Thursday, October 7, 2010

Introducing Rachel Rieger

I am happy to announce that my firm is expanding. On September 13, I added a second lawyer - Rachel Rieger - who will be managing the firm's family law practice. Rachel will be handling all new divorce, child custody, support and visitation cases. She also expects to build a juvenile law practice.

To reflect that the office is no longer a solo practitioner, the firm's name has been changed to Tim Hatton & Associates.

I am very excited to have Rachel on board. We both look forward to continuing to provide quality legal services to our clients at an affordable price.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Remaining Silent

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court did it again. In the case of BERGHUIS v. THOMPKINS, they held that a person can't invoke his right against self-incrimination, the famous "right to remain silent," by, in fact, remaining silent.

In this case, a defendant was interrogated for several hours, during which time he said nothing. He literally remained silent, just as the Miranda warnings he was read told him he could. As the interrogators were leaving the room, one of them asked if he believed in god, and when he said 'yes' asked him if he would pray for god's forgiveness. It was disputed whether the suspect replied, but the interrogator testified that he said 'yes' and that was deemed to be an admission of guilt.

In addition to the nonsensical ruling on the right to remain silent, I find it offensive that police interrogators are permitted to prey on a suspect's religious beliefs in order to psychologically put the suspect in a frame of mind to confess. Such confessions are as coerced, in my opinion, as those obtained by beating the confession out of the suspect.

This one, they got wrong.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Supreme Court Decisions Have Consequences

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a case out of Georgia, that it was reasonable for a police officer to ram a motorist being chased for a traffic violation. The motorist lost control of his vehicle and was seriously injured. Since the Supreme Court held that the officer's actions were reasonable, the motorist was denied any recompense due to the doctrine of qualified immunity.

Recently, I have been observing that many police vehicles now come equipped with front bumper extensions that are apparently designed to aid the driver of the police vehicle in ramming operations. I guess that, since the Supreme Court says it's ok, they want to be able to ram with impunity without damaging their police cruiser.

Someday, some happy day, the justices of the Supreme Court will realize that there are ramifications to the decisions they make. Or perhaps we will wise up and start electing presidents and senators who will appoint justices to the Court who come from a more "common" background.

Just one lawyer's opinion.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recurring Theme

I just picked up another criminal case that presents the issue of whether it is permissible under the Tennessee constitution for the police to send a wired informant into a home and then use the recorded conversation as evidence. People who follow my blog will recall that the same issue was presented in the Morrow murder solicitation case.

In the Morrow case, the issue was not resolved since the DA made us an offer that we couldn't refuse (she spent 15 days in county jail, served on weekends). At the sentencing hearing, he admitted that the motion might have some merit.

Now, in a sale of schedule II case out of east Tennessee, the same issue is presented. Perhaps this time we will get a ruling.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Juror Who Does His Job!

I just read an interesting story by a reporter from the Washington Post. You can read it here. It describes a trial in which the reporter sat as a juror.

Although the juror believed that the defendant was guilty (even guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) he was prepared to acquit because the police testifying were proven to be lying. Another alternate juror on the case formed the same conclusion and reasoned that the lies were enough to create reasonable doubt.

This is exactly what a jury ought to do - weigh the evidence to determine whether reasonable doubt exists. If the state presents witnesses who are obviously lying, you have to question whether the state's case has any merit at all. Using the facts presented by the case on which the reporter sat, the police officer who initially lied was an eyewitness to part of a drug deal. He lied about where he was in relation to the deal as it went down and also about what he was able to see. Other officers adopted the lie and testified accordingly. The defense attorney proved this and the jury understood and realized that the testimony was not factual.

This is how the system is supposed to work. Yet, time after time, it seems as if the police get a free pass when they testify in court. Even if there are discrepancies in their testimony, the jury believes them. I have heard it put this way, "if the defendant wasn't guilty, they wouldn't have arrested him," so errors in police testimony are harmless.

It is refreshing to see that the system worked, just once (the jury deadlocked 10 - 2 to acquit, a mistrial was declared and the defendant was not retried). It is also refreshing to see the reporter question whether use of this much police time and court time to prosecute someone for a $10.00 drug deal. We do tend to spend a large part of our law enforcement budget on cases like that.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Right to a Public Trial

The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that the right to a public trial is violated by excluding the public from jury selection. In a case out of Georgia, Presley v. Georgia, a single spectator (the defendant's uncle) was present in the court room prior to the jury pool entering the court. The trial judge informed him that he would have to leave the court and also would have to leave the entire floor. He was informed that he would be permitted to return after a jury had been selected.

The defendant's lawyer objected to the exclusion of the public and set up an appeal that ultimately landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held, in a rare win for criminal defendants, that the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial extended to the jury selection phase of the trial. The case was reversed and remanded back to Georgia for a new trial. It was an unsigned, per curium, opinion so we can't see which justices voted which way. It would have been interesting to analyze that.

Still, sometimes they do the right thing.