WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

Summersville Speed Trap/Scam on Route 19 in West Virginia Claims an Innocent Disabled Man

UPDATE 8/20/18:  Our FaceBook post on the topic.

UPDATE 8/17/18: I obtained the Criminal Complaint from the incident.  It is indeed signed by both the sheriff’s deputy who was the arresting officer, as well as the Summersville PD officer.  It’s not a notarization, but it is a signature.  While it doesn’t make sense as to why they did it that way, that process would be legal.  The following is the full text of the narrative, which is sworn under oath as the probable cause basis for the arrest:

ON THE ABOVE DATE IN SUMMERSVILLE NICHOLAS COUNTY, WV, I CONDUCTED A TRAFFIC STOP ON A MAROON CHEVY COLORADO BEARING WV REG. XXXXXX FOR NO BRAKE LIGHTS.  THE DRIVER WAS IDENTIFIED AS JEFFREY JONES.  WHILE SPEAKING TO THE DRIVER I OBSERVED HIM TO BE DISORIENTED, DROWSINESS, CONFUSED, BLOOD SHOT EYES, AND HE DID HAVE SLURRED SPEECH.  MY FIRST OBSERVATION HE WAS SWEATING PROFUSELY AND DID HAVE HIS HEAT ON IN HIS TRUCK. HE WAS ALSO FUMBLING HIS ITEMS AND DROPPING MONEY OUT OF HIS WALLET.  I PERFORMED THE HGN TEST ON JEFFREY AND WHILE ADMINISTERING THIS TEST HE DID SHOW IMPAIRMENT. JEFFREY WAS TAKEN TO SRMC FOR A BLOOD DRAW.  WHILE UNDER MIRANDA, JEFFREY DID ADMIT THAT HIS BROTHER KENNY HAD GIVEN HIM A PILL THAT HIS WIFE TAKES FOR ARTHRITIS AND PAIN. A DRE EVALUATION WAS DONE ON JEFFREY. THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS COMPLAINT IS BASED ON THIS OFFICERS INVESTIGATION.

According to Mr. Jones’ brother, they picked his truck up later that same day/night at the local impound for the exorbitant sum of $350.00, and it was driven home, with a vehicle following behind.  The brake lights worked just fine.  The narrative included no allegations of improper driving.  That means, the only basis for the stop was for a improper equipment violation which didn’t exist.  In other words, it appears to be a lie.  Without improper driving, what other information did this deputy have to want to stop Mr. Jones?  The only information he had was the color of Mr. Jones’ skin.  This is unfortunate, but not unheard of.  The same basis was used to stop my client Antonio Tolliver.  That state trooper is now a former state trooper.

What does that mean?  If the State/Prosecutor can’t prove that the vehicle had no brake lights, in light of testimony and evidence from Mr. Jones’ family and friends that the car’s brake lights worked just fine, the stop will have been illegal.  Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, everything that happened subsequently, is inadmissible in court.  Even assuming the blood draw was legal, which is a big “if,” and the supposed statement about the pill for arthritis and pain was legal, they cannot be used against Mr. Jones.  The arrest, and everything which happened afterwards,  is unconstitutional and illegal.

So he’s driving perfectly normal, gets pulled over for an equipment violation which doesn’t exist, gets put through field sobriety tests and supposedly fails.  So why at that point didn’t they give him a breathalyzer?  Instead they call Deputy Junk Science to arrive, who took a class on recognizing people who had taken prescription drugs?  Then forcibly taken to a hospital and forcibly withdraw blood from his body? He was driving normally, and wasn’t bothering anyone.  The only thing he did wrong was drive into a notorious speed trap, where officers are itching to pull over someone who looks like they’re coming down from one of the rust belt cities with a load of heroin.  Which brings us back to racial profiling.  It would be interesting to look at some of the other cases of stops on Route 19 in Summersville over the past few years.


Yesterday, WVVA ran a story about Jeffrey Jones, a man local to Greenbrier County, who had an unfortunate encounter with the police in Summersville, West Virginia – a place with the reputation as a well known speed trap extortion racket.  As a disclaimer, I don’t represent him in any way, but I do know the man since he works at my local Kroger.  He is the nicest guy, always smiling, and always helpful.  Everyone loves him.  What other grocery store employee has customers that take photos such as these?

 

These photos speak for themselves, which were posted on the WVVA website.  From the article:

SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. (WVVA) Jeffrey Jones of Lewisburg is no stranger to hard knocks. As a child, he battled Spinal Meningitis, a condition that left him 90 percent deaf and with one leg longer than the other.

“Growing up, I had Meningitis. Everyone always thought I was stupid because I couldn’t hear. And because I was the smallest in the class, everyone picked on me.”

Despite the physical limitations, Jones said he never misses at day of work keeping track of the carts at the Ronceverte Kroger; the same place where his family said he was hit by a car a couple years ago and broke a hip.

“He stops and checks on everyone everywhere he goes,” said his friend Brianna Barkley. “There’s not a person that’s a stranger. He spreads happiness and friendship to everyone he sees.”

That job may be in jeopardy after Jones said he was unlawfully stopped by a Nicholas County Sheriff’s deputy on Sunday, August 5th, for a broken brake light. He was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

Then there was a phone call from a local legislator, to the Attorney General’s Office on his behalf:

Through his work at Kroger over the years, Jones has made friends from all walks of life, including Greenbrier County Del. Jeff Campbell, (D) 42nd Dist., who on Tuesday, personally requested the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office for an investigation.

“I would like to see the charges dismissed. I would like to see the $350 he spent to get his truck out of impound reimbursed. I think his wages should be reimbursed. And I’d like to see an apology.”

Oops.  So the Summersville Chief of Police contacts the news station and makes a stunning denial:

UPDATE: Summersville Police Chief John Nowak said Thursday his officers did not participate in the arrest of Jeffrey Jones on Sunday, August 5th.

Although Patrolman R.L. McClung with the Summersville Police Dept. signed both pages of the criminal complaint, the chief said the officer merely notarized the document for the arresting officer, Deputy J.D. Ellison with the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Dept.

Ok, say what?  Your officer “notarized” a criminal complaint?  Here is a sample Criminal Complaint, which is actually a form provided by the West Virginia Supreme Court, from a recent case of mine (which resulted in a large settlement and an officer being fired):

ExampleCriminalComplaint

As you can see, there is no signature block for a “notarization.”  Criminal Complaints, which are standardized forms meant to comply with state and federal constitutional requirements applicable to the process of putting a person temporarily behind bars, are signed by the “Complainant,” who is almost always a sworn law enforcement officer.

The Criminal Complaint notes that the complainant must be present in person before the Magistrate, who will authorize the arrest and subsequent incarceration, assuming the Magistrate believes probable cause exists based on the sworn written testimony/explanation offered by the Complainant/Police Officer.

In my 12 years of experience practicing law around the State of West Virginia, I have never heard of a police officer “notarizing” the Criminal Complaint of another police officer.  And being a civil rights lawyer, I have examined probably thousands of Criminal Complaints.  It would be understandable for one officer to draft and sign the complaint where there were multiple officers involved.  They don’t all have to sign their name to the complaint.  But I’ve never heard of another officer, from an entirely different agency, who wasn’t even present at the incident/arrest, to apply under oath for the signature of the Magistrate, which is effectively an arrest warrant.  That would be hearsay, and would not establish probable cause.  No competent Magistrate would sign such a Criminal Complaint.  The only exception would be, if the Magistrate did not know because that fact was concealed.

I’m not posting Mr. Jones’ Criminal Complaint, but somebody has some explaining to do in Summersville.  I wonder how many other arrests/tickets given by the county sheriff’s department were actually signed by a city police officer in Summersville, given their reputation as a well known speed trap extortion operation?  Hmmm.  Like all the old ways in West Virginia, it all comes down to money.  Maybe when the legislature finishes cleaning up the Supreme Court mess, they can come follow this money trail in Summersville.  I’m sure he isn’t the only victim – just one innocent enough to have people stand behind him.

August 16, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Judges, Magistrates, Media Coverage, Misdemeanors, Police, Police Misconduct, Vehicular Crimes | Leave a comment

Thoughts from the news: Casey Anthony and NC Troopers

Yes, once again it has been sometime since I have posted.  I just don’t have the time that I used to to comment on various things.  That being said, there are a few different things which have popped up in the news that I just can’t resist.

1. Casey Anthony.  Good for her attorney calling out all of the talking head lawyers who gave their b.s. opinions on the case throughout the last several years, and especially during the last few days of the trial.  He also gave the media “the bird”.   I was really getting aggravated with all of the “former prosecutor”[s] running their mouth on every cable channel about how she was going to be convicted of first degree murder and about how good the prosecutors were.  They are pretty much all the same.  They are mostly blonde (sometimes brunette) females.  Almost none of them could be considered unattractive or overweight.  They have loud, big, mouths and holier-than-thou attitudes – especially if other females/children are somehow involved in the subject on which they are running their mouths.  Fox News / CNN have determined that they are qualified to bestow their opinions onto us due to their looks, and due to the fact that they used to be a “prosecutor.”  Then there is Nancy Grace.  She is the queen of the former prosecutors.  She actually does have experience.  She is a defendant’s worst nightmare: a bitter loud-mouthed prosecutor who is willing to do unethical things in order to win.

It was courageous for these 12 jurors to acquit Casey Anthony despite the all-knowing public and media having already deemed her guilty.  How dare politicians/pundits condemn the jurors for their decision.  I have said it before and I will say it again: it is the “law and order” people in our midst who will be our ruination.  They are obsessed with their own personal safety.  The same people who claim to stand for smaller government and more individual freedom are often the first ones to condemn jurors for upholding our constitution.  The reason is because they are cowards: they are afraid for their own safety and so they worship law enforcement.  They are also playing politics and know that the majority of voters / people who watch the news are older citizens, who are also obsessed with their own safety.  We need less laws, not more.

I could care less about Casey Anthony.  I believe she was involved in her daughter’s death.  However, it was very satisfying to see the prosecutor, Linda Drane Burdick, who was so pompous, arrogant and self righteous in her demeanor be brought so low by the loss of the century.

2.  The North Carolina troopers who arrested the trial lawyer’s wife.  Being a Tarheel, I have been watching what has been going on with the NC troopers and the trial lawyer’s wife.  Again, it is sickening that politicians and supposed proponents of freedom and smaller government support police-state behavior.  Even though NC, like VA, is a conservative state politically and socially, it is a police-state when it comes to law enforcement.  For some crazy reason, conservative voters support massive government when it comes to Criminal Law – including its creation, enforcement and prosecution.  Again, I believe they are either older people obsessed with their safety, or they are cowards (they place fear of personal safety over our country’s liberty), or they are obsessed with being politically correct (it is generally politically popular, especially where there are senior citizen voters, to be “tough on crime”.

Anyways, this trooper pulls over a relatively attractive woman driving a Lexus SUV.  Big surprise.  I have discussed before the intense security threat posed by attractive women driving expensive SUVs.  The trooper, who of course sports the obligatory military-esque hairdo, asks the woman if she was drinking.  She had a sip of wine at some banquet she was driving home from.  The trooper then makes her get out of the car and asks her to blow in the portable BAC device.  She refuses and instead opts to be taken to the real breathalyzer machine (they used to use “intoxalyzer 5000’s” in NC).  In NC, you are entitled to call a witness for the test and the witness has 30 minutes to get there.  Naturally she calls her lawyer husband.  The husband shows up and she blows two 0.00’s.  Obviously she is not intoxicated.  There was no other evidence of intoxication.

North Carolina is a DWI state (or at least it used to be when I prosecuted DWI’s there), meaning that you couldn’t convict somebody of DWI based on the BAC alone.  The officer would have to testify to erratic driving and/or the person failing field sobriety tests.  You are legally allowed to be above the BAC of 0.08 if it was not proven that you were in fact intoxicated.  At this point, since the lawyer husband is present and is angry at the kidnapping of his wife, the trooper refuses to release the woman, and instead is arrests her and keeps her in handcuffs.

So in essence, a private American citizen was taken in handcuffs out of her car and incarcerated/kidnapped.  But that’s okay right?  According to a local magistrate, and according to the cops, that is just standard procedure.  He was just following procedure.  These people ought to be run off of the taxpayer payrolls.  How dare they tell the citizens that it is their procedure to arrest somebody with no probable cause and hold them against their will.  Impeachment is also a procedure.  Maybe the magistrate, and the storm trooper, should be prosecuted for kidnapping and battery.  We can follow procedure to the letter.

The storm trooper then allows the woman’s husband to follow him to the magistrate’s office so that she could be arraigned and post bond, etc.  While following the storm trooper the husband gets pulled over by another storm trooper – for speeding (despite the fact that he was following another trooper).  The troopers report stated that he did not have any communication with the other trooper and that there was no set-up involved.  First of all, anyone who would believe that is a complete fool.  And anyone who would deny that it was a set-up is a complete liar.  Since then, text messages have been released from between the officers which show that there was communication.  Not only that, but the officers were discussing the lawyer and his wife and saying things like “f**k him” and “f**k her”.  The second trooper, who pulled over the husband, sent the following text message to his trooper buddy, who was transporting the wife:

Trooper Smith then wrote at 12:31 a.m.: “TELL HIM IF HE WANTS TO COP AN ATTITUDE TO FEEL FREE AND COME BACK AND ILL S—– HIM THAT SPEED.”

How dare these troopers use their sacred position of trust to violate the liberties of law-abiding citizens of this country.  Nevertheless, ignorant kool-aid drinker NC state senator Thom Goolsby decided to run his mouth in the media and support the troopers.  These are the dangerous ones.  The politicians who are so worried about keeping their political jobs that they are willing to throw innocent citizens under the bus.  This guy is willing to allow troopers to kidnap citizens under color of law just to spite a trial lawyer and his wife.  He needs to be run out of office.

Not only should these delta-force wannabes be fired, they should be criminally prosecuted for kidnapping and battery.  If they are allowed to keep their jobs, it is telling every other crooked cop out there that it is okay to abuse their position of trust in order to spite somebody.

July 7, 2011 Posted by | FOIA, Lawyers, Magistrates, Police, Police Misconduct | Leave a comment

Tyrannical prosecutors protecting tyrannical cops

When you cross a police officer, in many West Virginia counties, you also cross one or more “badge bunny” prosecutors.  I have found that the difference between a good prosector and a bad one is their backbone and their integrity.  Confident, knowledgeable, experienced and honest prosecutors are independent.  They do what is right.  They know what is right – and what is wrong.  Others lack confidence, as well as the backbone to be independent from law enforcement.

As you venture between various counties in West Virginia, you will encounter prosecutors of both types.  I have encountered the badge bunny prosecutor derangement syndrome in one particular West Virginia county several times now.  In these badge bunny jurisdictions, even the magistrates are not immune from infection.  In fact, some are former police officers themselves.  Unfortunately, almost none are former lawyers.  Hell, who needs legal training when deciding bothersome legal issues, such as one’s freedom?  Magistrates are almost always infected where there is an outbreak among prosecutors.  If a prosecutor or a cop says the sky is purple, then the sky is purple.  Defendants and defense attorneys are scum – even if they are not scum.  They are worthless bastards.

If you want to experience injustice, piss off a cop in one of these counties.  For instance, you could have an affair with his wife.  He may be of the sort to arrest you illegally and beat you down when no one is looking, and while you are handcuffed.  A badge bunny prosecutor would proceed to prosecute you.  You could show him evidence that you were illegally arrested, and that you were illegally beaten.  The evidence could be indisputable.  But your barking up the wrong tree.  Unlike the good prosecutors, justice is not his concern, getting convictions is.  Protecting “his” or “her” law enforcement officers is priority numero uno.

So you then could file some civil lawsuits.  Then you have really made it personal to the prosecutor.  Justice gets thrown to the wayside altogether, and you now  have crosshairs on your back.  Your only way out is through a trial.

Now compare this to the often-seen scenario when a police officer violates the law.  He gets a sweetheart deal and fades from the spotlight conviction-free.  If it doesn’t piss you off now that this injustice and tyranny exists in West Virginia, then just wait until it happens to you.  Good people get wrongfully arrested in West Virginia.  Then you will need a lawyer who has the guts to stand up to these scoundrels and fight them on their home field.  Choose carefully.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Judicial Misconduct, Magistrates, Police, Police Misconduct, Prosecutors | 4 Comments

So far away, yet so similar…

While perusing Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Shawn Matlock’s blog, I came across a post describing the world of Texas’ Magistrate Court, which seems to be strikingly similar to West Virginia’s Magistrate Court. Apparently we are not that unique with respect to the concept of speed-pleading. And I thought that I was the only one who felt uncomfortable in that type of judicial atmosphere…

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

August 14, 2008 Posted by | Lawyers, Magistrates, Plea Agreements | Leave a comment

This Blog Makes Front-Page News…

Note: this post was initially much more extensive.  Pursuant to the advice of my beautiful wife, against whom I have never won an argument (and suspect I never will), and who’s advice has the usual effect of making my hot-heated initial reactions seem childish and ineffective, I have revised this post.

It seems that my humble commentary regarding the Register-Herald op-ed piece detailed in my last post touched quite a few nerves at the Monroe Watchman newspaper. For those of you who may not know, the Monroe Watchman is the main newspaper for Monroe County, West Virginia, and it has been continually published since 1872. It’s a great paper. I read it every week, and I am also a paying advertiser. They are also located right across the street from my office building.

Why should they care about my commentary in this post? Because the Watchman is owned by the family of the former prosecutor who I allegedly criticized, and understandably, they are protective of their family members. And also understandably, the former prosecutor is deeply hurt as a result of the lost election.  And I completely understand the hurt, as I suffered through my father’s election defeat as a college student.  It’s not easy to see negative television commercials about your father running during prime-time every couple of minutes for a month straight.  Your natural reaction is to lash-out at your perceived threat, and I guess that that is what I was doing as well in my initial response in this post.  And so I also understand why the former prosecutor feels the need to protect himself and his family.

This situation is not about me, it’s not about the former prosecutor, nor the current prosecutor, nor the magistrate – nor the Watchman.  This is about Mr. Watson, who made the intentional choice to consume alcohol and drive a dozen children off of a 120 foot cliff in a Monroe County school bus.  This is about Mr. Watson, who tried to save his own skin by lying and claiming that he consumed Nyquil the night before.  This is about Mr. Watson, who misled much of the community into believing that he was innocent, only to let them down with the sad truth – that he had an alcohol problem.  But, he still didn’t want to lose his job, and he didn’t want to lose his retirement.  That was what Mr. Watson was worried about.  Was he worried about the children on board his reckless DUI school bus?  No, he was worried about himself.  This is about the fact that Mr. Watson received a plea deal where only two days was recommended, and where he only received twelve (to serve on the weekends at his leisure).  

When I was working as a young prosecutor in Raleigh North Carolina, I tried a man for 2nd offense DUI.  He was convicted and sent to jail for one year.  There was no accident, no children in the car, no adults in the car – nobody injured whatsoever.  He was just some guy who got pulled over and failed some field sobriety tests.  That was a serious charge.  He was the first person I sent to jail as a prosecutor.  I’ll never forget the image of a deputy walking up behind the man and putting him into handcuffs.  Imagine if this man, when he was pulled over, had a child in the car?  Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car.  Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car and drove off a 120 foot cliff.  Imagine that he did this with your child in the car, entrusted to his care, and that afterwards he lied and told you that it must have been the Nyquil he took the night before?  My point is, this is about protecting the children.  We should have made an example of this man.  He was a school bus driver for heavens sake!  The citizens of Monroe County trusted him to drive their children to school and back every day!

I have been on the other side of the coin as well.  As a defense attorney in Greenbrier County several years ago, I had a client who was convicted of 2nd offense DUI.  We begged and pleaded to the judge for a light sentence, since he wanted to join the military.  The guy was sentenced to one year in jail – and he actually went to jail for about 8 months before he got out of jail.  He wore the orange jumpsuit and ate the awful food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – everyday.  He did his time.  He didn’t whine or complain.  He served his debt to society. 

My argument is simply this: did this man not deserve a real punishment?  Would it really have been a great miscarriage of justice if this man had really been forced to serve a real sentence in jail?  I don’t think so.  It happens all the time in 2nd or 3rd offense DUI cases.  Is it not more egregious for a man to get drunk and then drive a school bus loaded with children?  And then to actually crash off a cliff?

Since the Editor criticized me for making “no effort to discuss the issue with Mohler before writing [my] scathing assessment…” then I will reiterate the same offer that always exists on this blog – both to subjects of my posts and to casual observers: if you disagree with something I have said, then please, by all means, leave a comment on the blog. As always, anonymity will be maintained where requested.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

August 5, 2008 Posted by | DUI, John H. Bryan, Magistrates, Plea Agreements, Prosecutors, Sentencing | Leave a comment

Opinion Piece in Register-Herald Regarding Monroe County School Bus DUI

As some of my readers will remember, I was given some flack in the community for speaking out early against this bus driver – Clyde Watson. And as it turns out, Mr. Watson proved himself to be a disgrace after all. The really mind-numbing part of this is, that people in Monroe County love this guy for some reason. It seems he is the “everybody’s favorite uncle” type. The editorial slams Monroe County for the way in which this case was handled.

The editorial places some blame on the prosecutor, and I must now stick up for him with respect to the most-generous plea deal. The previous prosecutor made the plea agreement. No matter how ludicrous the agreement was, it was the current prosecutor’s duty to follow-through with that agreement. It is no different than if he made the agreement himself. So, it was not his fault that the plea agreement was executed.

The paper gave a lot of flack to the magistrate, who gave the guy a 12 day sentence, to be served on the weekends at his leisure. To her credit, she actually increased the sentence from what the previous prosecutor had agreed to recommend – which was 2 days. However, it seems that the guy just walked in and asked to be sentenced quietly – without a lawyer, and without the prosecutor (or any victims) present. The paper did note that the magistrate made a phone call to the prosecutor to make sure that the sentence was okay with him.  Actually, this is pretty much what always happens in misdemeanor cases in magistrate court.

Welcome to the world of magistrate court. The prosecutor is king. The prosecutor wants X, he gets it. The prosecutor wants Y, he gets it. Trust me, I am still waiting on a phone call from a magistrate requesting my blessing for someone’s sentencing. And this is the way things happen. If you are charged with a felony, there is a boatload of paperwork and formal procedure (and legal mumbo-jumbo). But, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, then you are in magistrate court, and things appear, disappear, reappear, and are modified, with not much more than the stroke of a pen or a phone call.  That’s just the way it works.

Observing from the ivory tower is one thing, but in reality, what could have been done differenlty by this prosecutor and this magistrate? About the only thing the prosecutor could have done differently is make sure that the victims were given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing. But then again, that is almost never done in misdemeanor cases.  He could not have recommended or argued for anything more than 2 days.

The magistrate could have reviewed the presentence investigation report (“psir”) prior to the sentencing, and could have scheduled the hearing for a date when the victims and their families could have been there to speak. But in reality, if a psir was prepared, the guy was most likely petitioning for probation, in which case the sentencing should have been in circuit court, where psir’s are regularly prepared and reviewed. Furthermore, this also almost never actually happens in these misdemeanor cases.  Even with felonies in circuit court, this is mostly a formality. The biggest thing of substance that she could have done is to give the guy a larger sentence. How about some real jail time? How about a year in jail? 6 months? How about 30 days of real, actual, jail time? He would have deserved it. But it would have been extremely unusual for a magistrate to stray that far from the recommendations of the prosecutor.  In fact, she already exceeded the prosecutor’s recommendation fourfold….

So if justice was not served in this situation, the Register-Herald can point their finger at the former prosecutor.  But there is no sense in doing that, because he already lost his job, and that probably was partially due to this case.  And nothing positive is served by rubbing salt in his wounds.

Despite the “slap on the wrist,”  Mr. Watson suffered a punishment that is rarely given in misdemeanor offenses: major coverage and castigation in a prominent regional newspaper.  Henceforth, any time someone googles his name, these articles will come up.  It will be difficult for him to ever get past this time in his life…  I don’t know about you, but I would rather do a stint in jail than have your darkest hours broadcasted to the surrounding 5 counties, to live in perpetual existence on the internet.

You can read the full editorial here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

August 1, 2008 Posted by | DUI, Magistrates, Plea Agreements, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 1 Comment

Charleston Taco Bell Shooting Will Reverberate Around West Virginia

The Charleston Taco Bell shooting last Saturday, which is detailed in the Charleston Daily Mail here, is not one that will likely fade from memory. The perpetrator of this crime, Desmond Clark, gives new meaning to the term “bad apple,” and he has indeed just about ruined the probation system and the domestic violence petition system – for everyone.

I was talking to a former prosecutor and legislator the other day who was up-in-arms about this. Defense attorneys now are going to have an extremely hard time getting probation for their clients, especially in those domestic-related cases, which oftentimes are the same cases that subside on the flimsiest of evidence.

And for those of us who practice divorce and family law, the times just got tougher. What magistrate is going to deny a protective order in any situation now? This legislator joked that in just about every ugly divorce he has seen, there are skid marks from the marital home to the magistrate court, where the first spouse there takes out a domestic violence petition against the other. Then, what family law judge is going to release or dismiss the protective order, despite the sufficiency of the evidence? The end result is that the loser of the race to magistrate court ends up getting ousted from their house/belongings/children until the divorce is finalized.

So, the legislature has realized this system of domestic violence petitions is broken and largely abused. But, what can they do about it? For every 999 times this system is abused and misused, there is some legitimate victim out there like this poor woman who was murdered in the Taco Bell. But then again, she had a protective order in effect at the time she was murdered, and it didn’t help her very much.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Magistrates, Probation | Leave a comment

More Justice in Magistrate Court…

Although I stated in a previous post/rant about magistrate court in West Virginia that I do everything in my power to prevent having a bench trial in magistrate court (rather than a jury trial), I was forced yesterday to try a case in magistrate court.

The reason I was forced was this: my client initially requested a jury trial, but the court was dragging it’s feet in scheduling one and she wanted to get the matter over with. Against my advice she requested a bench trial instead. The good news was that most of the State’s witnesses did not show up, so I got two of the three charges dismissed. The bad news was that the officer could still testify to one charge. So we went for it.

We didn’t even get through the first witness’ testimony. The prosecutor objected to one of my questions on cross examination. As he was arguing his objection, the magistrate made the final ruling in the case. I was shocked. I hadn’t even had the opportunity to finish my cross examination, or the opportunity to call any witnesses, or the opportunity to have a closing statement, or the opportunity to discuss the case law. I think the prosecutor was dumbfounded as well.

Moral of the story? Request a jury trial. Unless of course, you want to be convicted.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

July 3, 2008 Posted by | Magistrates, Prosecutors, Trials | Leave a comment

Probable Cause Found in Bluefield Shooting Case – Preliminary Hearings Basically Meaningless in West Virginia

From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph today:

Mario Goodson, 18, appeared Monday for a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Rick Fowler. Fowler found probable cause in Goodson’s case and bound him over to the Mercer County Grand Jury.

Both Goodson and Kenneth Dwayne Eaves, 19, of Bluefield are facing charges of conspiracy and first-degree murder in the Dec. 14, 2007 death of 28-year-old William Jerome Flack of Bluefield. Detective L.B. Murphy of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department testified Feb. 8 that witnesses allegedly heard Eaves order a second person, Goodson, to shoot Flack.

Wow, that is a big surprise. Many West Virginians do not realize that if they are arrested on a felony, they are entitled to a preliminary hearing in front of a supposedly neutral magistrate to establish whether the police have probable cause to hold you in jail (or on bond) for the charges. They also don’t realize that this process is for the most part a farce, a formality. Preliminary hearings in West Virginia are a joke. The magistrates for the most part are not lawyers and have no legal training on what is and what is not probable cause. They, for the most part, have no idea what is and what is not admissible under the West Virginia Rules of Evidence (of course, there are exceptions).

The West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure allow for “relaxed hearsay” in preliminary hearings. This means that the investigating officer can come in and testify to some hearsay if there is a substantial basis for believing that (1) the source of the hearsay is credible; (2) there is a factual basis for the information furnished; and (3) it would impose an unreasonable burden on one of the parties or on a witness to require that the primary source of the evidence be produced at the hearing. Therein lies the problem. Many magistrates will just allow the investigating officer to come in and testify to anything and everything they were told throughout their investigation. Then, the magistrate will say, “well, probable cause is a very low burden, and they have met the burden… I find there is probable cause.”

For instance, I had a client who was charged with a absolutely ludicrous felony charge in Greenbrier County. His preliminary hearing was held by a magistrate in Greenbrier County. The State subpoenaed three witnesses: the investigating officer, and two very disreputable convicted felons whom had been caught red-handed and pointed the finger at my client to try and get a plea deal. They appeared and were waiting in the waiting room as the hearing began. The State called the officer first, and he proceeded to testify to almost entirely hearsay testimony – basically everything the other two idiots in the waiting room would have testified to. I objected to hearsay, reciting the above relaxed hearsay rule, but the magistrate basically said that all hearsay is allowed in preliminary hearings. Thus, the magistrate allowed the hearsay testimony despite the fact that the two idiots were in the next room, so the primary source of the evidence could have testified. Furthermore, they were extremely incredible. One of them was notorious in the county for being a career criminal, having spider web tattoos all the way up his neck. The lying officer however, grinned and testified that he thought the man was credible. I later told this to the Prosecuting Attorney, and he laughed and joked that everyone knew that this was the most incredible man in the county, perhaps the state.

As it turns out, when it came my turn to call witnesses, I obviously tried to call the two idiots in the waiting room, so that my client would at least have the opportunity to confront his witnesses. Believe it or not, the assistant prosecutor, on his first week of the job, objected on the grounds that they may be charging one of them with a crime and one may testify against the other, and that therefore there was a “use immunity issue.” I responded that it was irrelevant, and was the prosecutor’s problem and had no bearing on the hearing. The magistrate however, got really, really worried that she was going to make someone mad in the prosecutor’s office and decided not to allow me to call any of the witnesses that had been subpoenaed to the hearing and were waiting in the next room. Then, that was it: she found probable cause and we were not allowed to call any witnesses. This was an absolute disgrace to our criminal justice system. Imagine if it were your son or daughter that was treated like this.

Fortunately this client was able to make bail, as his case was never even brought to the grand jury. If it were some poor sap who didn’t have any money, he would still be sitting in jail thanks to this meaningless system of magistrates conducting preliminary hearings.

By the way, these same non-lawyer judges are the ones who make decisions on whether or not the police have probable cause to be issued warrants to search your home – or to arrest you. Yes, it’s very scary and very unjust.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 13, 2008 Posted by | John H. Bryan, Judges, Magistrates, Preliminary Hearings, Prosecutors | 1 Comment