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Breaking News: Judge Considering Moussaoui Mistrial

From the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking-dept

Judge mulling dismissal of Moussaoui death penalty

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday was considering whether to dismiss the death penalty case against September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui after a government lawyer violated a rule on sharing information with witnesses.

"In all the years I've been on the bench, I've never seen such an egregious violation of the court's rule on witnesses," U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said in court.

She then recessed to decide whether to dismiss the possible death sentence for Moussaoui, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in connection with the September 11 attacks, and instead sentence him to life in prison.

She said a lawyer for the Federal Aviation Administration had violated the rule by reading the transcript of the first day of the trial and discussing the case with several potential witnesses who were due to be called by both the prosecution and the defence.

Apparently the coaching went beyond what is listed in this story. (As the saying goes...) I'm no lawyer but I don't know how the judge does NOT declare a mistrial at this point.

What lawschool did these idiots go to?


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Breaking News: Judge Considering Moussaoui Mistrial:

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Judge Unexpectedly Halts Moussaoui Trial

» Donkey Stomp linked with Moussaoui Sentencing Halted

Comments (19)

Those government lawyers ne... (Below threshold)
Bob Jones:

Those government lawyers need to be sacked and disbarred right now!

Fricking tax dollars at work. Sheeesh.

Great. Now he'll write boo... (Below threshold)

Great. Now he'll write books from prison or something.

Or, with the help of the ACLU, he'll lobby to have a blog.

"Coaching"? Once, again, th... (Below threshold)

"Coaching"? Once, again, those assumptions. I can come up with several possible reasons this was not what you assume: 1) was almost certainly not "coaching" (assisting a witness to prepare scripted testimony, with the connotation that it is somehow false); 2) was accidental/non-intentional (FAA lawyer, who by definition is a civil lawyer, was not a part of prosecution team, no one gave him/her any instrucutions to the cotnrary, and, being a good, thorough civil lawyer, did the prosecution an un-asked-for favor and prepared the FAA witnesses according to civil case procedure, which is entirely different from criminal rules); 3) the witnesses weren't relevant to some material matter (say, they were records custodians, or could testify that another government witness had been in a position to observe or overhear Moussawi, not that they themselves heard or saw Moussawi); 4) Moussawi was not harmed in any way by the "coaching" (How was it relevant, how did it ACTUALLY hurt his defense, not how it could have);
5) there may be a simple and effective remedy (the witnesses don't testify is a pretty easy way to remove all doubt.)

My suspicion, knowing no more than the doorpost: the judge is pissed that the "government" as an entire entity somehow breathed wrong and put the trial in jeopardy of being reversed and retried. I've seen this time after time. And remember, the defense attorney's strategy in these kinds of cases is to INJECT ERROR in any way possible. So there's a lot of bluster and blow and sturm und drang over something the defense really knows is complete BS.

The defense and prosecution are held to much different standards of behavior and professional ehtics. The prosecution is the oldest child, responsible, well-behaved, seeking approval. The defense is the uncontrollable rebellious wild child, whom you will bribe just to get to sit quietly and let you get through Thanksgivng without a major incident. So you hold the well-behaved child to a higher standard, and may punish that child for something that in the wild one you think is good behavior, because you know the good child won't rebel. Moreover, in criminal cases the prosecution CAN'T appeal the majority of a judge's trial decisions, and judges know they'll never get reversed ruling against the prosecution.

Add to this a terribly long and complex trial that no one wants to repeat, and the fear ALL judges have of being overturned on appeal, and you have an overreaction by the judge.

Why don't we wait and see what happened, and whether and how it hurt Moussawi, okay?

I mean, he doesn't go free ... (Below threshold)
Bill K:

I mean, he doesn't go free if she declares a mistrial. It is just a sentencing trial. A mistrial leads to just another trial where they decide if he should spend life in jail without parole or kill him.

Jumbo,In the artic... (Below threshold)
Bill K:


In the article I think it says something about it being 4 witnesses and that if they didn't testify the prosecution would lose "half its case".

Here is a fuller story: <a ... (Below threshold)
BIll K:

Here is a fuller story: Link

The FAA lawyer probably has... (Below threshold)

The FAA lawyer probably hasn't tried a case to a jury in his/her life.

In the world of litigators, there is something called, quite simply, "The Rule."

The fact that this rule gets to be called "The Rule," when there are thousands upon thousands of other "rules" in the lawyer's realm that might compete for such a lofty title, tells you how important it is.

The Rule is that when one witness is testifying, all other witnesses are excluded from the courtroom (except for the actual parties to the proceeding, who can never be excluded).

Courts invoke the Rule to ensure that each witness can't base his testimony on the testimony of other witnesses. Simple.

Reading the transcript to later witnesses kinda defeats the purpose.

Jumbo:My understan... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


My understanding is that the FAA lawyer was present at a conference with the judge when she ordered all lawyers not to apprise the witnesses of any previous testimony. The FAA lawyer then proceded to review the trial transcripts with the witnesses. That rises to contempt, in my book.

I don't know enough about the case to understand how familiarity with trial testimony would taint a witness or prejudice the defendant. But the boneheaded FAA lawyer should probably be terminated, with a referral letter to the DC bar (and any states she might belong to).

Is a mistrial warranted? Dunno, but that's certainly preferable to dismissing the death penalty.

Why all the effort to execu... (Below threshold)

Why all the effort to execute someone who was mreo than willing to kill himself in the first place?

Is being executed the moral equivalenct of suicidr with these terrorists ... more than probably. Keep him alive ... life behind bars in solitary confinement seems like the most appropriate punishment to me.

Phinn,"The Rule" i... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


"The Rule" is not always extended to proscribe discussions of prior testimony, or even the review of transcripts.

In fact, in many states on the West Coast, judges look confused when plaintiff's attorneys attempt to invoke "The Rule," without citing which rule, and it's statutory authorization. "The Rule" seems much more universal on the East Coast.

At least that's been my experience in trying cases coast to coast.

Could be, Starboard. In my... (Below threshold)

Could be, Starboard. In my experience, from Texas to Louisiana to Florida, everyone in a courthouse knows what The Rule is. Never been to the Left Coast, in a professional capacity, at least.

My first reaction was "WTF!... (Below threshold)

My first reaction was "WTF! how did that happen?" but then I read jumbo and starboard, and based on jumbo saying, or pointing out (I assume you're right jumbo) how could the judge even give an order to the faa lawyer, if he's a third party representative? How could a judge tell a private attorney representing a group of individuals not to talk to his clients? That just looks odd.

and starboard saying that the faa lawyer was present, why the hell is the faa lawyer present? The FAA might have been working with the prosecution, but the FAA lawyer was working for the FAA not for the prosecution. Whats the justification for the judge saying "shut up?" Did the judge include an order for the FAA lawyer to return all of his fee's since clearly he's not allowed to talk to his client/'s?

I'm still curious about all this stuff, but it just gives me one more reason to wonder what the hell is wrong with the judicial system.

So er... jumbo....... (Below threshold)

So er... jumbo....

How long have you been a prosecutor?

wickedpinto for more insigh... (Below threshold)

wickedpinto for more insight into the judicial system, read jumbo's post twice slowly.

To say there is a tad bit of bias colouding his judgement would be to put it mildly.


"The defense and prosecution are held to much different standards of behavior and professional ehtics. The prosecution is the oldest child, responsible, well-behaved, seeking approval. The defense is the uncontrollable rebellious wild child, whom you will bribe just to get to sit quietly and let you get through Thanksgivng without a major incident. So you hold the well-behaved child to a higher standard, and may punish that child for something that in the wild one you think is good behavior, because you know the good child won't rebel."


I wonder which side he's done work for?

Paul,I've never do... (Below threshold)
Starboard Attitude:


I've never done criminal work. But Jumbo's comments match my perception.

There is a parallel in civil practice. There, defense attorneys are expected to be well-behaved and well-versed, while plaintiff's attorneys are allowed to run amok like brats. I've worked on both sides of that fence, so I doubt I'm betraying a hidden bias here.

Paul asks, "What law school... (Below threshold)

Paul asks, "What law school did these idiots go to?"

My guess is that they went to a law school that claims that the Solomon Amendment violates the First Amendment.

Or perhaps they went to a law school that is run by idiots.

Ah, but I repeat myself.

*ahem* It seems there IS mo... (Below threshold)

*ahem* It seems there IS more to the witness contact. Ouch. From what I've read, the FAA mouthpieces took it on themselves to contact several folks, both for defense and prosecution. Maybe it's just their idea of preparation to check with the witnesses and see what they are going to say; happens all the time. I can even see talking to the witnesses (and witnesses may talk off the witness stand or not as they wish) and using the transcript as a guide.

But the accounts read as if they shared the nature and content of other witnesses' testimony...which you just don't do in a criminal case with those witnesses yet to testify.

There are shoes yet to drop, but I agree this is an issue that should not even have arisen, and I'm ready to call the FAA lawyers twits at minimum.

Oh, and Paul: I'm a crimina... (Below threshold)

Oh, and Paul: I'm a criminal defense lawyer. heh.

The whole thing is a ridicu... (Below threshold)

The whole thing is a ridiculous waste of money and time.. The creep admits he,s al quaeda ?? case closed ,nothing else needs to be said..






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