Missouri man dies after Taser fired during traffic stop

Suspect Dead After Moberly Police Use Taser

TaserMoberly Police apparently killed a 23-year-old drunk driving suspect with a taser early this morning during a traffic stop. Police Commander Kevin Palmatory said the young man resisted arrest, so the officer used his Taser twice. The suspect died at the scene.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this homicide will be ruled to be justified because the officer was following departmental rules. Perhaps someone needs to look at those rules again. One of these days, a wise police chief will announce that taser use will be limited to situations that would otherwise justify the use of deadly force. If that were the case, this kid would be alive today.

Federal judge nips jury nullification in the bud

The jury had begun deliberations in a federal criminal drug trial when the judge was sent this note:

One juror is asking: Where – if two-thirds of both houses of congress voted in 1919 that it was necessary to amend the constitution to give congress the power to ban mere possession of a substance (prohibition of alcohol in that case) – is the constitutional grant of authority to ban mere possession of cocaine today?”

The judge decided that he (and the US Attorney) had a problem. After some inquiries back and forth with the jury, the judge brought the jurors before him and interrogated them. He quickly identified the juror who had questioned the law.

He informed the attorneys that this juror “engaged in juror nullification and [the Court believed] it was within [its] power to dismiss him.” The judge kicked the juror off the jury and replaced him with an alternate juror. The defense objected. The reformed jury came back with the guilty verdict.

The judge handed down a 40 page memo explaining his order. (read it here)

Among other things, the judge seemed to connect such juror conduct with gradual elimination of the jury trial.

He lamented: “Without juries, judges become glorified hearing officers whose contributions to society could not possibly justify grand courthouses, courtrooms, or judicial staff.”

I look forward to reading the appellate decision on “jury nullification” that will follow this decision.

Here are some prior posts on jury nullification:

Here a comment on this case from www.cato-at-liberty.org:
Juror Becomes Fly in the Ointment

Plea bargains are often misunderstood

Jefferson City criminal defense lawyerSometimes we read opinions in the media or online–and knowing just what we have been told–we may tend to accept the viewpoints expressed. The great exception, however, is when we happen to have inside information on the story. Suddenly we understand how limited the public perception can be. We see how the criticism does not conform to the reality. Now, if WE see the defects when we DO know the score, shouldn’t that engender some skepticism (and humility) in those cases when we do not?

The news this week was that Eric Feltner (former chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder) pled guilty to the misdemeanor of “displaying sexually explicit materials.” He had originally been charged with two misdemeanor counts of attempting to provide pornography to a minor.

The court–following the plea agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor–sentenced Feltner to 60 days Jail, suspended the sentence and put him on 2 years probation on the condition that Feltner complete 100 hours community service, and that Feltner not use the internet except for business purposes. Feltner must now register as a sex offender in the county where he lives (for at least the next ten years).

Internet blogs and comments are steaming with uninformed rants, such as in this article from the political blog FiredupMissouri: Cole Co. Prosecutor Mark Richardson Continues to Coddle Republican Sex Offenders

FiredUp’s partisan attack on the prosecution declared the result “sickening,” demonstrating FiredUp’s superficial understanding of the criminal justice system. The blogger, who uses the moniker “Howard Beale,” complained that Richardson delayed a year before the filing of charges. Beale had earlier complained that felony charges–not misdemeanor–should have been filed. And he complained that the sentence was too lenient.  Such criticism, coming from an outsider, seems unfair.

A few points:

  • Taking a year to file the charge: If such a delay suggests anything, it’s that this case was not strong to begin with. It sounds like the prosecutor worked it for a year–and with the statute of limitations about to run out–he filed the best case he had. This is totally standard operating procedure.
  • Not filing felony charges: How anyone could level this charge without reading all the reports is, to me, a mystery. A complete total mystery.
  • The sentence was too lenient: Everybody’s an expert on this? Right? That depends on the evidence. This misdemeanor charge is not minor-related. The initial accusations were, but the law that Feltner admitted violating makes no reference to any victim (of any age). If the evidence was weak, the prosecutor may have believed this plea bargain was the best result he could get, considering the possibility of a not guilty verdict.

If he thought the accused was a future danger, he may have believed it more important to get this fellow into the record books. Two considerations may have been in play:

  1. Feltner must now register as a sex offender. His neighbors will be able to track him.
  2. Although this was a misdemeanor, any second offense will be a felonyClick here to read the statute.

The prosecutor (like his critics) may not have been satisfied with this result, but decided that half a loaf was better than none. I don’t know myself, but without more, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

Come back with a warrant

Illegal photography of a police officer.

Hey fellas, I’m just getting your picture.”

Then he snapped the photo. Deputy McCloud – who has been on the force only 18 months – told him that photographing him was illegal.

“I asked, ‘what planet are you from?’,” Conover said.

That was the response of Scott Conover who appeared to take a photo of an on-duty sheriff’s deputy.  The whole story is a good read. Click here. The deputy was not entirely unreasonable. He offered to forget the whole thing if Conover would erase the picture. Conover said no dice. The deputy arrested him. So Conover tossed the camera iPhone to his 12-year-old daughter who took more pictures.

Goofy incidents like this are proof that not every police officer has yet heard the message:  Camera phones & video & sound recorders are everywhere and there is no escaping them.

It is long past time for anyone–including police officers–to get all bent out of shape over it.

  • Note: I realize this depends on the assumption that that using your badge and handcuffs to imprison someone who does something you don’t like qualifies as getting “bent out of shape.” I think it does.

I’m not a fan of having surveillance everywhere, but if I’m in a public place, I have no right to complain if someone takes my picture. Neither does the misguided Deputy McCloud. I am curious to learn if the deputy was able to find a prosecutor who was willing to file the charges.

Here’s an earlier post on the subject of videotaping the police. This videotaped incident cost the officer his job.

and here is another . . .

The time is ripe for Missouri to record police interrogations

“Lying to the FBI” Go ahead. Google it.

What do vice-presidential chief of staff “Scooter” Libby, homemaking guru Martha Stewart, and former housing secretary Henry Cisneros have in common? They were all prosecuted by the federal government for making false statements to government agents. If you googled the above quote, you know that the number of people prosecuted for this crime are beyond counting (well, beyond reading all the search engine matches, anyway.)

Every time I hear about one of these prosecutions, I ask myself: “Why would anybody, anywhere, anytime talk to the FBI?” Of course they want to scare people into telling the truth, but it seems to me that reasonable people might be scared out of talking to them at all.

Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 says that if one lies or knowingly conceals any material fact about a matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government, he shall be fined or imprisoned for not more than 5 years.

It also makes it a crime for a government agent to lie to you. Scratch that. In fact, your government applies a far higher moral standard to its citizens than to itself, for law enforcement officers are trained to lie when interviewing suspects. They can lie about what evidence they have or what the evidence will tell them. They can lie about what other witnesses have said. Trust me. It is standard practice.


Under Missouri law, it’s not so one-sided. A man may be convicted of committing a theft, but he won’t be convicted of denying that he did it. He won’t be convicted for saying he doesn’t know anything about it. He won’t be convicted for hiding embarrassing personal facts.

Under Missouri law, lying to the state is a crime only in certain narrow situations. Such as:

  • lying for the purpose of helping another person escape prosecution
  • making a false statement UNDER OATH, or
  • making a false report of a crime or life-threatening emergency.

These situations adequately cover the immediate public harm caused by not telling the government the truth. But these state laws stop short of the police state mentality which demands that citizens cooperate with the government in all things, even to the point of helping the government put them in prison.

The bottom line is that these state laws do not punish a man for denying his own guilt. This is akin to the 5th amendment to the US constitution which insures that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

Of course, one should never lie to the authorities, whether they be state or federal. The feds will send you to prison for the lie, even though they could never charge you with any other crime. Even your local police know that the best thing they can get from a suspect is a confession. But the second best thing they can get is a lie. You will not outsmart them. They will never tell you how much they know already.

If the FBI ever showed up wanting to interview me, I should politely, but firmly tell them I would not discuss the matter until I’ve talked to an attorney about it. I can’t get in trouble with that response. After some thought and legal counsel, it may appear that I have no personal criminal exposure. But I can’t make that judgment going into a surprise interview. I may well talk to them later, BUT NOT NOW.

Perhaps if enough people just started refusing to speak to federal government agents–because they feared saying something that could come back to bite them–Congress might have to repeal the law. The agents could then concentrate on solving crimes that have already occurred rather than manufacturing them in the ordinary course of business.

Resources:

The police want to talk to me. Should I talk to them?

How to Avoid Going to Jail under 18 U.S.C. Section 1001 for Lying to Government Agents (its a long one, but you will be amazed at how wrong people can be in thinking they are innocent and have nothing to hide)