Monday, January 5, 2009

Morrow Case Motions

Next week we have a hearing in the Lauren Morrow case over in Sumner County. That is the case of the young lady accused of conspiring with her boyfriend and another young man to kill her mother. The case drew national attention when it was first brought, but things have quietened down considerably.

The two motions concern suppression of her statement to the police and for severance of her trial from those of the others. The suppression issue is straightforward - she was never given her Miranda rights. The other two were - written waivers are in the file and you hear them being given on the recordings. But Lauren wasn't. That, combined with some questionable interrogation techniques, should provide a basis for suppression.

The severance motion is a little more complicated. If you read the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding joinder of defendants, you would think that severance is not something that is easily achieved. But, if you look at the federal and state case law, you find that severance almost always should be granted.

The main reason for this is that joint trials cannot be fairly had and preserve both the rights to assistance of counsel and confrontation of witnesses under the Sixth Amendment and the right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment. The scenario is as follows:

Suppose you represent a defendant who intends to place the blame on a co-defendant. In order to effectively present that defense you might want to call that co-defendant to the witness stand. Yet, in a joint trial, you can't do that. And while, in a separate trial, you might not be able to compel that testimony either, you can do one thing in a separate trial that you can't do in a joint trial - you can comment upon the fact that the co-defendant refused to take the stand.

If you try to comment on the refusal to testify in front of a jury that will decide the guilt of both defendants, and the judge permits you to do this, that defendant's Fifth Amendment rights have been violated. The only way that you can preserve your client's Sixth Amendment rights and the co-defendant's Fifth Amendment rights is to sever the trials and proceed separately.

It will be interesting to see the trial court's take on all of this. For anyone interested, I will try to find time to post the motions on JD Supra where they can be viewed. Otherwise, they are public record in the Sumner County Criminal Court.


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