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OJ Simpson’s Petition for Habeas Corpus

OJ Simpson, the former football star, actor, and murder defendant, has petitioned a Nevada court to set aside his 2008 robbery conviction.

The robbery conviction was upheld on appeal by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2010. So if the conviction became final three years ago, how is it that Simpson is still able to challenge it in a Nevada state court? The answer is that a defendant can always file a “writ of habeas corpus” at any time after his conviction, to argue that the conviction should be set aside because the trial contained violations of the federal or state constitution.

A habeas petition typically addresses what was not done at trial, as opposed to an appeal, which argues that procedures or rulings at trial were erroneous and significant. The most common type of habeas writ raises the defense counsel’s failure to do a good job, by failing to call witnesses, investigate leads, or do other things that a competent lawyer would do. Simpson’s challenge to his conviction is based largely on the alleged ineffective advice and representation provided by his then-defense lawyer, Yale Galanter.

According to Simpson’s testimony at the hearing on the Writ of Habeas Corpus, Galanter never advised Simpson that the prosecutor was willing to agree to a sentence of two to five years in exchange for a guilty plea. (Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison after being found guilty, though he is eligible for parole in 2017.) Simpson’s conviction will almost certainly be set aside if the judge believes Simpson’s testimony. Not only did Galanter have an absolute duty to inform Simpson that a deal was on the table, but also last year the US Supreme Court ruled that plea bargaining is a crucial aspect of criminal proceedings for which defendants are constitutionally entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. Galanter, by the way, is scheduled to testify as well, and if he substantiates Simpson’s claim, at the cost of his own reputation and standing as a licensed attorney, the judge is extremely likely to toss out the conviction.

Simpson’s other contentions regarding Galanter’s effectiveness are less impressive. For example, Simpson claims that Galanter had a conflict of interest with Simpson because after consulting with Galanter before the robbery, Simpson was under the impression that his plan to regain personal items from a sports memorabilia dealer was legal. But as even most young children know, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Besides, Simpson’s plan as he allegedly related it to Galanter was different from what actually transpired in the hotel room where the robbery occurred.

Simpson’s challenge to his conviction is likely to continue even if the judge hearing the testimony denies Simpson’s petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Simpson can appeal the denial of the petition to the Nevada Supreme Court. And if he comes up empty again, he can start all over by filing a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal court. After all, the right to effective assistance of counsel is protected both by state and federal constitutions.

Smith v. Cain: The Supreme Court Spanks Another Prosecutor

In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the US Supreme Court told prosecutors that they had to turn over to defendants prior to trial any information in their files that was favorable to the defense and material to a defendant’s guilt. If not, convictions would have to be overturned.

Decades later, some prosecutors apparently still haven’t gotten the message. In the case of Smith v. Cain (2012), Juan Smith was convicted in New Orleans of the brutal murder of 5 people. The conviction was based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. Only years after he was convicted did Smith find out that the prosecutor had concealed the fact that the eyewitness had told a police officer that “I can’t ID anyone because I couldn’t see faces” and “I wouldn’t know them if I saw them.”

Any law school graduate, in fact virtually any middle school graduate, should know that this is exactly the sort of information that under Brady should have been turned over to the defense prior to the criminal trial. Yet the prosecutor ignored Brady and kept the information hidden. As a result the Supreme Court voided the conviction. If the State is able and chooses to re-try Smith, the costs of a new trial to already-strapped New Orleans taxpayers is signficant. By placing his desire to win at all costs above his commitment to justice, Smith’s prosecutor has added an easily-avoided stain to U.S. justice.

Criminal Law: A Desk Reference

If you’re reading this blog, you may want to know more about criminal law and procedure. If so, might I suggest that you look at my recently-published Nolo book, Criminal Law: A Desk Reference. While the book is packed with important information, I’ve done my best to make it interesting and sometimes even funny.

The book discusses specific crimes, such as murder, drug crimes, animal cruelty and immigration crimes. The book also discusses criminal procedures, such as lineups, forensic testing, and bail hearings.

The alphabetical arrangement of the entries makes it easy for you to find a topic that you’d like to know more about. Most entries include a succinct definition or explanation of a law or procedure, and examples that illustrate its application and significance. Examples are drawn from a variety of sources, including history, actual court cases, and courtroom movies. Many entries also refer to current state or federal rules.

Here’s a brief sampling of the kind of information that you will find in the book:

1. The distinction between an accessory before the fact and an accessory after the fact, the differences in punishment, and an illustration based on the assassination of President Lincoln.

2. The term curfew reflects the French roots of William the Conqueror’s 1066 conquest of England. In French, covrefeu meant “put out the fires.” In medieval times, covrefeu orders meant that the peasants had to put out their fires. As the book points out, these orders protected villages against fires and the ruling class against nighttime peasant uprisings.

3. Why the notorious Charles Manson remains imprisoned more than forty years after he was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder for his role in the Tate-La Bianca murders.

4. The status of the “impossibility defense.” in other words, can a person be convicted of a crime for shooting a person who unbeknownst to the shooter has moments earlier suffered a heart attack and died?

5. The two approaches to convicting drivers of DUI offenses.

Criminal Law: A Desk Reference explains criminal law concepts in a way that everyone can understand. If for any reason you want to know more about criminal law than you do now, this may be the book for you.

Dr. Conrad Murray Convicted in the Michael Jackson Case

Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter. A Los Angeles jury concluded that his grossly negligent behavior led to the 2009 death of famed entertainer Michael Jackson. While Dr. Murray’s overall mistreatment of his personal patient was abhorrent, Involuntary Manslaughter is the least serious form of culpable homicide. It is punishable at most by imprisonment for 4 years.

One of the major disputes in the trial was whether Dr. Murray carelessly administered a fatal dose of propofol, a powerful anesthetic that before the trial few people had heard of. Murray’s defense, which shifted almost hourly, was that Jackson somehow managed to inject himself with a fatal dose of propofol. Either way, Murray was grossly negligent. Even if it were true that a barely-conscious Jackson managed to inject himself, the fact that Murray was nowhere around when he did so (Murray was outside Jackson’s bedroom, talking to one of his many mistresses, unless his wife happened to have beeped in and interrupted his conversation) constituted gross negligence.

Dr. Conrad Murray’s Sexual Character

Dr. Conrad Murray is on trial in LA, charged with involuntary manslaughter for his allegedly reckless medical treatment that led to the death of famous performer Michael Jackson.

In yesterday’s proceedings, the prosecution called several of Murray’s mistresses as witnesses. Their testimony suggested that Murray is a sexual scumbag who used his relationship with Jackson to entice women to sleep with him.

Character evidence rules generally forbid prosecutors from attacking the morality of criminal defendants. But Murray’s own behavior allowed the prosecution to call his mistresses to the stand without violating the character evidence rules.

ONe mistress testified that around the time that Jackson’s heart stopped, Murray had lleft the room where Jackson lay dying to chat with her. Another mistress testified that Murray had large quantities of propofol shipped to her home address, showing that he had lied when he told the pharmacy that his medical clinic was at that address.

Thus, even though the mistresses’ testimony suggested that Murray is disgustng, their testiony was not barred by character evidence rules because the testimony was relevant to show that Murray was not paying adequate attention to Jackson’s condition and that he was overmedicating Jackson with propofol. You might credit the prosecutors with cleverly circumventing the character evidence rules, but it was Murray’s own actions that created the opening.