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2015.48: To the Potential Client

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 23:06

Dear PNC (we call you PNCs, for “Potential New Clients”; it’s redundant, I suppose, but “PC” is already assigned to “probable cause” and “personal computer” and “politically correct”):

You have told me repeatedly that you are innocent. You don’t mean “legally innocent”—that is, unconvicted—but “factually innocent.” I don’t know whether you’re telling me the truth or not (people lie to me all the time), but please know that it doesn’t matter to me. It won’t decrease my fee, and it won’t make me do any better job.

I consider the act of putting people in boxes to be fundamentally immoral in virtually all cases, and I don’t believe that I—or any human—have the wisdom to distinguish the few cases in which putting people in boxes is moral from the many in which it is not. So it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re factually innocent. If anything, I prefer factually guilty clients—there is less stress, and I confess that I get impish joy from cutting loose a malefactor. I’ll do the same job on behalf of the innocent, but there is no innocent-client discount.

You might wonder whether I believe your protestations of innocence. Don’t wonder. At this point, I listen without judgment. I neither believe nor (unless your story is bad to the point of incredibility) disbelieve. You don’t want a dumb lawyer, so if you are factually guilty, you don’t want a lawyer who is dumb enough to believe you when you lie to him. And you don’t want a lawyer who thinks it’s his job to judge you, so if you are factually innocent, you don’t want a lawyer who is judgmental enough to care. 

I have been training for more than twenty years for this fight against the people who are trying to put you in a box. Law school, Trial Lawyers College, trial upon trial, appeal upon appeal, hundreds upon hundreds of hours of teaching and studying continuing legal education, hundreds upon hundreds of hours of psychodrama and improv training, board certification: everything has led up to your case. 

If you really want someone to whom it is important whether you “did it,” who won’t take your case or will do a lesser job if he believes you to be factually guilty, you can get that for a lot less than my fee, but you will be buying a duller blade.

2015.47: HB101, HB 496, HB603 Unconstitutional

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 09:17

There are three nonconsensual-pornography-criminalization bills before the Texas House of Representatives' Criminal Jurisprudence Committee tomorrow:

HB101 (Guillen) and HB603 (Davis of Harris) are identical:

(b) A person commits an offense if the person: (1)  intentionally displays, distributes, publishes advertises, offers, or otherwise discloses visual material depicting another person engaged in sexual conduct; and (2)  knows or should have known that the depicted person has not consented to the disclosure.

(c) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that: (1) the disclosure is made in the course of: (A) lawful and common practices of law enforcement or medical treatment; (B) reporting unlawful activity; or (C) a legal proceeding, if the disclosure was permitted or required by law; (2) the disclosure consists of visual material depicting only a voluntary exposure of sexual conduct in a public or commercial setting; or (3) the actor is an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230, or a provider of an information service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 153, and the disclosure consisted of visual material provided by another person.

 (d)  An offense under this section is a state jail felony.

The careceral portion of HB496 (González) follows:

(b) A person commits an offense if the person: (1) by electronic means, intentionally discloses visual material depicting another person engaged in sexual conduct; (2) was in an intimate relationship with the depicted person when the visual material was created or transmitted to the person; (3) knows or should have known that the depicted person has not consented to the disclosure; and (4) discloses the visual material with the intent to cause harm to the depicted person, including mental anguish, emotional distress, actual or threatened physical violence, economic harm, harm to reputation, or harassment by a third party.

(c) A person commits an offense if, knowing the character and content of the visual material, the person promotes visual material described by Subsection (b) on an Internet website or other forum for electronic publication that is owned or operated by the person. (d) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the depicted person: (1) created or consented to the creation of the visual material; or (2) voluntarily transmitted the visual material to the actor.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under this section that the depicted person: (1) created or consented to the creation of the visual material; or (2) voluntarily transmitted the visual material to the actor.

(e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the actor is an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230, and the disclosure consisted of visual material provided by another person.

(f)  An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

The penal statutes these bills propose would create a restriction on speech ("visual material") that is content-based ("depicting another person engaged in sexual conduct"). Such restrictions are presumptively unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court has, in its recent cases  involving First Amendment challenges to content-based restrictions on speech (United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 130 S.Ct. 1577 (2010); United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. ___ (2012)), applied a categorical test: if the speech restricted does not fall into one of a few narrowly-defined categories of historically unprotected speech, the statute is unconstitution. These categories are:

  1. Advocacy intended, and likely, to incite imminent lawless action;
  2. Obscenity;
  3. Defamation;
  4. Speech integral to criminal conduct;
  5. So-called “fighting words”;
  6. Child pornography;
  7. Fraud;
  8. True threats; and
  9. Speech presenting some grave and imminent threat the government has the power to prevent (“Although,” says the Supreme Court, “a restriction under the last category is most difficult to sustain”).

The expression that House Bills 101, 496, and 603 would forbid falls into none of these categories. All three bills implicate violations of privacy, but the Supreme Court has never held that violations of privacy are unprotected. House Bill 496 has an intent-to-harm element, but the Court has never held that speech is unprotected because it is intended to cause harm.

The "defenses" in subsection (c) of House Bills 101 and 603 and the "affirmative defense" in subsection (e) of House Bill 496 will not save the statutes from unconstitutionality.

Nationwide, proponents of bills like these have shown a vague handwaving lack of understanding of the First Amendment issue. In Arizona, enforcement of the nonconsensual-pornography criminalization statute was almost immediately stayed on First Amendment grounds by a U.S. District Court.

Free expression is robust in Texas criminal courts. The Court of Criminal Appeals has recently held unconstitutional two felony statutes (Online Solicitation of a Minor and Improper Photography) on First Amendment grounds. The courts are still working on unraveling the consequences to the many people who were convicted of violating these statutes. It's a bad idea for the Texas Legislature to pass another void statute.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (65.19.138.34) .)

2015.46: Boom Goes the Thoughtcrime.

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 15:52

Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed — would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper — the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Today I got word that a district judge in Montgomery County, Texas held unconstitutional the "posession" portion of Texas's Fraudulent Use of Identifying Information statute. By criminalizing the possession of information (including knowledge) combined with the intent to harm (which is a constitutionally protected intent) or defraud the State has created a thought crime.

in Texas, unlike in Oceania, we are free to daydream, to intend to defraud as long as we do not act on that intent. The statute that creates a thought crime is unconstitutionally overbroad under the First Amendment: “Whatever the power of the state to control public dissemination of ideas inimical to the public morality, it cannot constitutionally premise legislation on the desirability of controlling a person’s private thoughts.” Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 566 (1969).

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (66.175.208.165) .)

2015.45: Problems in Evidence Tampering I

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 20:57

Suppose that a client comes to you with a problem: he has a computer hard drive full of child pornography, and he wants to know what to do with it. What do you tell him?

It's illegal for him to continue possessing the images. So you can't advise him to do nothing (and keep breaking the law).

The smart thing for him to do would be to destroy the hard drive (if I could, I would recommend swisscheesing it with a drill press).

But tampering with evidence is illegal under both Texas and federal law. Is it a crime to destroy the hard drive? To advise the client to do so?

Under state law (Texas Penal Code section 37.09),

A person commits an offense if, knowing that an investigation or official proceeding is pending or in progress, he: (1) alters, destroys, or conceals any record, document, or thing with intent to impair its verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in the investigation or official proceeding; …

So if you don't know that an investigation is pending or in progress, you aren't breaking Texas law by advising your client to destroy the hard drive. If you do, you are.

Under federal law, though (18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)), you don't have to know that an investigation is pending to be liable for tampering with evidence:

(c) Whoever corruptly— (1) alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

What does "corruptly" mean in this context? Hell if I know. I'll bet Philip Russell didn't think he was acting corruptly when he destroyed the child-pornography-containing hard drive, and he didn't know that an investigation was ongoing. But he got charged with violating section 1512(c) and 1519—

Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

—pled them down, and wound up suspended from practicing law and confined to his home for six months for misprision of a felony. (Things could have been much, much worse. Much.)

Your client could get the hard drive out of his own possession without destroying it by delivering it to someone who doesn't know what it contains (not you, for God's sake), but he's still arguably concealing it.

It's a crime to conceal or destroy the hard drive with the intent to make it unavailable in an investigation. So it's a crime to advise someone to destroy the hard drive with the same intent. How would the government prove your intent in advising the client? Well, you're a criminal-defense lawyer; the government would probably assume that your advice to your client was aimed at making the hard drive unavailable in an investigation. Sure, it's an invalid assumption, but that won't prevent an indictment.

You can't tell your client to do the smart thing and destroy the hard drive. (Why is it smart? Because the penalty for possessing child pornography is much more severe than the penalty for tampering with evidence, and if the client destroys the hard drive properly and keeps his mouth shut there will be no evidence that he has tampered with evidence.) You can't tell your client to do the dumb thing and keep the hard drive. What do you do?

We are problem solvers. We hate for the answer to be, "I can't answer that." But "I can't answer that" is the only possible advice in this situation.

You could, of course, instruct your client on certain aspects of the law: possession of child pornography is a crime; tampering with evidence is a crime; without the hard drive the government is likely to have a hard time proving that you tampered with evidence or that you possessed child pornography; if the government gets its hands on the hard drive they won't have a hard time proving that you possessed child pornography, which will certainly land you in prison; don't talk to anyone about the contents of the hard drive.

You can see how an appropriate instruction on the law might allow an intelligent client to draw his own conclusion.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (64.33.188.29) .)

2015.44: One out of Seven—an F for McBrayer

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 12:54

Justin McBrayer laments the fact that our public schools are teaching our children that there are no moral facts, and therefore no moral truths. He gives seven examples, from online fact vs. opinion worksheets, of facts that kids are taught are opinions:

— Copying homework assignments is wrong.— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.

— All men are created equal.

— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.

— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.

— Drug dealers belong in prison.

All of these are opinions, with one possible exception of the sixth:

Copying homework assignments is wrong: May be true or false depending on circumstances. If by "assignments" you mean "the description of work to be done," the statement is wrong. If by "assignments" you mean "the answers," the statement may be right or wrong depending on the circumstances—some assignments require students to collaborate.

Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior: Often untrue. Aside from the repetition of others' words in literature and drama, occasionally an emphatic curse adds to communication.

All men are created equal: Demonstrably false. Some men are taller, some shorter; some are smarter, some dumber; some more handsome, some less.

It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism: McBrayer cannot possibly be serious. This is his opinion, which some others share; they are wrong. Is something that is falsely believed to be true strictly speaking an opinion?1

It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol: It's okay for them to vote, drive, have sex, get married, and die in foreign wars, but it's wrong for them to drink alcohol?

Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat: If true, this would qualify as a fact. I'm not convinced, but I'll give him this one out of mercy.

Drug dealers belong in prison: Now McBrayer is just clowning me. Some drug dealers belong in prison, maybe. But the owner of the corner liquor store? Your local barista? The checker selling cigarettes at Kroger?

In short, McBrayer is unable to distinguish opinion from fact, and thinks that society would be better if schools were not teaching kids to do so.

I disagree, of course. I'd rather live in a world of people who critically question opinions such as those that McBrayer adopts—do drug dealers belong in prison? is it worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our countries from terrorism?—than in a world of McBrayers who think that their opinions are fact.

McBrayer uses the example, it’s wrong to kill people for fun, as something that schools are "teaching children … is not true." While I agree with McBrayer that there is moral truth, and that this statement is true, I'm more comfortable with a citizenry willing to examine this, as well as McBrayer's opinions, than one that uncritically accepts them all as true. That it is wrong to kill people for fun is easily enough derived from other moral principles and intuitions; that It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol is not.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (70.39.246.37) .)
  1. Here's an example, from the same worksheets, of a statement described as fact:

    It is illegal to yell out "Fire" in a crowded movie theater.

    The instructions on the worksheet do not say to assume that the statement is true. If true, this would be fact. But it is untrue

2015.43: Don’t Worry, Be Happy …

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 12:11

… I’ve got your back.

(Eat your heart out, Reposa.)

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (54.174.64.206) .)

2015.42: Harris County Welcomes Dallas Prosecutors

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 10:31

What do you do if you’re a District Attorney running an office that is under fire for prosecutorial misconduct and in the middle of a hearing (in which current and former prosecutors contradicted each other, themselves, and the documentary evidence) over whether the office hid exculpatory evidence of alternate suspects in a murder case?

If you’re Devon Anderson, you hire a former Dallas County ADA who is the subject of a motion for new trial for hiding exculpatory evidence in a murder case.

Fortunately we criminal-defense lawyers have started talking to each other of late. Here’s the book on three new Harris County ADAs, refugees from the Dallas County DA’s Office, from one of the Dallas brethren:

Danielle Uher: She withheld evidence on a high profile case and then lied about it to the judge. We have it all on the record. She also improperly contacted a consulting expert and tried to get him to spill the beans on the defense strategy. She is a bully who takes advantage of weakness and only responds to bully in return. She will interrupt and talk over and down to you AND the judge. The louder she argues, the more wrong she usually is.

Andrea Mosley: She is a former cop and doesn’t believe there is anything such thing as an innocent defendant. If they’ve been arrested, they’re guilty. She also doesn’t believe in mitigation. If you’re 1% wrong, you’re a 100% wrong and there is nothing in between and no excuse for any wrongdoing. Once we had a defendant who was arrested for stealing food and she offered prison time because, “He’s a thief and I don’t like thieves. At least in prison, he won’t have to steal to eat.” She is very frank and you will always know where you stand. She holds the defense bar in utter contempt, and generally doesn’t work and play well with women.

Andrea Handley: She’s the nicest one of the bunch, but is also the most manipulative of them as well. She will try to lull you into a false sense of security and then sticks a shiv between the 3rd and 4th ribs. Document document document and then document your file some more. A paper trail is the best way to deal with her.

All good to know, more in the nature of a cautionary tale rather than actionable intel. It’s mostly things that could fairly be said of some members of the defense bar: poor social skills, contempt for the adversary, zealotry, manipulation.

When Uher talks over Jim Wallace or down to Susan Brown, I want to be there.

Mosley sounds like a prosecutor in the mold of Justin Keiter, trying to prove to the world her authoritarian credentials; I hope she doesn’t get butt-hurt like Justin does when I call him a boring little fascist. I see a place for prosecutors such as them; they have to be watched especially closely, though, both by the defense bar and by whoever in the DA’s Office cares about ethics, because zealotry often leads to ethical lapses.

Handley will fit in just fine; nice-and-manipulative prosecutors are a dime a dozen at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center; the advice for dealing with her should be the rule among defense lawyers rather than the exception.

Here (PDF copy of opinion), though, is some actionable intel: a Fifth Court of Appeals opinion from this week dealing with Uher:

Appellant supported his motion with affidavits from Navarette and appellant’s trial counsel, Andy Beach. In his affidavit, Navarette stated that in his pretrial interview with Assistant District Attorney Meredith Behgooy, he told her that the black SUV had pulled “behind” his van on Elm Street and that he had made the sudden stop at the intersection because Ramirez had gotten out of the van so fast. Navarette also stated he had volunteered to testify at trial and was sworn in as a witness, but that Behgooy told him he had an outstanding warrant for “criminal mischief” and that the “best thing would be for [him] not to show up at trial because there was a probability of getting arrested.”

According to Beach’s affidavit, at the same time Behgooy suggested that Navarette not show up for trial, she told Beach that appellant did not need to subpoena Navarette because he would be testifying at trial as a State’s witness. On the day of trial, however, Behgooy and her supervisor Danielle Uher, told Beach that Navarette was not present for trial and would not be testifying after all. The State then refused to request a writ of attachment to secure Navarette’s presence. The trial judge nevertheless issued a writ because Navarette had been previously sworn as a witness.

Beach said the State did not tell him that Navarette would be available to testify until after Orosco had testified. He further said he did not know what Navarette had witnessed until he was testifying on the stand. According to Beach, Navarette’s account substantially bolstered appellant’s claim of self-defense and, if he had known that Navarette could provide favorable evidence, it would have altered his presentation of the case, including his opening statements, the manner in which he questioned Orosco, and his advice to appellant on whether to testify.

So according to witnesses Behgooy told an exculpatory witness to make himself scarce and told defense counsel that the witness would be testifying as a state witness. Then Behgooy and Uher told defense counsel that the witness would not be testifying after all, and did not request a writ of attachment. Fortunately, the defense was entitled to rely on the State’s subpoena, and could get a writ of attachment. Unfortunately, the State’s hiding of the ball (concealing Navarette’s story and trying to disappear Navarette) adversely affected the defense.

At the motion for new trial hearing, the trial court heard the prosecutors’ testimony ex parte and sealed the transcript of their testimony. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed for a proper hearing and ordered the transcript unsealed (rest assured that you’ll see it as soon as it’s out).

I don’t expect Anderson to inquire too closely into the reputations of the prosecutors she hires. I wouldn’t ask the prosecutorial bar about defense lawyers I was considering hiring, but I don’t have the duty to see that justice is done.

I had an unfortunate encounter last year with a misdemeanor Harris County prosecutor who thought it was okay to tell a subpoenaed witness who had exculpatory information not to turn up for trial; maybe witness-hiding prosecutors are just what Anderson is looking for.

Was Meredith Behgooy not available?

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.41: Citron and Richards on Revenge Porn

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 00:11

There are two types of advocates of revenge-porn criminalization: there are those who actually propose and try to defend unconstitutional statutes, and those who dispense with First Amendment objections with a wave of a hand, but don’t offer any statutory language that might pass First Amendment Muster.

Mary Anne Franks is an example of the former. She will write (and rewrite) her model statute and defend it to the last breath with great passion but very little legal reasoning.

Lawprofs Danielle Citron and Neil Richards are the latter. They defend the idea of revenge-porn criminalization, but don’t suggest language that might be acceptable (Citron disagrees with Franks’s approach—she thinks that an acceptable statute will “only punish individuals who knowingly and maliciously invade another’s privacy and trust“; Franks disagrees, and her model statutes don’t include those requirements).

In “Regulating revenge porn isn’t censorship” Citron and Richards write:

Yet some critics argue that regulating nonconsensual pornography risks censoring protected speech, including pornography. Under the First Amendment, critics argue, we cannot take that risk.

But it is possible to be both pro-porn and anti–revenge porn, and laws can be designed accordingly. What matters under the First Amendment and what is often misunderstood is not whether we can regulate revenge porn but why and how.

For “some critics” they link to my post fisking Citron’s Forbes Forbes piece on the subject.

They also write—

The defenders of revenge porn ignore this fact and offer no response other than a curious insistence (bordering on affection) for the continued availability of amateur and celebrity revenge porn, as if they have some personal stake in its continued free flow.

—which puts Richards squarely in the sleazy dishonest camp, with Citron and Franks, of those who, knowing better, accuse people opposed to criminalization of favoring the activity that would be criminalized.

That notwithstanding, I’ve read some of Richards’s writing on privacy and the First Amendment, so I was curious how a revenge-porn criminal statute could pass First Amendment muster.

I asked Richards via The Twitter Machine:

@neilmrichards you say, “First Amendment is no bar to a well-crafted law.” Please provide an example of such a law. http://t.co/qbHYK5LY1j

— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 24, 2015

He replied:

@MarkWBennett in under 144 chrs: 1 sexually explicit photo 2 known to be shared in trust 3 not newsworthy — Neil Richards (@neilmrichards) February 25, 2015

What he may not have known is that I had already read him. I quoted him back at himself:

@neilmrichards “The power to declare facts or topics to be [not newsworthy] is in a very real sense the power to censor.”

— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 25, 2015

1/ @neilmrichards “Giving a court the power to declare information ‘illegitimate’ under a malleable standard is to give that court the power

— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 25, 2015

2/ @neilmrichards “…to censor expression that it (or a jury) dislikes, and is at odds with modern commitments to the freedom of speech.” — Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 25, 2015

What he’s saying in those quotes is that giving courts a standard such as “not newsworthy” or “of purely private concern” gives them the power to censor expression that they dislike, and is at odds with modern commitments to the freedom of speech. Which is a very different thing than a well-crafted law will criminalize “1 sexually explicit photo 2 known to be shared in trust 3 not newsworthy.”

@neilmrichards Have you now decided that it’s okay to let courts declare speech illegitimate because it’s not newsworthy? — Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 25, 2015

He crawfished:

@MarkWBennett no, but an exception for undeniably newsworthy content is one possibility for a NCP law. It might not need it.

— Neil Richards (@neilmrichards) February 25, 2015

@MarkWBennett In any event, Twitter is the wrong medium for this conversation, where things can easily be taken out of context.

— Neil Richards (@neilmrichards) February 25, 2015

I would be interested in reading a breach-of-confidence revenge-porn statute, but I’ve yet to see one, and Richards is apparently a dry hole. He’s hand-wavey on the defense of his platonic well-crafted law, too:

But regulating revenge porn doesn’t have to work that way. We can regulate revenge porn if it was secretly recorded, because there is no right to secretly capture sexually explicit images of ordinary people or celebrities. We can regulate it if it is distributed in violation of an express or implied trust and an expectation of privacy. And we can regulate it if it is intended to intimidate, threaten or harass and accomplishes that purpose.

With links and everything! Except that the first link is to a book by Citron; the second to a book by Richards; the third to an Atlantic article; the fourth (headache-inducingly) to an ACLU press release about the lawsuit challenging Arizona’s revenge-porn statute, which says nothing about intimidation, threats, or harassment; and, finally, some law: Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc., in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant who had published a manual for murder.

Except that the Supreme Court has never said that there is no right to secretly capture sexually explicit images. Nor has it ever held that privacy trumps the First Amendment, nor that speech violating a trust is ipso facto unprotected.

Perhaps if the speech is intended to intimidate, threaten, or harass (rather than merely to embarrass or offend), it is unprotected. Non-content-based restrictions forbidding such speech have been upheld, but such restrictions need meet only intermediate scrutiny, lower scrutiny than the strict scrutiny that content-based restrictions face, so that’s no indication that a content-based restriction like a revenge-porn statute will be upheld.

Besides, try suggesting to the carceral feminists, fans of criminalizing revenge porn, that a criminal statute should include as an element the intent to intimidate, threaten, or harass.

Good luck with that.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.40: Thinking is Not What You Think

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Thu, 02/12/2015 - 19:31

Do I have free will? If you believe that I do, on what evidence do you believe that? The only evidence that you might have is your perception that you have free will—anything outside of that can be easily faked. If you ask me to do something and I do it, you don’t know whether that’s out of free will or some compulsion. But it seems to you that you have free will, so you believe that you have free will, and because you believe that you have free will and assume that I am the same you believe also that I have free will.

It seems to me that I have free will too. So why do I believe that I don’t have free will? Because it doesn’t make sense to me that the human brain would be any less deterministic (which is not to say “predictable”) than the rest of the universe. I could conceivably be wrong, but I count my perception that we have free will as an illusion. That just makes more sense to me.

Accepting that free will is an illusion is liberating. It opens up the possibility that our minds plays other big tricks on us, that they don’t work the way they seem to in other ways either.

One of the experiments designed to try to answer the free-will question (a question that I think no experiment will ever really answer) was the Libet Experiment, the results of which Libet interpreted to mean that the impulse to voluntary action arises before a consciousness of the impulse—that by the time we “decide” to move a finger we have already initiated the action, and only think in retrospect that we have made a conscious decision.

In other words—and I don’t think the Libet Experiment is conclusive on this point, but it is provocative—conscious decision making is an illusion. Each of us perceives himself or herself as consciously making decisions, and can justify those decisions if pressed with rational reasons. But we know that our “rational” thinking is raddled with cognitive biases that render its rationality suspect at best. We don’t, of course, recognize these biases when they are affecting us—another illusion, and more support for the premise that conscious decision making is an illusion.

That conscious decision making is an illusion is the major premise of my model of juror decision making, and of my Grand Unified Theory of Trial.

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2015.39: Texas House Member Chris Turner is an Ignorant Buffoon

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Thu, 02/12/2015 - 17:04

Texas Penal Code Section 36.06:

OBSTRUCTION OR RETALIATION. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly harms or threatens to harm another by an unlawful act:

(1) in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of another as a:

(A) public servant, witness, prospective witness, or informant; or

(B) person who has reported or who the actor knows intends to report the occurrence of a crime; or

.  .  .  .
(c) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree unless the victim of the offense was harmed or threatened because of the victim’s service or status as a juror, in which event the offense is a felony of the second degree.

Texas Penal Code Section 1.07(25):

“Harm” means anything reasonably regarded as loss, disadvantage, or injury, including harm to another person in whose welfare the person affected is interested.

Harm may includes reputational harm or embarrassment. So it’s a felony to embarrass a public servant (including an elected official) on account of his service or status as a public servant.

I don’t know that anyone has ever been prosecuted (explicitly) for embarrassing an elected official in Texas, but the statute allows it, so the statute is unconstitutional.

Does it really allow it? It doesn’t forbid it, and I don’t see how you read harm to exclude embarrassment and reputational harm. But just in case you do, Democratic Texas House Member Chris Turner of Tarrant County has a solution: House Bill 1061, which would add a fourth subsection to Section 36.06:

(4) “Harm” includes:
(A) financial harm, including harm to a person’s financial status or a person’s credit report or score;
(B) harm to a person’s reputation;
(C) harm caused by intentionally disseminating or using a person’s personal, private, or confidential information;
and
(D) harm caused by invading the privacy of a person.

That is Chris Turner. Chris Turner is a mouthbreathing dimwit who wouldn’t know the First Amendment if his favorite hand puppet read it to him slowly in very small words.

Fortunately, Turner was Wendy Davis’s campaign manager, so his bill has zero chance of success. Unfortunately, his bill is superfluous anyway: the statute makes embarrassing him a felony. And, so that I am clear enough that even the slackjawed moron Mr. Turner gets it, that is exactly what I am doing.

I write this blog post with the intent to harm Chris Turner’s reputation on account of his status as a public servant. Come and get me.

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2015.38: Greenfield Takes a Hill He Can’t Hold

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 02/09/2015 - 09:44

Scott writes:

Keith is friends with Jeena, and saw no reason to attack her post too strongly and turn a friend into an enemy. So in concluding, he threw her a bone with some praise. Of course, it contradicts his point, renders his post pointless and is facial nonsense. Jeena didn’t remind anyone to structure behaviors so as not to do a disservice towards clients, but to not be a jerk because that’s not how she wants to be personally and therefore believes it to be intrinsically better.

“Jerk” is never used as a word of praise. Why? Because not being a jerk is intrinsically better than being a jerk. The world would be a better place if nobody was a jerk. Not being a jerk makes the lives of those around you easier, it lowers your blood pressure, and it satisfies the categorical imperative.

The point that I think Scott is trying to make is that we lawyers are not allowed to choose to do the things that make us feel better—things like making the lives of those around us easier, lowering our blood pressure, and satisfying the categorical imperative—over the client’s interests. If that’s Scott’s point, it’s a very good point, and one that bears making over and over.

What matters to the client is winning. We are not hired to be nice. If the client wants to put “be nice” above “win” in his list of priorities, that’s his choice and not the lawyer’s. If you’re not prepared to do unpleasant things when it is required for the good of the client, don’t get into the profession. If not for clients, attorneys wouldn’t even exist.

But by making the patently false claim that not being a jerk is not intrinsically superior to being a jerk, Greenfield loses the plot. It isn’t that one way of being is not intrinsically superior to another; it’s that sometimes we have to do the things that are intrinsically inferior—to spit on our hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats—for the good of the client.

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2015.36: Never to Forget

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Thu, 02/05/2015 - 13:55

Today the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association held a ceremony in honor all of the local criminal-defense lawyers who have died. There are 125 names on the list; I’m sure we’re forgetting some, but we only started keeping track in 2008 (it was Robb Fickman’s idea, during his presidency). Most of us will never find more than fleeting fame; the purpose of the ceremony is to remember those who have fought the good fight, and might otherwise be forgotten.

We invited Harris County’s thirty-seven criminal court judges to the ceremony. Three attended:

  • The Honorable Brad Hart, Judge of the 230th District Court;
  • The Honorable Ryan Patrick, Judge of the 177th District Court; and
  • The Honorable Kristin Guiney, Judge of the 179th District Court.

The Honorable Marc Carter, Justice of the First Court of Appeals, also attend us to show respect for our fallen comrades.

The following did not deign to attend:

  • Paula Goodhart;
  • Bill Harmon;
  • Natalie C. Fleming;
  • John Clinton;
  • Margaret Harris;
  • Larry Standley;
  • Pam Derbyshire;
  • Jay Karahan;
  • Analia Wilkerson;
  • Dan Spjut;
  • Diane Bull;
  • Robin Brown;
  • Don Smyth;
  • Mike Fields;
  • Jean Hughes;
  • Ruben Guerrero;
  • Michael McSpadden;
  • Stacey W. Bond;
  • Judge Marc Carter;
  • David Mendoza;
  • Mary Lou Keel;
  • Katherine Cabaniss;
  • Catherine Evans;
  • Denise Bradley;
  • Jeannine Barr;
  • Jim Wallace;
  • Vanessa Velasquez;
  • Renee Magee;
  • Jan Krocker;
  • Brock Thomas;
  • Susan Brown;
  • Maria T. Jackson;
  • Denise Collin; and
  • Mark Kent Ellis.

I’m sure that every one of them has a Very Important Reason for failing to post, even though they were invited a month ago and reminded at least twice since then. I doubt that any of them (except maybe Billy Harmon) would admit that the Very Important Reason is that they can’t be bothered to feign respect for our fallen brethren, and by extension to us. It is not, after all, election season, so there’s no point in pretending to respect the role of the defense or those who fulfill it.

If we had the ceremony in the summer or fall of an even year, the judicial turnout would be much higher. That’s okay: “higher” is not “better.” This way we find out who are friends really are.

Today’s ceremony was about remembrance, and I promise that in the summer and fall of even years to come, when those listed above are seeking campaign contributions, endorsements, votes, and support, the defense bar will remember.

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2015.36: The Unconstitutionality of Section 33.021(c)

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 02/04/2015 - 17:37

Here’s my brief on the unconstitutionality of the balance of Texas’s Online Solicitation of a Minor statute, Texas Penal Code Section 33.021. I have two appeals pending, both in courts that have already upheld the statute in the face of First Amendment challenges:

Both the Beaumont and First Courts of Appeals analyzed Section 33.021(c) as statutes regulating conduct rather than speech. This is plainly incorrect: speech that is unprotected because it incites the imminent commission of a crime is still speech.

The San Antonio Court of Appeals upheld Section 33.021(c) in the face of a vagueness challenge, holding:

The requisite intent arises within the conduct of soliciting the minor, and must exist at the time of the prohibited conduct of solicitation. Id. Indeed, it is the requirement that the defendant must solicit “with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact” that operates to make otherwise innocent conduct, i.e., soliciting a minor to meet, into criminal conduct. It follows then, that for purposes of a subsection (c) solicitation offense, it does not matter what happens after the solicitation occurs because the offense has been completed; it does not matter whether the solicited meeting actually occurs, or that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation. [AB1]

It cannot be true both that  “[I]t does not matter … that the defendant did not intend for the meeting to actually occur, or that the defendant was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the solicitation,” and that “The requisite intent [that the minor engage in sexual contact] … must exist at the time of the prohibited conduct of solicitation.” Either the defendant intended to engage in sexual conduct (and therefore intended to meet) or did not intend to meet (and therefore did not intend to engage in sexual conduct).

I am confident that the statute will, if the question ever reaches the Court of Criminal Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court, be held unconstitutional. Unfortunately, I’m swimming upstream against some ill-considered authority. This would be easier if it had been done right in the first case.

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2015.35: Jury Selection Rule: Pull Back the Curtain.

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Wed, 02/04/2015 - 17:13

One of my proteges, working on an appeal, noticed how easily the prosecutor convinced a member of the jury panel to change his mind on an important issue with a tongue lashing. He posted about it publicly, admonishing potential jurors to be strong in jury selection and not let a prosecutor “bully them” into changing their opinions. It’s a fair point, but there is a lesson for the defense lawyer as well.

Jury selection is not about getting jurors to change their minds. You’re not likely to get them to change their minds in jury selection, and the prosecutor in my protege’s case probably (I wasn’t there) didn’t really get the juror to change his mind. What she did was to get the juror to say different words than he had at first; she might be able to hold the juror to that new position during deliberations, but probably not, so if she didn’t get him to say words that led to a challenge for cause she was wasting her breath.

Worse than that, when a lawyer browbeats a juror into changing his position, other jurors are not going to share their honest opinions with the lawyer for fear of being browbeaten themselves. So by being a bully, the prosecutor shuts down her own ability to get actual information from the rest of the panel.

Even worse than that, if the defense lawyer is on the ball he will get up when the prosecutor has finished talking, rehabilitate the juror, and talk with the jury about people trying to browbeat other people into changing their minds, using the prosecutor as an example.

Often an important part of the defense voir dire is to talk with the jurors about standing their ground when other people are trying to bully them into changing it: each juror’s verdict is a personal moral judgment (the language of the Colorado Method of capital jury selection); a juror should not change her verdict based on pressure from others; and a juror should not pressure others to change their verdicts. It’s improper, and unfair.

In most jurisdictions prosecutors go into jury selection with a halo of credibility because of their job. Jurors assume that what prosecutors do in jury selection is what is supposed to be done. They may not like it, but they figure that the prosecutor wears a white hat and is doing what she is supposed to. If the defense can remove that halo, the odds are evened considerably. (I think I’ve won every jury trial in which the prosecutor misstated the law in jury selection and my objection was sustained.)

When the prosecutor has demonstrated bullying behavior in voir dire, defense counsel can hold it up as an example, and the prosecutor won’t have a chance to respond. The benefits to the defense of this are several: the jurors feel free to speak freely with the defense lawyer (even more than if the prosecutor had behaved better); the prosecutor’s credibility is shattered; and the defense lawyer’s credibility increases.

In jury selection we are not trying to change jurors’ minds, but rather to win their hearts. Intellectually, at best we are going to get them to frame the game of the case in a way that favors us. Emotionally, though, we can help them trust us, like us and want to help us. By revealing to the jury panel the prosecutor’s voir dire tricks (and this applies to trick questions, bullying, and other tactic of which your kindergarten teacher would not approve) the defense lawyer reveals the prosecutor as a trickster and himself as a truth-teller. It’s a credibility bonanza for the defense.

If the defense lawyer is using tricks in voir dire, the prosecutor doesn’t get a chance to stand up afterwards and have a conversation with the jury about it, so she doesn’t get the same credibility bonanza. But juries aren’t clueless, and if you treat them unfairly they are going to do the same to you.

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2015.34: Well Done, Joan Huffman!?

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 20:54

Joan Huffman is the Texas Senator (and former Harris County criminal judge) responsible for Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.37 section 2, which provides that extraneous offenses are admissible in the trial of someone accused of a sex crime with a child to prove “the character of the defendant and acts performed in conformity with the character of the defendant.” My brief on the unconstitutionality of that statute is here.

Not to gertrude, I am not inclined to cut Huffman any slack.

But when I read this, I was pleasantly surprised:

Section 33.021, Penal Code, is amended to read as follows:

(a)(a) In this section:

(1) “Minor” means:

(A) an individual who isrepresents himself or herself to be younger than 17 years of age; or

(B) an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age.

(2) “Sexual contact,” “sexual intercourse,” and “deviate sexual intercourse” have the meanings assigned by Section 21.01.

(3) “Sexually explicit” means any communication, language, or material, including a photographic or video image, that relates to or describes sexual conduct, as defined by Section 43.25.

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to commit an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedurearouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail or a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

(d) It is not a defense to prosecution under Subsection (c) that :(1) the meeting did not occur;
(2) the actor did not intend for the meeting to occur; or
(3) the actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of commission of the offense.

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection (b) or (c) was committed:

(1) the actor was married to the minor; or

(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.

That is what Texas’s Online Solicitation of a Minor statute, Texas Penal Code Section 33.021, will look like if Huffman’s proposed amendment, SB 344, passes in its current form. It is not quite right, but is much closer to constitutional than the statute as it exists now. It will also be much harder for the State to prove—constitutionality and prosecutorial convenience are a zero-sum game.

In subsection (a) Huffman proposes eliminating the “represents himself or herself to be” language from the definition of minor, so that a “minor” will be either an actual minor or someone the defendant believes to be a minor. So on the one hand if the “minor” is a cop the State will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant believed the cop’s “minor” schtick.

On the other hand it appears at first blush that the revised statute would allow a defendant to be held liable for talking dirty to an actual minor pretending to be an adult, even if the defendant believed the minor to be an adult, as an adult can be held liable for having sex with a minor who is pretending to be, and believed to be, an adult.

It would appear that way only at first blush, though, because the dirty talk prohibition now requires the intent to commit a sex crime against a child. So even if the “minor” is a minor pretending to be an adult the State will have to prove that the defendant intended to do something to a child, which presupposes that the defendant believed a child was somehow involved.

I’m not entirely happy with describing the offense as “communicat[ing] in a sexually explicit manner with a minor” “with the intent to commit” (for example) sexual assault. At best it’s clumsy, with no explicit connection between the sexual assault and the communication.

At worst it renders the statute unconstitutional again. The communication itself is constitutionally protected, and the state of mind itself is constitutionally protected. It is only when the intent is put into action, either physically or with a solicitation, that it can be constitutionally forbidden. “Incitement” is only unprotected if the speech is intended to induce or commence illegal activities.

So, for example, if D communicates in a sexually explicit manner with A while he intends to commit sexual assault with an unrelated B, the communication would still be constitutionally protected.

Or if D communicates in a sexually explicit manner with A and intends to commit sexual assault with A, but if the speech is not intended to induce or commence the sexual assault or any other illegal activity, the speech is constitutionally protected.

This may be a narrow class of protected speech that is criminalized; I haven’t yet worked through whether this invalidates the statute as to D or as written, but it seems to me that subsection (b) could be more clearly written:

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to commit induce or commence commission of an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedure with or against a minor, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with athe minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to athe minor.

With these small changes, the statute is almost in line with First Amendment incitement law. The only element of incitement that isn’t in the statute is imminence: for incitement to be unprotected speech the defendant must intend that a crime be imminent. There is, as you might imagine, not a lot of case law on imminence. If you stuck “the imminent” in between “commence” and “commission,” you’d have a statute that I’d have difficulty attacking (which is not to say that I won’t come up with something):

(b) A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to induce or commence the imminent commission of an offense listed in Article 62.001(5)(A), (B), or (K), Code of Criminal Procedure with or against a minor, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with the minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to the minor.

So that’s (b).

Subsection (c), as it is now, is unconstitutional because, in conjunction with subsection (a)(1)’s definition of minor to include anyone who represents himself to be a minor; and subsection (d)’s exclusion of fantasy and lack-of-intent defenses, it criminalizes speech that is not incitement, and is therefore protected by the First Amendment. Huffman’s edits to (a)(1) and (d) eliminate this unconstitutionality. To nail it down, imminence should be an element in (c) as well—

(c) A person commits an offense if the person, over the Internet or by electronic mail or a commercial online service, knowingly solicits a minor to meet another person, including the actor, with the intent that the minor will imminently engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with the actor or another person.

—but the lack of imminence is a minor problem compared with the explicit elimination of fantasy and lack-of-intent defenses.

Subsection (e)(2) still creates a defense for the defendant who, believing a cop who is older than the defendant to be a minor, solicits the cop to have sex. There is no good reason that a 33-year-old defendant can legally solicit a minor who happens to be a 36-year-old cop, but a 40-year-0ld defendant cannot. While the legislature is mucking around in this statute it ought to rewrite (e)(2) as well:

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that at the time conduct described by Subsection (b) or (c) was committed:

(2) the actor was not more than three years older than the minorthe younger of (A) the age of the minor; and (B) the age the actor believed the minor to be; and the minor consented to the conduct.

There’s probably an even better way to write that, but you get the gist: the age defense should be available if the nineteen-year-old defendant believed he was chatting with a sixteen-year-old, but it should not be available if the nineteen-year-old defendant believed he was chatting with a thirteen-year-old but was actually chatting with a forty-year-old cop (because, as a rule of thumb, a “thirteen-year-old” cruising for sex on the Internet is a forty-year-old cop).

I wouldn’t ordinarily suggest improvements to make a penal statute constitutional, but since I don’t have a philosophical problem with the state punishing people who are truly trying to pick up kids for sex on the Internet, and Joan Huffman seems to be headed in the right direction on this one, I’m happy to help.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (173.255.254.15) .)

2015.33: In Which I Gertrude About Gertruding about Gertruding

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 21:01

I would never say that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I’m opposed to cops being murdered. Because it’s obvious that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I oppose murder, and rape, and revenge porn, and all of the other bad things. It goes without saying. And nobody would suggest that I need to prove that I need to prove that I’m opposed to bad things unless I proactively insisted that such was not the case.

So, once and for all, not only am I opposed to all the bad things, but also I don’t need to prove it. And furthermore I don’t need to prove that.

I hope it’s obvious. I would hate to have to prove that I don’t need to prove that I don’t need to prove that I oppose all of the bad things.

(I want Urban Dictionary credit for coining the verb “to gertrude,” meaning “to create doubt in a proposition by insisting upon it.”)

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (184.73.49.84) .)

2015.32: Texas Lawyers, Don’t Be That Guy

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 14:19

Some lawyers are reportedly interpreting Ethics Opinion 646 to mean that they can give their clients copies of discovery produced under Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, despite Article 39.14(f)‘s admonition that:

The attorney representing the defendant, or an investigator, expert, consulting legal counsel, or agent for the attorney representing the defendant, may allow a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to view the information provided under this article, but may not allow that person to have copies of the information provided, other than a copy of the witness’s own statement. Before allowing that person to view a document or the witness statement of another under this subsection, the person possessing the information shall redact the address, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, date of birth, and any bank account or other identifying numbers contained in the document or witness statement. For purposes of this section, the defendant may not be the agent for the attorney representing the defendant.

39.14(f) is the law. Ethics Opinion 646 doesn’t change that, and the opinion really couldn’t be more clear:

Because article 39.14 requires an “open file” policy by prosecutors without pre-conditions, prosecutors would violate Rule 8.04(a)(12) if they refused to produce and permit the inspection of their file in accordance with the provisions of article 39.14 unless defense lawyers first agreed to waive certain rights of their clients. Under article 39.14—and, therefore, under Rule 8.04(a)(12)—prosecutors are required to produce and permit the inspection of their files, subject only to the limitations set forth in article 39.14. Thus, prosecutors would violate Rule 8.04(a)(12) if they attempted to impose conditions not found in article 39.14 before making the required disclosures.

The committee concludes that the Michael Morton Act has rendered Opinion 619 obsolete because the act requires an “open file” policy by all Texas prosecutors without requiring defendants or their lawyers to agree to any restrictions on their use of materials in the file except as provided in the act.

There are whiny chickenshit prosecutors who are cruising for examples of defense lawyers violating the Michael Morton Act, so that they can get their tame scared-white-republican legislators to shove through changes.

Don’t be that guy who gives his clients copies of offense reports and screws up discovery for the rest of us.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (184.73.49.84) .)

2015.31: Ethical Question—Privilege vs. Best Interest

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 11:51

Hypo: In a Texas criminal case, defense counsel receives a video recording in discovery from the state. Assume that she needs to prepare her witnesses for cross-examination by talking to them about the contents of the video. The defendant forbids her from showing the video to the witnesses or even telling them what it shows. She does her best to convince him to allow it, but he refuses.

How does this shake out?

Generally, the defendant has the right to make the strategic decisions in his case (plead guilty? jury or bench trial? jury or judge for punishment? seek lesser-included offense?) but trial counsel makes the tactical decisions (what witnesses to call, what questions to ask).1Good judgment isn’t what made the client a client. A lawyer has to maintain control over the defense. Often a client will want the lawyer to do things that would be disastrous to the client’s strategic goals; a lawyer can and should refuse. Whether to show the video to potential witnesses, to prepare them to testify, seems to fall under the category of “tactical decisions.” The lawyer has a responsibility to keep the client from making disastrous mistakes. And the video isn’t a secret—the State had it first.

But in Texas criminal cases, according to Rule of Evidence 503(b)(2),

a client has a privilege to prevent the lawyer or lawyer’s representative from disclosing any other fact which came to the knowledge of the lawyer or the lawyer’s representative by reason of the attorney-client relationship.

That seems pretty clear: the lawyer wouldn’t have known about the contents of the videotape if not for the attorney-client relationship, so the client has a privilege to prevent her from disclosing them.

How does this clash between the best interest of the client and the lawyer-client privilege shake out?

The lawyer may be tempted to do what is best for the client’s case, because that’s what she has been hired to do. The lawyer must resist the temptation. There’s ego involved—for her own gratification the lawyer would rather win the case than lose it. The lawyer must set aside her ego.

What if the lawyer will, following the client’s instructions, be ineffective?

Neither the Supreme Court nor this court has ever held that a lawyer provides ineffective assistance by complying with the client’s clear and unambiguous instructions not to present evidence.

Wood v. Quarterman, 491 F.3d 196, 203 (5th Cir.2007).

The privilege must win. The privilege, sacrosanct, should always win. The criminal-defense lawyer should, like Pat McCann, be willing, to go to jail to preserve the privilege.

But what if the lawyer interprets 503(b)(2) nonliterally, so that “any other fact” does not include information that would not be covered by the attorney-client privilege under the rules that we learn in law school?

That’s not what the rule says, but perhaps the lawyer could, by stretching, reasonably read the rule to allow disclosure of the video to the potential witnesses. Maybe the lawyer is setting aside her ego to make this call. Maybe the client’s concerns are misplaced, and disclosure would truly be in his best interest. Maybe if the client grieves the lawyer the State Bar would agree with the lawyer’s interpretation.

The best interest of the client and the lawyer-client privilege are guiding principles. If not for clients we would not have jobs, and if not for the privilege our clients could not trust us and we could not do our jobs. That the privilege must win is my own judgment. A lawyer might feel that the client’s best interest must win. I would call this “playing God,” disagree with it in harsh terms, and file a grievance if the client sought my help.

Or a lawyer might weight the two principles equally; in that case (and only in that case) it would be acceptable for the lawyer to consider policy, which can’t trump either the privilege or the client’s best interest. For the criminal-defense lawyer, policy favors privilege. In the vast majority of cases the client will benefit from reading the privilege more broadly, and if we accede to a narrow reading in one case we may sacrifice our ability to argue in all of those other cases that the rule says what it means.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (54.174.64.206) .)
  1. Others have characterized the dichotomy as “fundamental” vs. “strategic” decisions, a mixing of metaphors. 

2015.30: For Shame, Professor Franks.

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 18:08

Shame that @ACLU supports the violation of sexual privacy for profit or entertainment http://t.co/VBZ0aounKn@EndRevengePorn@cagoldberglaw

— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) January 26, 2015

A wise man recently said, “If you publicly oppose criminalization of anything, zealots of criminalization will accuse you of favoring that thing.”

The argument is either ignorant or dishonest. Franks doesn’t get to plead ignorance here. She knows the argument is dishonest and she makes it anyway.

It is fair to ask, “is there some depth to which Mary Anne Franks won’t sink?” So far we haven’t found that depth.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (65.19.138.34) .)

2015.29: We Have Seen the Enemy…

Mark's Blog: Defending People - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 17:52

The ACLU sued on behalf of several bookstores and publishing associations, the owner of the Village Voice and 12 other alternative newsweeklies nationwide, and the National Press Photographers Association.

The groups sent Mesnard and legislative leaders a letter early this month suggesting changes to the law to address its concerns that the law was overly broad. …

“In our view, we’re just trying to ask them to add some elements that first of all protect the media with respect to images that are important historically or have news value or artistic image,” said David Horowitz, executive director of the Media Coalition, whose members include publishers, librarians and booksellers. “And trying to really focus this again on the kind of malicious invasion of privacy everyone agrees is bad behavior.”

The letter suggested that Mesnard change the law to narrow its scope to address only “revenge porn” without interfering with free speech rights. Specifically, they don’t want it to apply when the publication was in the public interest or newsworthy.

And they want it to apply only to someone who was in an intimate relationship and displays a photo that their partner expected would be private with the intent to embarrass, harass or otherwise harm the person.

Mesnard said that language would be a deal-breaker because of the need to prove intent to harm, which he said would create “a big old loophole.”

(SFGate.com).

“Newsworthy,” like “in the public interest,”  is a subjective test that state actors could use to decide whom to arrest and whom not to. As Professor Neil Richards has written, “The power to declare facts or topics to be off limits to public discussion is in a very real sense the power to censor[.]”

Criminalization advocate Danielle Citron agrees with the Arizona plaintiffs and disagrees with Arizona Republican Representative J.D. Mesnard:

Revenge porn laws should also make clear that to win a conviction, prosecutors must show that the poster of the revenge porn intended to do harm.

There’s going to be a “big old loophole” in any revenge-porn statute; that loophole is called “free speech.” It is not possible to “address only ‘revenge porn’ without interfering with free speech rights.”

If the statute requires an intent to harm and has a newsworthiness or public-interest exception, it may be narrow enough to satisfy the booksellers’ interests, but it’s still going to be unconstitutional. “Everyone agrees it’s bad behavior” is not a category of unprotected speech.

Shame on the ACLU if they put their imprimatur on such a statute.

Copyright © 2013 Houston criminal-defense lawyer Mark Bennett. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, the page you are viewing infringes the copyright. (Digital Fingerprint: 9fddc86334d71f22cfdb4b70fe23bb0e (104.237.128.11) .)

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