Darkens Bonnett (hereinafter the “Defendant”) is a gent who stands charged and convicted of first-degree murder.
Well, at least he was.
The Defendant’s case has been remanded back to trial court to deal with a problem regarding discovery. The Supreme Judicial Court found prejudicial error in his case upon reviewing the appeal.
The issue had to do with a criminal defendant’s right to discovery.. allegedly exculpatory discovery. In this case, the discovery had to do with the identity of an informant and his apparent statement to the FBI that another individual, not the Defendant, had actually committed the murder.
The judge who denied the request for disclosure gave two reasons. According to Lawyers Weekly:
“The judge’s first stated reason was that the ‘[F]ederal government is a separate sovereign,’ which ‘has refused to comply,’” Justice Barbara A. Lenk wrote for a unanimous court. “Assuming that the defendant is entitled to the information that he seeks, that entitlement must not be foiled by ‘[t]he introduction of two sovereignties,’ each able to withhold information by asserting its independent sovereignty.”
The second reason the judge gave was that the information relayed in the FBI report was “so remote that it does not warrant penetrating what appears to be a claim of informant privilege.” That line of reasoning, the SJC found, should not have been the beginning and end of that examination.
The SJC ruled that , “While it is possible that the importance of concealing an informant’s identity is, in some instances, self-evident, we do not think that it was here, particularly in view of the statement in the FBI report that the informant was ‘in a position to testify…This enigmatic statement at least called for further inquiry…At a minimum, the question whether the informant was a percipient witness to the shooting, or whether he had spoken to a percipient witness, should have been explored.”
Attorney Sam’s Take On Verdicts, Criminal Appeals And Competing Goals…Part One of Two
This case brings up two misconceptions which I often encounter with clients.
First of all, a trial on the merits in a criminal case is not necessarily the end of the matter. It depends on how the verdict goes.
If the defendant wins…the verdict is “not guilty”…and the matter cannot be appealed by the government. As discussed in previous blogs, this does not mean that in the eyes of the system the defendant is innocent.
THe dirty little secret is that preserving the so-called presumption of innocence is more accurately translated as “the government couldn’t prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Ok, how do I get found ‘innocent’?”
In most cases…you can’t.
The system merely expects you to be happy you were not found guilty and thrown into the can.
If the defendant is convicted, then there are appeals available.
“So, is that how I can cash in on being innocent?”
No. Forget reclaiming your innocence. As much as we like to say that we treasure that assumption, you are not going to be accepted as innocent in the case…regardless of whether there is an acquittal, conviction or dismissal. And don’t think about suing somebody like the police, prosecutor or judge for the financial and emotional turmoil you went through. Again, sayeth the criminal justice system, just be happy you did not get convicted.
Again…in most cases. There are always exceptions to these rules. Just don’t expect your case will be one of them.
“Ok, now that you have thrown. cold water on our expectations of reclaimed innocence…what is the other misconception?”
That your perspective and interests are automatically going to be valued very much by the system.
Let’s discuss that in my next blog. Monday.
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!