Unlawful Suppression of Evidence Results in Mistrial

A mistrial has been declared in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy after it was determined the prosecution was guilty of unlawful suppression of evidence, a violation of Bundy’s constitutional rights.

Rancher vs the feds

Photo by: Gage Skidmore

Cliven Bundy is a cattle Rancher residing in Clark County Nevada with ties to many local families throughout southern Utah. Bundy has been in a long-standing disagreement with the federal government over the right to have his cattle graze on public land, which is family had been doing for generations. The feds wanted to require a permit and collect yearly grazing fees plus arrears while Bundy claimed requiring a fee for use of the land was erroneous since the land belonged to the state. Over twenty years of debating this right ended when the BLM closed off over 140,000 acres of land and confiscated any trespassing livestock found roaming within the off-limits acreage. Bundy along with friends and family protested the capture of the cattle and after heated negotiations regained control of the livestock. Bundy continued his family traditions of grazing his cattle on public lands.

Arrested on federal charges

Almost two years after the Nevada cattle standoff, Bundy travelled to Oregon where his sons and others had taken over control of a vacant ranger station at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in support of two local ranchers charged with federal arson while protecting their property. On route to that scene however, Bundy was apprehended at the airport and arrested on multiple federal charges related to the Nevada Cattle Standoff. Some of the charges include conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, threatening an officer, as well as firearms charges. His sons and another individual were also arrested for their involvement in both the Nevada and Oregon standoffs. The Bundy sons and others involved in the Oregon standoff went to trial for that incident and were acquitted by a jury of all federal charges. They still faced charges for their involvement in Nevada alongside their father Cliven Bundy. This court experience in Nevada turned out to be very different from the one in Oregon however.

Unlawful Suppression of evidence

Photo by: Allen Allen

During the court proceedings for the Bundy clan in Nevada, the defense discovered multiple items of crucial evidence obtained by the prosecution had been withheld. Suppression of evidence is defined as when a party in a trial unlawfully withholds evidence that could be useful in exonerating the defendant(s) in the case. Some of the evidence items withheld from the defense included video surveillance of Cliven Bundy’s home as well as confirmation on the presence of snipers surrounding the Nevada cattle incident, increasing tensions. The feds denied allegations of unlawful suppression of evidence until proof emerged and they were forced to recant their omissions, claiming their careless handling of evidence was not intentional. The defense, not satisfied that the federal government could make numerous “honest” evidence mistakes in a federal trial claimed six violations to the Brady Rule. The judge agreed and declared a mistrial due to unlawful suppression of evidence or a violation of due process which is a constitutional right.

The Brady Rule

The Bundy family and another man were released on all charges thanks to the 1963 Brady v. Maryland case which was monumental in ensuring all exculpatory evidence, or evidence that might be helpful to the defense, is shared by prosecutors. In the case of Brady, prosecutors had obtained a written confession to a murder by another individual, yet suppressed that evidence and tried Brady of the murder as well. Once the courts realized there was evidence that could have exonerated the defendant of murder charges, they declared his due process rights had been violated and thus the Brady Rule was born. The Brady Rule ensures the due process law protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution are withheld and that no state of federal government shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. Due process is defined as by the United States Courts as “the constitutional guarantee that a defendant will receive a fair and impartial trial.” Anyone who feels they are facing a trial with an unfair advantage due to due process violations should consult with a criminal defense attorney who will ensure all evidence vital to one’s defense is unveiled..

All Have the Right to a Trial by Jury

Having a trial by jury is a Constitutional right bestowed upon all persons facing jail time with criminal charges.

Sixth Amendment rights

Trial by Jury

Photo by: Frits Ahlefeldt Hiking.org

According to the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”.

The default

Although everyone is entitled to a trial by jury, all too often cases are tried by a single judge instead of a panel of peers. Utahcourts.gov states “Depending on the type of action, a case may be tried before a judge (bench trial) or before a jury with a judge presiding. “ The option of a trial by jury is there for everyone, but defendants without proper counsel may be unaware of that right at first and miss their window of opportunity.

Constitutional rights with an expiration

Photo by: Chris Betcher

Photo by: Chris Betcher

A trial by jury is available to those facing jail time due to felonies or misdemeanors; however depending on the charges, this Constitutional right expires if not claimed in a set amount of time. Rule 17 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure explains that:

“(c) All felony cases shall be tried by jury unless the defendant waives a jury in open court with the approval of the court and the consent of the prosecution.

(d) All other cases shall be tried without a jury unless the defendant makes written demand at least 14 days prior to trial, or the court orders otherwise. No jury shall be allowed in the trial of an infraction.”

Trial by jury or judge?

A trial by jury is an option for all defendants facing serious charges, but when is the right time to take advantage of this Constitutional right? Ultimately it is up to the defendant to decide whether a trial by jury is the right call for their case but it is always recommended to be represented by a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to ensure that the best decision for a trial is made.

Constitutional Rights against Unreasonable Searches Not Maintained in Cases of Mistaken Identity

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ Constitutional Rights against unreasonable searches, however these rights are not maintained in cases of mistaken identity.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Mistakes are known to happen, and sometimes when those blunders are made by law enforcement it can result in the wrong person being arrested. One of the areas where law enforcement has been known to slip-up occasionally is with mistaken identity. Police can often confuse an innocent person with a suspect due to issues such as address typos, similar names, or matching physical description. When this occurs, it can have prolonged emotional and even criminal repercussions.

Wrong man

When cases of mistaken identity are seen as the blunders by law enforcement that they are, those officers involved may end up temporarily or permanently removed from their position in the police department. They may also face civil lawsuits brought out by those they wrongly identified. Last year an Indiana man named DeShawn Franklin was awarded a whopping $18 settlement for a case of mistaken identity that took place four years prior. During the incident in question, officers entered the home Franklin lived in with his parents and went into the high school senior’s room where he lay asleep in his bed. After the startled teenager struggled due to the frightening scene, officers then punched him several times and hit him with a Taser gun before hauling him off to jail.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Lil Treyco

It turned out that Franklin, who matched the police’s description of a slender African-American man with dreadlocks, was not the person authorities were looking for. The man officers were searching for was Franklin’s older brother who wasn’t present at the time.

Arrested anyway

Sometimes an arrest based on mistaken identity doesn’t end with such profitable settlements and can still result in charges for the person arrested. This can happen if the person wrongfully detained ends up having warrants, being wanted for other crimes, or if illegal contraband is found in their possession during a search. This was the case for a Utah man named Wendell Navanick, who just so happened to share a name and birth year with another Utah man who had an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. When authorities located the warrantless Wendell Navanick, they ignored the man’s statement of being the wrong guy and booked him into the Salt Lake City Jail. During the booking procedure, authorities found drugs on Navanick and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. Although it was quickly discovered that authorities had not arrested the right person, Navanick was still charged with possession related to the drugs that were found on him during the booking process.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “ The United States Courts adds however, that the Fourth Amendment “is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.”

Unreasonable search loophole

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Photo by: West Midlands Police

When a victim of mistaken identity ends up with charges related to a search of their person or property because they were believed to be someone else, that search is not considered unconstitutional by law. In the case of the State of Utah v. Navanick, the defendant tried to claim his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated with the bookings search since it was “predicated upon an invalid arrest” however that claim for an appeal was shot down. The arrest was validated since the officers were found to have probable cause. “The only question is whether it was reasonable for the arresting officers to believe that the person arrested was the one sought.” (Gero v. Hanault). Anyone who is facing criminal charges related to a mistaken identity search is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to ensure that all Constitutional Rights during criminal proceedings are protected.