Tagged: testimony

Judge Denies New Trial for John Giuca – ‘The Grid Kid Slayer’

Prof. Bennett L. Gershman of Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, in his most recent Huffington Post blog titled Judge Drops Ball in “Grid Kid Slaying” Casecomments on yet another instance of blatant prosecutorial misconduct. This one involves a Brooklyn prosecutor who failed to reveal information about circumstances surrounding the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness.  As Prof. Gershman suggests, it appears that there was in fact a quit pro quo between the prosecutors office and Avitto, which the Judge chose to ignore.

This was the defendant John Giuca’s second try at a new trial.  Prof. Gershman focuses on the court’s misplaced acceptance of the testimony of a career criminal, John Avitto (Giuca’s cell-mate), who claimed Giuca had confessed to him and who also claimed he had not received anything in return for his testimony.   Prof. Gershman articulates the test that should be applied and concludes that the court failed to engage in the appropriate analysis.

But Judge Chun missed the point. The test is not whether there was any formal agreement; the test – and the law is very clear on this – is whether there is any reasonable basis in fact for the informant to believe that he is gaining special treatment from the prosecution because of his cooperation, and whether that special treatment might reasonably have motivated him to falsify his testimony.

Prof. Gershman asks:

… Is this a tactic that a prosecutor – the most powerful official in government and sworn to serve justice – should be allowed to embrace when there is the chance that revealing these facts to the jury might destroy the credibility of her star witness?


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Prof. Mushlin Testifies in Favor of Oversight in NY State Prisons

POST WRITTEN BY:  Erica Danielsen (’16), J.D. Pace Law School

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015 the NY Assembly Standing Committee on Correction held a hearing in Albany to discuss “Oversight and Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).” The Assembly held this hearing in the aftermath of the June 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape. The Assembly invited experts, academics, attorneys, and family members of inmates to testify. The Committee also invited Pace Law School Professor Michael B. Mushlin to testify.

Prof. Mushlin has extensive experience in the area of prisoners’ rights and brought his knowledge of prison oversight to the attention of the Committee. He expressed the importance of adequate oversight and noted key issues with New York’s current failure to provide adequate oversight of its correctional facilities. He stated that

oversight is needed because prisons are dark places where horrible things will happen unless there is oversight. Without oversight prisons cannot be humane despite the best of intentions and ‘inhumane prisons are not safe.’

Prof. Mushlin presented the Committee recommendations on how to improve its lacking system. He suggested critical components of oversight such as independence, an open door policy for physical access, an effective monitoring and regulatory system, the duty to report, and a legal requirement for correctional facilities to respond to investigation reports.

Professor Mushlin embraced organizations that New York already has in place such as the Correctional Association and Prisoners Legal Services of New York whose Executive Director, Karen Murtagh, also testified, and he pointed out that these organizations can only do so much, which is why legislative action is needed.  Professor Mushlin critiqued the NYS Commission of Correction which currently has legislative authority to investigate and report on prisons but fails to live up to its legislative powers.

The Assembly further heard testimony from Charlene Burkett, Corrections Ombudsman of State of Indiana, and Kate Eves, Independent Oversight Consultant of United Kingdom and Wales. Ms. Burkett and Ms. Eves aided the discussion by offering insights about an overview, guidelines, and recommendations of how various oversight bodies work in other states and countries. Moreover, Jonathan Moore, Esq. – the lead counsel for New York’s stop and frisk case, attorney for the Eric Garner case, and counsel for the family of Samuel Harrell who tragically lost his life to guards at Fishkill – testified about the importance of civil rights issues. And last but certainly not least, came the emotional cries from two mothers whose son’s were abused in prisons bringing their own human realities to the attention of the Committee.

Neither the Inspector General nor the Commissioner of Corrections testified on Wednesday since the Clinton escape investigations are still pending. However, Daniel O’Donnell, the chair of the Committee on Correction, adjourned the hearing for a future date in order for those organizations to offer testimony about their findings. Mr. O’Donnell stated that he would subpoena them to testify if necessary.

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Prof. Gershman Questions Rosenberg Prosecutors

In his most recent Huffington Post blog post titled Did the Rosenberg Prosecutors Suborn Perjury?, Prof. Gershman raises a question about prosecutors suborning perjury based on the recently released grand jury testimony of David Greenglas, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother and prosecution’s witness. It is a fascinating read – check it out! 

A Recent Decision: Fatally Improper Conduct Between Deliberating Jurors

While the jury deliberation process remains safely secret in our system, there are limits to what jurors can do and say to each other in the deliberative process when that process spills over into the courtroom. Federal District Judge Kimba Wood recently granted a petition for a writ of habeas corpus  to a defendant in a case where a Bronx trial judge refused to investigate claimed racial bias among the deliberating jurors that was brought to his attention during deliberations.

In the underlying murder trial, the jury was in its third day of deliberations when a juror sent a note to the judge saying he had been called a racial epithet and felt as if he were being forced to agree with the other jurors. A second juror asked to have deliberations suspended until the following Monday due to overwhelming tension in the jury room. On Monday, the first juror sent another note saying he was exhausted and could no longer be objective. The judge declined defense counsel’s request for an in camera interview of the individual jurors, encouraged the jurors to continue deliberating, and sent them back. Three days later the jury convicted the defendant of manslaughter and he was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the error had not been preserved, and the court of appeals denied leave. The magistrate judge issued a report advising that the habeas petition be denied because of the same procedural default.

Judge Wood disagreed. She held that defense counsel’s objection placed the trial court on notice of the constitutional basis for his objections. Thus, the state’s contemporaneous objection rule “served no legitimate state purpose.” On the merits, the Court found that the case was one of first impression in the Circuit – Whether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) which bars inquiry into the validity of a verdict, prohibits jurors from testifying about statements during deliberations. The court found that the policy behind the rule – preventing the badgering of jurors by a losing party and endless litigation – does not bar the reviewing court from considering such statements when they are brought to the court’s attention before the verdict is returned. The court held that the defendant was denied a fair trial because, on the basis of a verbal racist assault, which was evidence of actual bias – deprived the defendant of his right to an impartial jury.

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Material Witness Orders: Misuse in NY?

Material witness orders give prosecutors the power to detain uncooperative witnesses in the rare circumstance in which they might flee.  However, recent wrongful conviction cases reveal that NY prosecutors may be misusing such orders to coerce testimony from reluctant witnesses.  The law may be clear but prosecutors may be bypassing the required judicial review, detaining witnesses, and coercing testimony that is ultimately unreliable.

Click here to read more.