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National Crime Victim Law Institute

New and Noteworthy

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  • People v. Brown, No. 321590, 2015 WL 5247284 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 8, 2015).

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    ­Defendant pleaded guilty to various charges relating to the armed robbery of a home, in which he, along with three other codefendants, broke into the victim’s house.  During the robbery, one of the codefendants struck the victim repeatedly with a hammer.  Defendant was sentenced to a prison term and was ordered to pay restitution jointly with his codefendants in the amount of $10,612.20.  Defendant appealed on several grounds, including that the trial court erred by ordering him to pay restitution jointly with his codefendants because he did not personally cause the victim’s injuries.  The court disagreed, emphasizing that crime victims in Michigan have a mandatory constitutional right to restitution.  The court found that a trial court may properly require a defendant to pay restitution to a victim if the victim’s injuries would not have occurred but for the defendant’s charged criminal conduct that gives rise to the conviction.  The court explained that here, defendant’s conduct included breaking into the victim’s home and subduing him so the house could be searched; while the house was searched, the victim was injured.  The court held that this amounted to a direct causal relationship between defendant’s charged conduct giving rise to the conviction and the victim’s injury: “Had [defendant] not taken part in an armed robbery and home invasion, the victim would not have been injured.  Stated differently, while [defendant’s] conduct was not the cause of the victim’s injury, it was certainly a cause.”  Thus, the court concluded that the trial court properly ordered defendant to pay restitution jointly with his codefendants and affirmed the restitution award.

  • In re Zulma Natazha Chacin de Henriquez, No. 1:04-cr-00114-RBW-01 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 16, 2015) (order) (per curiam).

    The district court denied family members of a murder victim status as “victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771, in a case in which defendant pleaded guilty as part of a negotiated plea agreement.  Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to manufacture and distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, with the intent or knowledge that the cocaine would be unlawfully imported into the United States; the plea agreement did not mention violence of any type.  The family members petitioned for a writ of mandamus.  The appellate court held that the district court improperly limited its evaluation of whether the family members fell within the definition of “victim” under the CVRA to the indictment and statement of facts submitted by defendant as part of the negotiated plea agreement, as victims may participate in proceedings even when there has been no formal charge.  The court of appeals observed that, although the statement of facts submitted as part of defendant’s negotiated plea agreement did not mention violence, the logical inference (supported by Colombian court materials) is that defendant’s paramilitary organization, which relied on “war taxes” to fund its operations and troops to control the region’s coca growth, employed violence and force as part of its method of operation.  The court of appeals also held that the district court erred in applying an incorrect legal standard, emphasizing that there may be more than one “but-for” cause of the victim’s murder; this potential multiplicity of causes, however, does not mean that the charged criminal conspiracy must necessarily fail to qualify as a “but-for” cause of his murder.  Further, the court of appeals held that although a “satisfactory nexus” must exist between the charged offense and the assertion of victim status, this does not mean that the family members must prove “direct traceability” between the importation of specific coca into the United States and the murder itself.  The pertinent question, rather, is whether the murder has a sufficient connection to the overall conspiracy.  The court of appeals commended the district court for its efforts to benefit the family members by permitting limited participation in the proceedings, but it instructed it to reconsider whether the family members qualify as “victims” under the CVRA who are entitled to the full panoply of rights, including rights related to upcoming sentencing proceedings, using the legal standards set out in the court’s order.

  • Facebook, Inc. v. Super. Ct., 192 Cal. Rptr. 3d (Cal. Ct. App. 2015).

    Two defendants were indicted on murder, weapons, and gang-related charges stemming from a drive-by shooting.  Grand jury testimony revealed that the defendants had been involved in “cyber banging”—using the Internet to issue challenges and to show signs of disrespect.  In addition, a detective testified that he relied on social media records to determine that the shooting was gang related.  Both defendants served a subpoena duces tecum on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter (Companies) seeking all content from the murder victim’s and a witness’ accounts.  The Companies moved the court to quash the subpoenas, objecting under the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA or Act) (18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.), which creates a zone of privacy to protect Internet subscribers from having their personal information disclosed to private parties.  The trial court denied the motions to quash and ordered the Companies to produce responsive material for in camera review.  The Companies then filed a petition for writ of mandate and/or prohibition challenging the trial court’s decision.  Defendants argued that that their constitutional rights to present a complete defense, cross-examine witnesses, and a fair trial prevailed over the privacy rights of account holders under the SCA.  On review, the court of appeals rejected defendants’ arguments and ordered the trial court to vacate its disclosure order.  The court began by recognizing that defendants have no general constitutional right to discovery in a criminal case.  The court then looked to the California Supreme Court’s repeated holdings that the Sixth Amendment’s right to confront witnesses does not provide defendants with a pretrial discovery right of otherwise privileged or confidential information.  The court also rejected defendants’ argument that denying pretrial discovery violated their due process rights to meaningfully prepare and present a defense.  The court reasoned that to prevail on a claim that a statute violates due process, a defendant “must carry a heavy burden. The courts will presume a statute is constitutional unless its unconstitutionality clearly, positively, and unmistakably appears; all presumptions and intendments favor its validity. In the due process context, defendant must show that [the statute] offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”  The court explained that both the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have held that due process has little to say regarding the level of discovery defendants must be afforded and that limiting pretrial discovery does not implicate fundamental principles of justice.  The court further noted that it has “separately observed that Brady [v. Maryland] merely serves ‘to restrict the prosecution’s ability to suppress evidence rather than to provide the accused a right to criminal discovery.’”  Relying on federal and state supreme court jurisprudence, the court concluded that a criminal defendant’s right to pretrial discovery is limited, and the defendants’ argument lacked any solid constitutional foundation.  Emphasizing that the stage of the proceeding was pretrial and that defendants may be entitled to the records at a later stage of the proceedings, the court granted the Companies’ writ and directed the trial court to vacate the disclosure order.