the entire affair was contrary to any assertion that her rights had been violated. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court judgment on the motion.

Evidence Suppressed in a Vehicle Stop

In State v. Nieves-Rivera, 05-1873 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2006) a Sioux City officer stopped a vehicle because he could not see that the license plate was illuminated. The officer was approximately 100 feet back when he 'lit up' the driver.

During the stop it was determined the driver provided a false name, had no license and he was arrested. A search incident to arrest led to the discovery of methamphetamine. The driver moved to suppress the evidence seized, based on there being no reasonable cause to initiate a vehicle stop.

Section 321.388 of the Code clearly specifies that the legible distance for illumination is fifty feet.

Based on State v. Malloy, 453 N.W.2d 243 (Iowa Ct. App. 1990) which states that when the facts stated giving rise to an arrest do not exist, no reasonable cause exists to stop the defendant, the trial court granted the defendant's motion, and the Iowa Court of Appeals agreed.

The officer's stop of the vehicle was not objectively reasonable given the fact that he did not get closer than 100 feet to determine whether the license plate light was sufficient to illuminate the plate before initiating a stop.

The takehome from the case is clear. It's best to know the formal requirement of 321.388 before relying on it as the predicate for a vehicle stop.

Dallas County Sheriff Resigns

It was reported today in the Register that Dallas County Sheriff Brian Gilbert has resigned ahead of the attorney general's petition to remove him from office. Gilbert still faces theft charges stemming from a missing bundle of cash that was seized in a vehicle search earlier in the summer.