Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Supreme Court in Boyer v. Louisiana to Determine if Accused Can Be Held in Jail for Five Years Because of Failure for State to Provide Capital Punishment Qualified Counsel

A Case That Will Shed More Light on Whether or Not Conservatives on Court Believe in the Constitution

[Update:  During oral arguments in the case the Justices joked about the law degrees of the attorneys involved in the case, as though keeping a man in jail without a trial for five years is something funny.  The audio version is not clear, but there is this comment in the report on the hearing,   According to people who have heard the argument recording, Justice Thomas’s full remark is unintelligible.  No further comment necessary on that.]

The state of Louisiana has done an admirable thing with respect to those charged with crimes that are punishable by death.  As illustrated in the  Supreme Court case, Boyer v. Louisiana, it has mandated that if a person is charged with a capital offense the state will provide two attorneys who are certified in the area of defending those accused of capital crimes.

But of course the Conservatives who control Louisiana obviously don’t like that, so in at least one case they have refused to fund the provision of that counsel to a defendant, and the result was that the defendant spent 5 years in jail waiting to go to trial.

On June 6, 2002, the State of Louisiana indicted Boyer for first degree murder, a capital offense. Louisiana court rules mandate that capitally-charged indigent defendants be appointed two capitally-certified counsel; there is no requirement for specially-qualified counsel for non-capital charges. The capitally-certified counsel must receive adequate funding, appropriated by the state legislature.

In accordance with the Louisiana court rules, the State appointed Boyer capitally-certified counsel, but a “funding crisis” prevented the State from funding Boyer’s counsel for five years and proceeding to trial. During this time, Boyer’s counsel motioned for a hearing to determine a funding source. After granting several continuances at the request of both the State and Boyer, the trial court eventually heard the motion, but never ruled on it. The trial court also denied a motion to quash that Boyer filed soon after the three-year state statutory speedy-trial period expired.

On May 21, 2007, the State reduced Boyer’s charge from first degree murder to second degree murder, a non-capital offense, thereby eliminating the need for capitally-certified counsel and thus the funding obstacle. 

So what happened after the charge was reduced to a non capital offense?  Well in that case no capitally certified counsel was required and so the case went to trial.  And on the surface of it, maybe Mr. Boyer was guilty.

Boyer provided a confession to the police, his family members made statements implicating him in the crime, and police found Boyer’s fingerprints at the crime scene.

But maybe not, because there is also this.

However, William Gallier, an individual with no connection to Boyer, identified different killers in a statement made before Marsh’s murder became public. Additionally, portions of Boyer’s confession did not match the physical evidence. Boyer also has a history of mental and emotional instability and an I.Q. on the borderline of intellectual disability.

So why didn’t Mr. Gallier’s testimony create enough uncertainty to win Mr. Boyer his freedom?  Because by the time the case went to trail Mr. Gallier was no longer available to testify.  And the Louisiana appellate court put itself in the place of a judge and jury and decided, without ever meeting Mr. Gallier that his testimony would not have helped.

Citing the finding of the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, the State responds that Boyer was not prejudiced by the delay, asserting that Boyer’s lost witness, Mr. Gallier, had made inconsistent statements that were contradicted by other witnesses and later recanted by Mr. Gallier himself. Thus, Louisiana argues that Mr. Gallier’s testimony would not likely have aided Boyer’s defense. 

Furthermore, Louisiana argues that whatever Mr. Gallier’s testimony, it could not have overcome the strong evidence of Boyer’s guilt, such as the statements of Boyer’s family, the physical evidence linking Boyer to the scene, and Boyer’s confession.

Louisiana also argues that Mr. Boyer, through his attorney’s caused the delays.

Louisiana responds that Boyer is responsible for the delay of his trial and that he did not effectively assert his right to a speedy trial. Louisiana notes that the right to a speedy trial is unlike other constitutionally protected rights because failing to assert it may advantage the defendant. Louisiana contends that Boyer’s actions establish a pattern of avoidance that indicates Boyer intentionally delayed his trial in order to have the charges dismissed.

And Louisiana says their intent is good enough here, that they should be okay because they have the law which requires the state provide counsel, and just because they didn’t fund it doesn’t mean their hearts were not the in right place.  Read this disgusting argument by the state.

Louisiana further asserts that there are public-interest reasons that justify the delay. Relying on United States v. Loud Hawk, Louisiana argues that absent a showing of bad faith, important government interests may justify delay. Louisiana cites its decision to voluntarily provide indigent defendants in capital cases with two capitally-certified counsel as an important public interest. Louisiana argues that efforts to obtain funding for these specially qualified counsel constitute valid, good-faith reasons justifying delay.

Although this looks like a classic case where the police arrest a mentally incompetent person and extract a “confession” that may or may not be the case.  What is important is what the Supreme Court says in general about the right to counsel and the right to a speedy trial.

The Constitution and subsequent Court rulings are clear on this issue, read these beautiful words

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

 but we doubt that the strict constructionists like Justices Scalia and Thomas really care about that.  They think anyone arrested is guilty, that these rights granted under the Constitution undermine justice and should not be upheld, so expect them to try and persuade at least three others on the Court to keep Mr. Boyer in jail for life. 

And yes, if Scalia and Thomas do rule on the side of the Constitution, and acknowledge the rights of defendants to adequate counsel and a speedy trial (even if they do not rule in favor of this defendant) The Dismal Political Economist will note that in a future post and acknowledge that he was wrong about these two Justices in this matter. 

Just don’t expect that to happen.  

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