Friday, June 21, 2013

Murder or Manslaughter: California’s Standard for Provocation

What kind of provocation will suffice to constitute heat of passion and reduce a murder charge to manslaughter in California?  This is the question the Supreme Court of California answered on June 3, 2013, in People v. Beltran.  The government argued that the provocation must be of the sort that would cause an ordinary person of average disposition to kill.  However, the court rejected this argument, relying on the same rationale it adopted nearly one hundred years ago in People v. Logan[1].  The court held that provocation into the heat of passion is sufficient to constitute manslaughter only when an ordinary person of average disposition “would be induced to react from passion and not from judgment.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jerry Lee Jenkins: Wrongfully Convicted, Never Gave Up

June 7, 2013 is a day Jerry Lee Jenkins will always remember.  It was the day he joined over three hundred other men and women who were exonerated with the use of post-conviction DNA testing.  Mr. Jenkins had been fighting to prove his innocence since he was wrongfully convicted in 1987 for the brutal rape of a young woman in Waldorf, Maryland.  On the evening of February 6, 1986 the woman, a real estate agent, was at a model home when a man came in, concealed his face with a stocking and pulled a knife on her.  The man covered the woman’s face and proceeded to rape her.  The woman was able to get a partial glance at his face.  The woman would later admit at a photo lineup with Mr. Jenkins and to the jury that Mr. Jenkins looked like the man who attacked her but she was not sure it was him.  An expert from the FBI testified at trial that Mr. Jenkins was within four percent of the population that could have contributed to the biological material left at the crime, which is still a large pool of possible offenders.  Mr. Jenkins was convicted regardless. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

DNA Testing the Next Chapter - The Supreme Court's Ruling in Maryland v. King

On June 3, 2013 the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 opinion in Maryland v. King, holding that when a suspect is arrested with probable cause for a serious offense it is a reasonable search for the officers to collect a DNA swab from the suspect.  Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy analogized the DNA swab to fingerprinting and photographing as legitimate and routine police booking procedures.  The case before the Court involved Mr. King who, in 2009, was arrested for first and second-degree assault  and had a DNA sample taken as part of the routine booking procedures for serious offenses in Maryland.  Maryland law allows DNA samples to be taken from arrestees charged with violent crimes, burglaries, and attempts to commit either a violent crime or burglary. Md. Pub. Saf. Code Ann § 504(a)(3)(i) (Lexis 2011).  The DNA sample was matched to an unsolved rape case from 2003, and Mr. King was subsequently charged and convicted for the 2003 rape.  Mr. King moved to suppress the DNA evidence as it violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with Mr. King finding that the DNA swab, in this context, was an unreasonable search.  The Supreme Court reversed the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision.