WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

“High Profile” Criminal Case = Poison in the Pool

“Bath Salts Arrests”

This was the headline, and accompanying photograph, seen after our recent hearing in the Mineral County, WV felony prosecution of John and Tonya Cozatt.  They are being prosecuted for several felonies for selling potpourri in their nutrition stores which allegedly contained “synthetic marijuana”.  The newspaper just couldn’t resist labeling the products as “Bath Salts”, which of course have been all over the national news due to incidents such as the face-eating incident in Florida.

The actual article makes it clear that the case has nothing to do with “bath salts”.  But if you look at the link I provided above under the photograph, you can see how they mentioned “Bath Salts” or “Salts” in three different areas surrounding the article.  It’s like the media labeling every gun, regardless of what it actually is, an “AK-47” or an “assault rifle.”  In the end, it poisons the jury pool.  In all of these pre-trial articles, people are seeing “bath salts, bath salts, bath salts.”  And in the national media they are seeing endless stories on people on bath salts doing crazy things.  Is it really necessary to sensationalize something that is innocuous as a nutrition store selling potpourri?  As the article notes, law enforcement had no idea the potpourri may have contained illegal compounds prior to having it analyzed by a laboratory:

Attorney John H. Bryan, representing the Cozatts, questioned Paterline about the packaging of the substance, noting that none of the packages said it was synthetic marijuana or meant to be smoked.

Bryan also asked Paterline if he could tell when he purchased the substances if they were illegal or not, and he said he could not.

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April 10, 2013 Posted by | Drugs, Forensic Labs, John H. Bryan, Lawyers, Media Coverage, motions for change of venue, Police, Pretrial Hearings | 1 Comment

WV Father Convicted of Infant’s Murder 27 Years Ago

From the Charleston Dail Mail:

Apparently, there was an autopsy performed on this child back in 1981 which indicated that the infant died as a result of being shaken, but it was never delivered to the prosecutor’s office. Talk about gross incompetence…

Just remember, these are the same medical examiners that make mistakes in the other direction as well. Medical examiners for the most part couldn’t get a job working in a hospital, or in private practice working on actual living beings. Their incompetence and skewed sense of purpose can’t maim or kill a cadaver, but they can cause an innocent person to get convicted.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Children, Experts, Forensic Labs, Medical Examiners, Murder | Leave a comment

Computer Crime Charges On the Rise in WV

The Charleston Daily Mail published a story today about another child porn bust in Kanawha County. This is proving to be an ever-expanding area of criminal law, both nationally and in West Virginia.

Robert Eugene Simmons, 32, was arrested by members of the West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children task force after giving officers permission to search his computer, according to the criminal complaint.

The arrest comes less than a week after the first child pornography sting in the Kanawha Valley where ICAC officers used peer-to-peer file sharing to observe child pornography distribution. This type of observation has already been successful elsewhere in the state.

The article stated that: “Simmons, and others arrested for distributing child pornography, may face more charges after their computers’ hard drives are examined, said State Police Sgt. P.C. Koerner, who aided in Tuesday’s arrest.”

For any defense attorneys who have not yet faced charges such as these, here is what they have been doing: they seize the computer, it then is sealed and placed in the State Police detachment evidence room. They then have the option of doing a “live preview” of the hard drive to essentially take a peek at what could be on the hard drive. Then the computer is transported to Huntington, West Virginia, to the state’s forensic computer expert. At that point, the proper procedure is to make a “clone” of the hard drive before anything else is done with the computer.

The article further stated that “Each file shared over the Internet has a fingerprint attached to it. What we’re able to do is, we’re able to track where those files are going. As a computer forensics expert will tell you, each file has should be “hashed” which gives you this “fingerprint” – and if that is not done, then there could be some deficiencies with the evidence.

With child porn charges, defendants can be charged in state court, or they can be charged federally. The federal charges bring a minimum sentence of 10 years. If the charges are federal, it can alter your access to the evidence (i.e., computer). Federal prosecutors demand that the defendants attorneys or experts not be allowed to possess their own “clone” of the hard drive, as can be allowed if the charges only exist at the state level. I’m not sure what makes the federal prosecutors God, but for some reason the state police and defense experts are afraid to disobey the AUSA’s demands.

The protocol they use is this: they first make a clone of the hard drive, then the defense clone gets placed in a safe in the evidence room; the defense is given the only key, then when they want to analyze the computer, you are forced to do it under supervision of the state police. Now, if the charges are in state court only, then you can get an order from a circuit court judge to possess a clone of the hard drive. By the way, the feds insist on this even if no child porn has yet been found on the hard drive.

Speaking of experts, it is extremely important to retain an defense expert from the very beginning. The state has an expert are their side from the very beginning. You must have a forensic computer expert who can observe any and all manipulation of the hard drive by the state’s experts, as well as perform his or her own analysis of the hard drive. The important thing here is to prevent spoilation of evidence that could be exculpatory, and to foreclose the possibility of any manufacturing of evidence by the state, as well as to be able to give an opinion at trial regarding the reliability of the state’s procedures. If anyone is in need of an expert for computer-related charges, contact me and I can put you in touch with a very good one.

I think this is a trend we will continue to see in West Virginia, both with child porn charges, and with online solicitation charges. There is not much case law yet in this state for these types of cases, so many of the defenses have not yet been tried as they have in other states.

You can read the full article from the Charleston Daily Mail here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 19, 2008 Posted by | Computer Crimes, Evidence, Experts, Forensic Labs, Sex Crimes | 1 Comment

Prosecution Witnesses Testify in Martin Murder Trial in Fayette County

From the Register-Herald today:

Fayette County prosecutors presented 16 witnesses Monday and explained that they plan to call just one more today in the triple-murder trial of a Hico area man accused of gunning down three young men with an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle last Memorial Day on the road in front of his home.

Gary D. Martin, 57, of Stringtown Road, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the May 28 shooting deaths of Dustin Tyler Hughes, 22, of Hico, Christopher Lee Legg, 23, of Hico, and Carl Blaine Cox Jr., 24, of Edmond.

The defense is claiming that since a Glock pistol in a holster was found one one of the victims, that the shootings were justifiable homicide – or self defense. However, there are some problems with that defense; namely, that the pistol was found shot and damaged with the holster. The article doesn’t say whether the gun was actually still in the holster or not. If it was, then self defense would be a tough row to hoe. If the gun was not in the holster, then self defense would be an easier case. Reportedly, there were seven rounds in the magazine, which holds nine. So it is possible that the victim shot two rounds. However, none were found at the scene (but that still doesn’t mean they weren’t there). I wonder if they tested the Glock for gunshot residue – or the victim’s hands for gunshot residue. That could prove almost conclusively whether or not he fired a gun. I would hit hard on that if I were one of the defense attorneys. You will see a pattern of sloppy investigative work and repeated failure by the State to do all of the forensic testing or evidence collection that could have been done. Your theory almost has to be that it was self defense, and the State cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self defense, because they failed to do all of the testing that could have proven it.

Of course, all of this is assuming you have a fair and impartial jury. See my earlier posts regarding motions for change of venue. This would have been a good case for one.

Another problem with the defense is that there were three victims shot to death. Even if one of the victims had threatened or shot at the defendant, it would not have been justifiable to shoot all three to death. Yet another problem is the statements made to the passing motorists and EMT workers afterwards.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Forensic Labs, Juries, Murder, Self Defense, Trials | 1 Comment

State-Influenced Crime Labs

As detailed at the CrimProf Blog, evidence has been discovered of a prosecutor wanting to downplay evidence in an innocent man’s trial.

From jacksonville.com: Only weeks before Chad Heins’ murder trial in 1996, a Jacksonville prosecutor sent a memo asking a state crime lab supervisor to downplay findings that stray hairs found on the victim’s body came from an unknown person.

“I need to structure your testimony carefully so as to convince the jury that the unknown hairs are insignificant,” Assistant State Attorney Stephen Bledsoe wrote in a letter recently obtained by the Times-Union.
In December 1996, a jury convicted Heins of the first-degree murder of his sister-in-law in her Mayport apartment. He was sentenced to life in prison until new DNA tests led to his release last month.
Bledsoe’s letter was among thousands of pages of documents examined by Heins’ lawyers after a judge allowed re-testing of DNA in the case. Although the attorneys don’t believe it affected the outcome of the case, the letter shows a “cavalier disregard for the actual evidence,” said Jennifer Greenberg, policy director of the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked for Heins’ release.
“It actually made my stomach turn,” Greenberg said Tuesday. “This is not a game. This is justice. These are people’s lives and they matter and the truth matters.” Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Forensic Labs, Trials | Leave a comment