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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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