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Articles Posted in criminal trials

As the Michelle Carter trial continues this week, her defense team presented expert witnesses; Dr. Peter Breggin took the stand testifying in regards to his knowledge on the effects felt by juveniles whom are prescribed antidepressants. This comes after the defense had their motion to dismiss the case, for lack of credible evidence, denied. A witness for the defense, Dr. Breggin has frequently testified in court cases, roughly 90 times since the 1980’s, and is commonly known for his opposition of anti-depressant medications.

For roughly four hours, Dr. Breggin described Michelle Carter as a person always willing to offer a helping hand who underwent changes after being prescribed the well known antidepressant Prozac and subsequently Celexa. Dr. Breggin painted a picture of a young adult who simply was suffering from the side effects of the medication she was placed on, noting that antidepressants, such as the medications listed above, have the ability to affect impulse control. He also pointed out some of the warnings, in plain view, on the side of the Celexa medication bottle itself; warnings such as potential for an increased risk of suicide for those taking the medicine.

After first being prescribed Prozac, Breggin noted that it was evident to Carters loved ones that she was becoming increasingly more vulnerable. He gave his expert opinion, citing the many common side effects patients that take similar drugs commonly feel. Prozac was the first medication that was prescribed to Carter whom later switched her medications in July of 2014. After switching her medication to Celexa, Carter began to exhibit more apathy, but this apathy was also coupled with bursts of anger and mania. Dr. Breggin highlighted the drugs effect on the frontal lobe, specifically in young adults, noting that the drug may negatively impact her ability to make proper choices and to fully understand the consequences of such choices.

After prosecutors rested their arguments in the Michelle Carter case, Judge Lawrence Moniz  denied the defenses motion to declare her not guilty based on the evidence or lack therof.  Carter, a young woman from Plainville Massachusetts is currently on trial for convincing her high school boyfriend to commit suicide in 2014; prosecutors arguing that Carter persuaded her boyfriend to take his own life, an act that would not have been possible without the influence of his then-girlfriend Michelle Carter.

The Judge did not give a reasoning in regards to the denial of the motion, but with the motion for required finding denied, the defense team will be putting on their own case.  A motion for required finding is a relatively easy hurdle for a prosecutor to satisfy as all of the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth.  It is only when viewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, and finding that no reasonable juror or judge in this case, could find the essential elements of the case proven that the motion be be allowed.

Carter’s defense team argued that there is simply insufficient evidence that Michelle Carter actually caused her boyfriend to take his life; the defense has argued from the start of the trial that this is a suicide case.

The Orlando shooter’s widow, Noor Salman was denied bail pending her upcoming trial. Often, in a serious case involving death, a defendant will be held without bail as the Court concludes no amount of money will ensure the person’s appearance in court.  Since bail is not meant to punish someone prior to trial, given the presumption of innocence, in a high profile case it put a judge in a difficult position as to whether to set a bail.

Her attorneys are planning to argue that Salman is not a public safety threat, and is not at a risk of fleeing before her trial date approaches. In this case, family members have offered their homes as collateral in desperate hopes to get Salman out on bail.

Oman Mateen was the gunman and husband to Salman who walked into a Florida nightclub and shot and killed 49 people, wounding an additional 53 individuals. The upcoming trial is in regards to Salman’s alleged claim that she supported her husband’s terroristic plans; Salman was originally arrested back in November after authorities suspected that she helped her husband plan the attack on Pulse Nightclub. While the prosecution has not released a bulk of the evidence they have collected on Salman, an attorney on her case, Haitham Amin, noted that it appears as if Salman is going to be charged with being present when her husband was planning the attacks.

There was no verdict in the Justin Ross Harris hot car death trial.  Lawyers delivered closing arguments in the Justin Ross trial.  The defense argued that it was an accident that Justin Ross left his infant son Cooper in a hot car that caused his death.  Ross’ lawyer Maddox Kilgore presented a skillful closing argument where he contends that Ross had no motive to kills his son.  The State claimed that he wanted to escape from his child to have more time to be with other women as there was extensive evidence of him sex texting other women and having affairs.  The defense claimed that Ross was living the life he wanted, there was no need to kill his son who the defense said the evidence showed he loved.  At the time of his son death, Ross the defense claims was planning a family cruise and was looking for a house in a good school district.  Ross’ ex-wife who despised him for cheating said that he loved Cooper.

Ross left his son in the car according to the defense when he got out of his normal routine of dropping his son off at daycare prior to going to Chick Fillet and then to work.  The defense presented an expert about false memory.  The defense expert explained to the jury that it is very easy to believe you did something when you habitually do it and people can easily get distracted.

The defense further argued that the State incorrectly presented how the car seat looked and that he was not in the line of sight of Ross.  A key point for the defense was that Ross parked in the middle of the parking lot, rather than in a wooded or more secluded area of the lot where Cooper was less likely to be seen.

Last week saw the start of two high-profile shooting cases, both involving white police officers being charged with the shooting of a black civilian during a traffic stop. Given the circumstances, the cases  caught a lot of attention from the media when they individually occurred in 2015. Both incidents involve video evidence of the incidents so it will be interesting to see what approach the defense attorneys decide to take. Furthermore, the media coverage of both cases will make it difficult to obtain an objective verdict from the jury.

The Slager case underwent jury selection last week and the Tensing case will see opening arguments starting this week.

Below is a summary of the two 2015 cases.

The Murder trial of Justin Ross Harris will require the jury to piece together the circumstantial evidence of the prosecution and determine the intent of Harris, did he accidentally leave his son in the car as the defense content or was it intentionally, as the prosecution claims.  Monday’s opening statements showed defense attorney Maddox Kilgore refer to his client as being responsible, for a “tragic accident” and not for malice murder. The defendant, Justin Ross Harris, has plead not guilty to charges of malice murder, two counts of felony murder and first degree cruelty to children.

During the trial, Attorney Kilgore plans to use testimony from Harris’s ex-wife who- despite hostility towards Harris and the ending to their relationship- will testify that Harris was a good father and loved his son.

About the Case

Key to Cosby’s success at upcoming jury trial will be the judge’s ruling on numerous motions in liming defining what evidence the jury will get to hear at trial.

A judge has ruled that prosecutors can use a phone call that was taped without Bill Cosby’s consent as evidence in his sexual assault trial.  Cosby argued that because he did not know the call was being taped, that it should be excluded from evidence under a two party consent law.  However, the judge denied the request according to a report by Fox News.

The case raised some interesting legal issues, include whether the Court will allow prior bad acts of uncharged conduct into evidence at trial.  Generally, prior bad act evidence would be inadmissible at trial, but can be admitted if it shows a common plan, scheme or method of operation.  A judge has to determine whether the probative value of this evidence out weights its unfair prejudice to the defendant.  A jury is instructed that the defendant is not charged with committing any prior bad acts and that it cannot consider those prior bad acts as proof of the current charge. But prior bad act evidence to be used to show motive, state of mind, intent, common scheme, absence of mistake or identity.  In Aaron Hernandez’s recent murder trial where he was convicted, the judge did not permit the Commonwealth to offer into evidence that the victim knew that he was allegedly involved in a 2012 shooting.  The Court ruled that this testimony would have been unfairly prejudicial.  Accordingly, the defense was allowed to argue that he had no motive to commit the crime.  The reason that the judge declined to allow this evidence to come into evidence at trial is that it would have been too difficult for the jury to keep the alleged prior bad act separate from the criminal conduct that the defendant was on trial for.

The 10-part Netflix documentary series that has captured the nation and has made headlines over the past year has more recently taken a new turn. Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, most famously known for being found guilty of the murder of Teresa Halbach, may have a second chance at freedom.  Just this past week, Avery’s co defendant and nephew, had his case overturned by a federal judge in the state of Wisconsin. Avery’s current lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, is increasing her efforts in the hope to additionally free Avery, as she believes he is innocent of the crime.

What you should know:

  • Mr. Avery was first convicted of sexual assault back in 1985.

This summer has seen a high number of cases involving young children dying after being left in hot cars. In a recent highly publicized case out Georgia, a father was charged with the involuntary manslaughter of his twin one-and-a-half-year-old daughters after it was discovered that he left the children in a car outside their home for hours while he was napping. In this case, involving Justin Rose out of Georgia, CNN reported that the issue for the jury will be whether this was a mistake or murder.  The defense recently had a judge allow a motion for change of venue based on pretrial publicity.

However, in a case out of Mississippi a grand jury declined to indict a woman whose two-year-old daughter died after being left in a car all day.

Courts across the country are grappling with how to treat these parents or guardians. Are they guilty of involuntary manslaughter or are these cases just tragic accidents?

The Massachusetts SJC rule on July 1, 2016 that a juvenile can be required to stand trial as an adult for involuntary manslaughter in a case that has drawn national attention, as the juvenile defendant is charged with encouraging another juvenile to commit suicide through text messages.  Text messages were a major portion of the evidence presented to the grand jury.

The SJC outlined the facts presented to the grand jury.  The grand jury heard evidence that the defendant knew that her boyfriend at the time had a history of mental illness, prior suicie attempts and the court found that many conversations during the time period concerned suicide and the defendant doing the following according to the court, encouraging the victim to commit suicide, chastising him for not doing it, instructing him how and when to do it as well as assuaging his concerns over taking his own life.

The defendant was alleged to have spoken to the victim while he was in the act of committing suicide and sent a text message to another friend saying that she told him to get back into the truck. The SJC further recounted evidence that the defendant understood her role in the victim’s death by trying to delete text message evidence and told another friend that she could have prevented his death.

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