Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mistaken Identification and Rush To Judgment

On December 26, 1862 the Dakota Indian named We-Chank-Washta-don-pee, or also known as “Chaska”, was sentenced to death by a military court of justice.  Prior to the execution of sentence President Abraham Lincoln pardoned Chaska.  However, his jailers confused him with another Dakota Indian and hanged him anyway.  Of course everyone would agree that this was a tragic example of mistaken identification.

To often in the rush to close a case and go to the next open case the police will make a prudential judgment as to the guilt of a suspect without any evidence other than a hunch. 

In a recent case that came to my office this week, a prior arrest free African-American female college student was accused of stealing a pocket book from the doctor’s office in which she had been sent for an IME by an insurance company.  Inside the pocket book were numerous credit cards and other identifying information.

The same day the pocket book was stolen, a Black female was observed attempting to purchase a large amount of expensive merchandise at the Short Hills Mall with the stolen credit cards.  Having nothing to go on but a grainy video of this individual purchasing these items with the stolen credit cards, the police decided to charge this college student on a hunch.

The college student is innocent and it appears that the police did nothing to really attempt to solve this crime and catch the real perpetrator of the crime.  If the cops in this case had engaged in real honest police work they would have learned quickly that the college student was innocent and should never have been charged.  Clearly this is a case of mistaken identity.

Again a rush to judgment on a hunch is unethical, unfair and dishonest and does nothing in the pursuit of justice.  Unfortunately, this type of shoddy police work is more the rule than the exception and causes me great concern as a criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey.

As Pope John Paul I was quoted as saying, “If you want peace work for Justice.”

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr. 

Elizabeth, New Jersey
(908) 354-7006

Dated: June 22, 2011

False Confessions and Police Misconduct.

It is astounding and sometimes hard for people to imagine or understand why someone would confess to a crime in which he or she did not commit.

Unfortunately the number of false confessions that are given each year in the United States is astounding.  Attorney Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project in New York has estimated that a quarter of the DNA exonerations involve cases in which people have given false confessions.

The most famous of the false confession cases is the infamous Norfolk Four.  United States Naval Officers, Tice, Williams, Dick and Wilson, stationed at the naval base in Norfolk Virginia were convicted of the brutal rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko in 1997.  The only evidence against the sailors was the coerced confessions by a detective who was later charged and convicted for police misconduct (knowingly extracting false confessions).  In that case the detective, Detective Ford, fed to the sailors held back facts of the case that only the detective knew, and later typed those facts into the signed or taped confessions.  Even when the real killer, Omar Ballard, was charged and convicted based on DNA evidence, and his confession that he committed the crime alone, the police still refused to dismiss the charges against the Norfolk Four.  Detective Ford knew that Sailor Dick was innocent because navel logs showed that Sailor Dick was on the ship U.S. Saipan at the time of the murder.

The Norfolk four continued to maintain that their confessions, which were either signed or taped, were made on the basis that they were coerced with threats that included that they would receive the death penalty if they did not plead guilty. 

This was not the first time Detective Ford was accused of extracting false confessions from suspects.  In the Lafayette Grill case in 1990 he was also accused of similar misconduct.  Detective Ford was known to brag to fellow detectives that he could coerce a false confession out of anyone to solve a crime, regardless of person’s innocence, or lack of evidence against the accused.

All of the Norfolk Four defendants were sentenced to long prison sentences and in 2008 30 retired FBI agents asked the governor of Virginia to pardon the sailors.

After spending many years in prison the Norfolk Four were eventually pardoned over the objections of the State Attorney General who for years fought against their release knowing that the four were truly innocent.

Another infamous and troubling case was the false confession of Douglas Warney who spent nine years in prison for a murder which he did not commit.  At the time of his confession Mr. Warner was suffering from AIDS and AIDS dementia. In that case the police claimed that Mr. Warney confessed to the crime and with facts that only the murderer would know.  Unfortunately, the facts which they claimed he knew about the murder were facts which the facts also knew and which they fed to him.  In the Warney prosecution there were no witnesses, no physical evidence, or DNA evidence to link Mr. Warney to the crime.  Mr. Warney was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence and the arrest and conviction of the person who committed the crime whose DNA was at the crime scene.

The American Psychological Association has continually maintained in their studies that susceptible individuals subject to common police interrogation techniques will confess to anything.  Even less susceptible individuals often confess to crimes that they did not commit with the false and misleading information from the detective that “if you just tell me what I want to hear, we will wrap this up and you will be going home.”  Or, if “you admit to what you did, you will not be charged with a crime.”  Of course, all of these lies are done off the audio-visual camera. 

I am currently handling a pending case in Union County New Jersey in which I am representing an individual who was tricked into given a confession to a crime in which he did not commit.  A motion to suppress the statements is pending with the court, and it is likely that the confession will be thrown out.  In that case the detective interrogating my client asked my client what happened and when the facts did not conform to the facts of the crime, the detective told him what to say.  Fortunately, in that case all of the promises and lies were off camera.  However, the feeding of the facts to my client was captured on video and will make the difference in suppressing the statement as being a product of a coerced false confession.

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
(908) 354-7006

Dated: June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Necessity of the Immediate Investigation of the Alleged Crime Scene by Criminal Defense Lawyer before any Surveillance Video is Destroyed.

In many of my previous blogs I have written about the early investigation of the alleged crime scene.  This immediate investigation is even more important in recent years with the proliferation of surveillance videos, both official and private surveillance cameras. 

Recently I spoke about a case in which one of my client’s was falsely accused of sexual assault on the sidewalk of an Elizabeth Street, not far from a city police surveillance video camera.  The charges of sexual assault were dropped by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office when an examination of the alleged site, by me, in which the assault allegedly occurred, revealed a police video camera, not far from the alleged assault.  Upon this discovery a notice to the police to perverse the video, and their failure to do so, resulted in all charges being dropped. 

On June 17, 2011 it was reported that a narcotics detective, Payano, assigned to undercover detective work in the Bronx, New York, was charged with perjury in claiming to have witness a hand-to-hand narcotics transaction which never occurred.  The dishonest cop was exposed when the defense attorney brought to the attention of the Bronx D.A., evidence from the private surveillance camera that the detective had lied about what he alleged so, in fact, he was not even at the scene.  As a result all of the criminal charges had been dropped by the Bronx D.A., and the dishonest detective was indicted in a 64 count indictment for preparing a false police report and perjury.

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
Elizabeth, N.J.
(908) 354-7006

Dated: June 21, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Prior to Trial Defense Counsel Must Force the Prosecutor to State Whether it Intends to Introduce Evidence of Uncharged Criminal Conduct, and Disclose to the Defense any Evidence to Support this Alleged Criminal Conduct

All to often at the time of trial the prosecutor will attempt to introduce what is commonly known in New Jersey criminal practice as “other crime evidence”, or Rule 404(b) evidence against the defendant.  This typically is evidence of other crimes or wrongs allegedly committed by the defendant.  This evidence is not admitted to prove that the defendant had a propensity to commit the instant offense which he is on trial for, but rather to prove another relevant issue of the case, such as to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge or absence of mistake or accident, when such evidence is relevant to a material issue at trial. 

This evidence is probably the most damaging type of evidence offered against a criminal defendant because the jury hears that the defendant had committed another crime or wrong before, and often it is difficult if not impossible for the jury not to use this evidence improperly.

Therefore, it is essential in every criminal case that defense counsel in his initial discovery request demand that the prosecutor state whether it intends to introduce evidence of uncharged criminal conduct, when the State presents its case, or during the State’s cross-examination of the defendant, if he or she testifies.

Further, the letter should demand that if the State intends to proffer this type of evidence that it immediately disclose the specific wrongful acts, and that the State furnish to the defense during discovery any and all evidence to support such evidence, which includes, but not limited to any and all evidence that is relevant to such uncharged criminal conduct.

Lastly, defense counsel should make it clear that in the event that this information is not disclosed to the defense during discovery that the defense will object to the State’s attempt to introduce such evidence at the time of trial, because the defense would clearly be prejudiced by such a delay in disclosure.

On June 6, 2011, Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn appeared for his arraignment in New York Supreme Court at the criminal courts building in Manhattan to enter his plea of not guilty.  In connection with that plea the first thing that his defense attorneys (Taylor and Brafman) did by way of discovery to the prosecutor, was to demand from the prosecutor that it disclose to the defense any uncharged criminal conduct which might include allegations of other victims that Mr. Strauss-Kahn engaged in other sexual crimes or wrongs with these women. 

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
277 North Broad Street, P.O. Box 261, Elizabeth, N.J. 07207
(908) 354-7006
Dated:  June 7, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker and His Continued Cover-up of the Newark Police Department and His Lack of Integrity as Mayor.

Since becoming Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker has done nothing to address the continued abuse and corruption prevalent in the Newark Police Department. 

On September 9, 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a federal civil rights suit against the City of Newark and its police department alleging that over a period of two-and-a-half-year officers of the Newark Police Department engaged in various forms of police misconduct such as false arrests, violence and excessive force, and shake downs and various other forms of abuse and corruption.

When the suit was filed Mayor Booker called the suit “misleading and “manipulative.”  He further said himself or through his spokespersons that the petition was “frivolous” and “filed in bad faith”, and that Newark would use every means at their disposal to get it dismissed.  Such response by the Mayor shows at a minimum, that he was either ignorant of the pervasive corruption of city police force, or engaged in a cover-up.  Such behavior, either way, is unacceptable as the mayor for our largest city in this State. 
Instead of investigating the internal affairs department to ascertain whether the ACLU suit had any merit, Booker stated on a radio talk show, “We don’t need to be taken on wild chases that suck up time and energy, and take police officers away from their mission on Internal Affairs and their mission on public safety.”  This statement of Booker shows his ignorance of the essential and important function of a police internal affairs unit.
On May 14, 2011, eight months later, when the federal government announced that it would engage in its own investigation of the Newark Police Department, Booker said that it was on board with the fed’s from day one.  In fact, Booker lied to the press when he said that he was against the ACLU lawsuit because the ACLU lawsuit did not call for a federal investigation.  In fact, if he had read the ACLU Complaint the first line reads, “The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey respectfully requests that the Special Litigation Section, acting pursuant to its authority under 42 U.S.C. § 14141, commence an investigation into the Newark, New Jersey Police Department.”

For years experienced attorneys were aware that the internal affairs division in the Newark Police Department was virtually non-existent in practice and that any grievance that reached their desk was quickly dismissed with no real integrity or investigation.  In fact it was a common practice for citizens complaining about a Newark Police Officer to be threatened by members of the internal affairs department, with arrest, or with the threat of forcing the grievant to submit to a polygraph test, a violation of the Attorney General Guidelines.

Almost without exception, however, the grievance was simply dismissed as frivolous by the I.A. unit because in every case the officer’s version of events was deemed more credible than the grievant.  Notwithstanding, that often the same cops were being complained about over and over again, no integrity tests or other types of investigations were being undertaken against the suspected cops. 

Attorney Sanzone has had first hand experience and has in federal court confronted the corruption and police misconduct of police officers for the City of Newark in his civil rights cases against the city (  Likewise, in criminal cases Attorney Sanzone has successfully defended defendant’s charged with false allegation by Newark Police Officers and has obtained dismissals or acquittals because of various forms of police misconduct.

The Cory Booker cover-up unfortunately is not limited to him or his city.  Unfortunately, in almost every town and city in this State, mayors, police commissions and directors have internal affairs units which are a virtual joke.  Contrary to law and public safety, these police directors’ use their internal affairs units not to protect the public from bad and corrupt cops, but rather, as a device to quash and silence citizens from making valid complaints, with the purpose to discourage and dissuade them from filing grievances and complaints against police officers and police departments in the future. 

The federal government and state attorney’s general office has a daunting task in reforming police departments, but it is clear that left to their self policing they will continue to abuse and violate citizens’ constitutional rights with impunity.  It would benefit everyone including honest and hard working police officers to weed out cops who engage in corruption and police misconduct; why it does not happened I do not know.

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
Elizabeth, N.J.

Dated: June 1, 2011