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Judges: defendant should be able to confront witness

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the District Court to grant a convicted murderer’s habeas petition, finding the admission of out-of-court statements at his trial violated the man’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.

In 2004, a state court convicted Antonio Jones of robbery and four counts of murder. There was little evidence connecting him to the crime except for the testimony of Lenzo Aaron, who took a plea deal that dropped the murder charges against him in connection to the crime. He claimed Jones participated in the robbery and murder of four people inside a Gary apartment.

Jones challenged Aaron’s credibility and the state was allowed to present testimony from a detective detailing the tip that led to Jones’ arrest. The tip came from Jeffrey Lewis, the brother of another man who was allegedly there during the incident. Lewis told detectives what his brother had told him about the crimes. Lewis was never called to testify and Jones wasn’t able to confront him pursuant to the Sixth Amendment.

A split Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Jones’ argument that his Sixth Amendment right to confront was violated. The District Court denied Jones’ habeas petition and also denied his request for a certificate of appealability.

In the 48-page opinion handed down Thursday in Antonio Jones v. James Basinger, No. 09-3577, the Circuit Court pointed out that the trial record shows that Jones repeatedly suffered violations of his Sixth Amendment right to confront Lewis and his informant. Lewis’ statement to police was allowed at trial to establish the truth of his out-of-court declarations, but it was really double-hearsay and testimonial.

Judge David Hamilton also noted that the trial court had correctly identified the governing legal rules in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), but unreasonably applied those rules in this case. The state court erred by applying a “course of investigation” exception to Jones’ case that was so excessively broad as to allow the admission of testimonial hearsay whenever a defendant attempts to challenge the strength of the evidence or the veracity of the prosecutor’s witness against him, Judge Hamilton wrote. The Circuit judges cited Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123 (1968), and Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409 (1985), to support their holding.

The judges found the admission of the detective’s testimony regarding what Lewis had said was not a harmless error, as both the trial court and District Court had concluded.

“Both courts failed to apply the correct legal standard,” wrote Judge Hamilton. “Both seem to have simply imagined what the record would have shown without Lewis’ statement and asked whether the remaining evidence was legally sufficient to sustain a finding of guilt. That analysis ignores the significant prejudicial effect the error can have on a jury’s ability to evaluate fairly the remaining evidence.”

The U.S. Constitution demands that Jones have an opportunity to confront the informant if his statements to Lewis, as reported to the police detectives, are to be used as evidence against Jones. The Circuit judges ordered the District Court to grant Jones’ habeas petition, directing the state to release Jones within 120 days of the issuance of the mandate unless the state decides to retry Jones within that time.
 

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  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

  2. November, 2014, I was charged with OWI/Endangering a person. I was not given a Breathalyzer test and the arresting officer did not believe that alcohol was in any way involved. I was self-overmedicated with prescription medications. I was taken to local hospital for blood draw to be sent to State Tox Lab. My attorney gave me a cookie-cutter plea which amounts to an ALCOHOL-related charge. Totally unacceptable!! HOW can I get my TOX report from the state lab???

  3. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  4. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

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