The Kentucky Supreme Court’s criminal law theme for this spring is apparently the meaning of unanimous verdict. Most people think they know what “unanimous” means, but ah: let some lawyers get involved! More seriously, the issue is really one of how a jury is instructed on the elements of a crime. Basically, if you see the word “or” in a jury instruction too many times, you may well be looking at a non-unanimous verdict. Kind of like this: “Americans were unanimous that EITHER Mitt Romney OR Barack Obama should be president.” Obviously, the word “unanimous” has almost no meaning when used like this. In the case of Commonwealth v. Deonte Simmons, the Kentucky Supreme Court reviewed a criminal trial which proceeded to verdict (and—you guessed it—a guilty verdict) with 11 jurors. “But,” said the Commonwealth, “his lawyer agreed to this.” That’s way too important a right, says the Court in reversing—we need to know that the Defendant personally waived that right.
Rep. Daryl Owens of Louisville has introduced a bill (which you can read here) which would allow for the expungement of felony convictions after five (5) years. The bill would apply only to Class D felonies and, as amended currently, would not allow for not allow for expungment for crimes against children, or the disabled or elderly (crimes under Chapter 209). Kentucky has had allowance for misdemeanor expungements for some time now, and it appears that several other states allow for some level of felony erasure. Oddly, the bill would also allow that for persons who received a felony expungement, they could not be charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. I suppose that is just consistent with the current fervor over “Second Amendment rights” though, right? It also appears that such felonies could not longer form the basis for enhanced sentences under the persistent felony offender law.
We’ll try to follow this through the legislature.
KPL’s own renowned employment law expert and partner Djenita Pasic was seen today discussing President Obama’s immigration reform proposal with WAVE3’s Scott Adkins. Pasic discussed the impact on the local economy already seen by immigrants, and the many benefits that could some with bringing our brothers and sisters out of the shadow economy that exists for so many. Pasic stressed that any immigration reform should rightly address criminal background checks and the like, but should be designed to be non-punitive to those who have made their home here, and contributed so much to the local economy already. We also note– and celebrate– the fact that our fine partner was, herself, an immigrant from war-torn Bosnia in the 1990’s, who has risen to one of Louisville’s finest attorneys. She knows well of that which she speaks!
In the only case of general interest– if you want to call it even that—from the Kentucky Court of Appeals today, the Court reviewed a drug trafficking conviction following a jury trial in Jefferson Circuit, in which the Defendant took umbrage to a bailiff’s flip comment during jury selection. According to the opinion, the bailiff admitted to saying, in response to a juror’s question about what to do about jail or prison overcrowding, “if the jails are full and the prisons are full, we could shoot them.” The Court found that the statement had no effect on the trial jury or the outcome of the case.
EDITORIAL: There is a certain gallows humor in the courthouse, and always has been. We all need to remember to keep it “backstage,” I suppose. I’m sure this deputy is extraordinarily embarrassed about the event, and I do doubt that it had any effect. I’m also not sure Facebook constitutes “keeping it back stage,” so I will add no further comments of my own.