Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Prosecution under water?

Facts may be stubborn things, but criminal trials depend on evidence to prove up the facts, and waterlogged evidence may be the hobgoblin of prosecution in New Orleans. You see, the State's evidence rooms were flooded following Hurricane Katrina. The State depends on two evidence rooms, one under the court house and one under the adjacent police station. The former had chest-deep water in it, meaning items on the upper shelves were relatively unscathed, save the ubiquitous mold growing on everything in the damp, musty environment. The latter did not fare as well. That evidence room was completely submerged with evidence floating around in a giant fish bowl. By the time the waters receded, the doors were completely rusted shut and had to be opened like Geraldo cutting into Capone's vault, only this time the State interceded to block our cameras from filming the opening. We were permitted, however, to have an independent cameraman film the interior, which was a heaping, stinking mess of moldy, waterlogged, rusted "evidence." The State hired a remediation company to freeze dry papers to extract the water and clean up the mess. But they could not save water-worn evidence labels, nor could they know for sure to which case things belong that had been strewn about in the flood waters.

We now hear that 90% or more of the State's evidence has been "remediated," a term that necessarily makes defense lawyers, and perhaps juries, circumspect. In any case, that still leaves a good deal of evidence missing or destroyed. (See this excellent NY Times article by Chris Drew.) That's not to say that prosecutions can't go forward -- we've all heard of people being convicted for murder without a weapon or even a body being found. But what are we to make of the fact that the destruction of evidence was, at least in some sense, caused by the State's own folly? Like Jonah who slept as his ship split apart in tempestuous waters, the State seems to have completely ignored the obvious fact that flood waters could wreak havoc on the State's evidence room. Everyone knows basements are virtually non-existent in New Orleans -- even the dead are buried in above-ground crypts -- so you've got to wonder why the State was storing its precious evidence below the water table. Perhaps the State awaits Jonah's whale to spit us all out on the dry shores of Assyria?

1 comment:

AustinDefense said...

Murder conviction without a weapon?...maybe, or I should say “definitely possible”.

Drug conviction without the dope?...I don’t think so. Sounds like it’s time to start to filing those Motions to Have Independent Expert Test the Substance, and see whether or not the state can produce it… :)

Good Luck!