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Showing posts from February, 2011

State Court Unreasonably Denied Brady Relief for Commonwealth’s Concealment of Evidence

In Lambert v. Beard, ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 353209 (3d Cir. Feb. 7, 2011), Judge Barry authored the panel opinion granting guilt-innocence phase relief in this 1984 Philadelphia capital case. The state’s star witness, Jackson, who initially was identified as one of the shooters in a barroom robbery-murder, identified petitioner as one of two robbers who entered the bar while Jackson waited in the getaway car. Jackson was extensively impeached at trial, but the prosecution argued that one aspect of his testimony—his identification of Lambert and a second party as the two men who committed the crime—had never changed. In postconviction and habeas petitions, Lambert presented evidence that the prosecutor’s claim was untrue. The Commonwealth had never disclosed a police activity sheet showing that Jackson at one time named a third party, not Lambert or the second party he identified at trial, as a “co-defendant” responsible for the shooting.

The Commonwealth conceded that the prosec…

Pro se notice of appeal liberally construed

In US v. Aswa Mills, No. 10-1542 (Feb. 9, 2011) (click here), the Circuit ruled that a notice of appeal, especially if pro se, should be construed liberally and should be deemed adequate as long as it is "reasonably clear" under all the circumstances which judgment the party seeks to appeal.

Mills filed pro se notice of appeal shortly after his murder conviction, but gave the case number and trial date for an earlier assault case -- a case for which he had already fully served his sentence and had withdrawn an appeal. The Court reasoned that under the circumstances it should have been clear to the government that Mills intended to appeal from his murder conviction, not the expired assault conviction. In addition, the Court noted that the government could not show it was in any way prejudiced. "[A]s long as the judgment the party intends to appeal is fairly discernible, a notice of appeal will be deemed sufficient even though it references the wrong case number, or the…

Court Finds File Names are in Plain View; Looks at Consent, Inevitable Discovery and Independent Source Doctrines

In a lengthy c.p. opinion in U.S. v. Stabile, --- F.3d ----, 2011 WL 294036 (Feb. 1, 2011), the Third Circuit found the following:
(1) Consent to a warrantless search by cohabitant who had common authority over the property, including seizure of hard drives in common area which were not password protected, was valid; (2) the search of entire contents of the hard drives was reasonable and was not required to be done on-site;
(3) the subsequent revocation of cohabitant's consent by defendant was ineffective;
(4) a three-month delay between seizure of hard drives and obtaining search warrant was not unreasonable given that property was turned over by consent, defendant did not request return of the property, and government's rationale for the delay was reasonable;
(5) file names, which appeared when a folder on defendant’s hard drive was highlighted, indicating child pornography were in "plain view" during search for financial fraud evidence; and
(6) although the plain v…

Clear-Error Standard of Review Applies to a District Court’s Determination of Recklessness Under Franks

In United States v. Brown, No. 09-3643, the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s opinion granting the defendant’s motion to suppress a sample of his DNA pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).

Two men wearing masks from the movie “Scream” robbed a bank in Western Pennsylvania at gunpoint and fled to a nearby school district building, where they stole a school district van. Police found the van abandoned by the road only a half-mile from the school district building. A “Scream” mask with DNA material was later found in the van. Witnesses reported seeing a silver Volkswagen Jetta driving in the area that morning. The Jetta was described as having white license plates; one witness specifically stated that the Jetta had Maryland plates. A bank teller recognized one of the robbers’ voices as belonging to a regular customer. His acquaintance informed a State Trooper that he had a nephew (Mr. Brown) who had a silver Jetta and visited the area frequently. Further investigat…