Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Carjacking Conviction Affirmed Over Numerous Objections

US v. Blake: Blake and Tolbert were involved in a carjacking in Maryland, during which the driver of the car was shot in the head, run over, and killed. Tolbert was arrested shortly thereafter and gave a statement basically admitting to being part of the process but putting the gun in Blake's hand and the ideas in Blake's head. That statement provided probable cause to arrest Blake.

Once at the station, Blake demanded a lawyer and was placed in a cell. He received a notice of the charges to be filed against him, which incorrectly stated that he faced the death penalty (at 17, he was too young to qualify in Maryland). The notice of charges also included a summary of what Tolbert had told the officers. At one point, while Blake was in the cell, an officer not otherwise involved in the investigation who was accompanying the lead officer taunted Blake, saying "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" He was escorted out by the lead officer, who said, "no, he doesn't want to talk to us, you can't say anything to him, he asked for a lawyer." Later, when the lead officer went to take Blake some clothes, Blake asked if he could talk to him. Blake was re-Mirandized and gave a statement, admitting to being present during the carjacking, but putting the gun in Tolbert's hands.

Blake was charged in Maryland with murder. He moved to suppress the statements he made after his arrest, arguing that they were made in violation of his already invoked right to counsel. The case bounced around the Maryland courts and was eventually accepted for review by the Supreme Court, which later dismissed the case as having been improvidently granted. As a result, Blake was never convicted of the charges in Maryland. Blake was then charged in federal court of, among other things, carjacking causing death. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On appeal, Blake made several arguments attacking his conviction, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected. First, Blake made the same argument that had been successful in the Maryland courts, that his statements should have been suppressed. The court disagreed, holding that the officer's taunt about Blake wanting to talk wasn't interrogation and therefore did not violate Blake's right to counsel. The fact that Blake was re-Mirandized and otherwise cooperative after asking to resume conversations with the lead officer was also key. Second, Blake argued that the federal court lacked jurisdiction over him because he was only 17 at the time of the crime and the Government had not complied with the procedures set forth in the Juvenile Delinquency Act.

The court also concluded that Blake was, in fact, not a juvenile by the time federal charges were brought (three months after his 21st birthday) and therefore the JDA had no application to him. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Blake's request for a mistrial based on statements made during the Government's opening statement, in allowing evidence about a polygraph examination Blake took, allowing a prosecution witness to testify sooner rather than later at trial, or in excluding as hearsay the testimony of a defense witness. Finally, the court rejected Blake's argument that the district court erred in instructing the jury on the death element of the carjacking offense.

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