Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Aug. 27, 2015

$6,000 v. Miss. Bureau of Narcotics –   forfeiture – Cole failed to stop at a checkpoint.  A police pursuit began. Cole was caught in some woods after crashing into a trailer and fleeing on foot into some woods.  A search of the area produced $6,000 in cash, which the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics claimed was found in close proximity to a bag of mirijuana. The MBN sought forfeiture and Anthony  Brown contested it on the grounds that he was  an innocent owner of the cash.  He claimed he gave the money to Cole to deliver to a relative to buy Brown a car in Hattiesburg.  At trial, the court found for MBN.  The Court of Appeals affirmed on the grounds that Broen  failed to establish a prima facie case that he possessed an ownership interest in the property. .  On cert., the Miss. S.Ct. also  affirms. One of the agents testified that when  Cole was  questioned about the $6,000, he repeatedly stated he did not know anything about any money. He  also refused to sign a notice of seizure document.  The only link connecting Brown to the  currency was Brown’s own testimony.

Charles Ray Crawford v. State  21 year delay in appeal – Crawford was convicted of having raped a 17-year-old  in April of 1991.  While awaiting trial, he was charged with the capital murder of 20-year-old Kristy Ray in Jan. of 1993.  The jury rejected Crawford’s insanity defense to the rape and he was sentenced to 46 years.   He was then  tried on the capital murder charge,  found guilty and sentenced to death.  In the years since then, he has appealed the capital murder case and pursued both post conviction and habeas relief all of which have been denied thus far.

The rape conviction was used as an aggravating circumstance in the capital murder case.  For various reasons, the rape conviction was not appealed until recently. His first issue on appeal  is that the 21-year delay violated his right to due process. He also raises prosecutorial misconduct (asking a defense witness whether he had smoked marijuana with Crawford); that the trial court erred in allowing a flight instruction; that an instruction on the elements of rape shifted the burden of proof onto Crawford; that the state was allowed to elicit improper rebuttal testimony and that the instruction on insanity shifted the burden of proof. The Court affirms the conviction.  On the delay, the Court writes:

In certain circumstances, due process concepts may become implicated when substantial delays during the criminal appellate process occur. Lanier v. State, 684 So. 2d 93, 98 (Miss. 1996). This is rare, however. And we stress that, unlike in a criminal trial, where the State bears the responsibility of bringing a criminal defendant to trial, the same burden does not lie with criminal appeals. As a matter of course, criminal defendants carry responsibility for submitting an appeal. And we are loathe to set aside timelimit requirements–fundamental in their own respect–in cases where that responsibility is eschewed. Again, we do not know that to be the case here. Accordingly, we have decided to hear Crawford’s appeal. We remain adamant, though, that denial of a speedy appeal is not reversible error on its own in this state. Haynes v. State, 584 So. 2d 432, 433 (Miss. 1991). And where no other reversible error exists, reversal on the grounds of a denial of a speedy appeal is inappropriate. Lanier, 684 So. 2d at 100 (citing Haynes, 584 So. 2d at 433).

Justice Dickinson dissents (joined by Kitchens and King) arguing that the case should be reversed because the trial court gave conflicting instructions on the issue of insanity.

But the jury was ill-equipped to [assess sanity]  because the circuit judge failed adequately and correctly to instruct the jury on the burden of proof related to insanity. The judge gave instructions which, when fairly read, stand in conflict with one another, and which, even when subjected to a stretched and contorted reason, are at best so confusing that no jury could adequately understand the law to apply it to the facts.

Justice Kitchens finds the search illegal and the 21-year delay in the appeal reversible.  He is joined by King and Dickinson in part.  Justice Coleman would reverse because Crawford’s  attorney at the time of the competency hearing  was laboring under an actual conflict of interest caused by his belief that Crawford was guilty of having  murdered someone just prior to the hearing.  (Joined by Dickinson, Kitchens and King).

The Court grants cert in (the link takes you to the COA opinion)

Jeffrey Allen v. State –  404(b) evidence to prove motive – Jeffrey Allen  was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without  parole for the murder of  Charles Ike Mason Jr. who was found in his home dead from a single gunshot to the back. Mason’s former girlfriend, Donna Freeman,  and her new boyfriend Jeffrey Allen  were arrested for the crime.  Apparently Freeman and Allen were known to freeload off of Mason. Allen argues he deserves a new trial based on the introduction of bad acts evidence, namely:  that Mason thought Freeman and Allen were stealing money from him; that Allen and Freeman were using drugs; and that Mason thought Allen was “no good,” a “bad guy,” and a “dope head.”  Allen had filed a motion in limine and the court allowed the evidence in to prove motive after performing a balancing test (prejudice v. probative value).  Allen did not object at trial as this evidence was introduced. The COA finds that the court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the evidence in to prove  motive. Allen’s weight of the evidence is also rejected.

And denies a Petition  to Amend the Rules Governing Admission to the Mississippi Bar filed by Walter Weems, Louis Fuller, Watts Ueltschey, and Sheldon Alston.

I had this post almost ready when a neighbor came by and we hearded out to the Sedgewick Drive Area in North East Jackson looking for Phoenix – the dog who escaped from the La Quinta Inn a few weeks ago when someone broke into the hotel room.  She’s a large red/white dog with a burn mark on her face.  Phoenix was spotted yesterday at the corner of Sedgewick and Beechcrest.  If you live in that area, keep an eye out and call me at (601) 291-2047 if you see her.  Her owner lives in Mobile and will be here Saturday to continue looking for her.  Here’s a news story. 

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