Law Final Essay


LawFinal Essay

LawFinal Essay

Question1. Witness Mental Competency in United States v. Odom, U. S. Court ofAppeals, 4th Cir. (1984).

Inthe case United States v. Odom, U. S. Court of Appeals, 4th Cir.(1984) the defendants namely Mark Douglas Odom, Joyce Geraldine Beachand Benny Carol Dyson were appealing their conviction that arose fromtheir absentee voting in a state and federal election that wascarried out on November 1982 in Alexander County, North Carolina. Attrial, the prosecution aimed at introducing testimonies from about 30residents from the retirement home. However, the defendantsvehemently objected to this and filed a motion seeking to have thejudge determine each witness’ mental competency in camera. Thismotion had been denied in the trial court. Further, nine witnesseswere not sworn in the trial court as it was determined that theycould barely comprehend the things being asked. Initially, thedefendants raised no objection regarding the taking of non-sworntestimony. However, they raised the objections on the following daybefore withdrawing a motion to strike. They were then convicted bythe trial court. However, they filed an appeal with the appeal courton varied grounds one of which revolved around the notion or argumentthat the trial court had erred by taking unsworn testimony. Further,they questioned the mental competency of the witnesses stating thattheir mental conditions may have created the perception in the mindsof the jury that the defendants were guilty of vote fraud as thepatients did not have the capacity to formulate informed or voluntarychoice (Wall, 2009). On this note, they faulted the district judge’schoice to resolve the mental competency of the witnesses, and opinedthat the district judge should have allowed for the determination ofthe witnesses’ mental competency on camera and that the witnessesshould not have been allowed to appear before the jury or eventestify rather they should have been found incompetent to testify(Wall, 2009). However, the Court of Appeal discredited theirobjections and grounds of appeal. It is noted that Rule 601 hadeliminated every ground for disqualifying witness unless the statelaw furnishes rule pertaining to the decision. On the same note, apreliminary hearing with the aim of determining the mental competencyof a witness is often not needed pursuant to Rule 104(a). This doesnot imply that the trial judge does not have the capacity to preventa witness from offering his or her testimony rather it implies thatthe judge has to deviate his attention from the witness proposed.

Onthe same note, as much as the mental competency of the witness is ofvital concern and importance to the court in its dispensation ofjustice to the parties involved, the witness’ competency to testifybefore a court remains a threshold question of law that isexclusively at the discretion of the trial court. Indeed, accordingto United States v. Benn (1972), even in instances where thewitnesses’ mental competency is in question, the trial judge is notlegally required to carry out a formal hearing to determine the same.There must, rather, exist such an inquiry as would satisfy the courtthat the competency of the witness to testify is not in question.However, the form that the inquiry takes is in the trial court’sdiscretion. This had also been determined in Henderson v. UnitedStates (1955), where the court stated that the question of witness’competency is not for the jury but the court. In instances where thewitness’ competency is challenged prior to testifying, the courthas a duty to ensure that an examination is carried out so as tosatisfy it that the witness is sufficiently competent. The courtmaintains the discretion regarding the form of examination carriedout. Nevertheless, it is preferable that the trial judge questionsthe witness himself or be present at the time when the examination iscarried out and make a ruling on the basis of the evidence adducedfrom the hearing. However, a mature individual who seems to havenormal appearance and offered as a witness is presumed to becompetent unless there is evidence showing the contrary.

Question2. TheUse of Presumptions as Evidence

Theuse of presumptive evidence has always been controversial in theUnited States and other parts of the globe. Presumptive evidencerefers to evidence considered factual until the contrary is proven.The use of presumptive evidence was clearly seen in County Court ofUlster v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, (1979), where three adult men and agirl aged 16 years had been jointly tried for the possession of twoloaded handguns, a pound of cocaine and a loaded machine gun. Theircar had been stopped for speeding in New York Thruway. The stoppingofficer had seen the two handguns in plain view as they were stickingout of the girl’s handbag. This prompted a search of the car’strunk where the loaded machine gun and heroin were found (Wall,2009). However, it is noted that neither of the four defendants hadthe car trunk’s keys, as the car was said to belong to one of thedefendants’ brothers. However, testimony was adduced regarding thefact that two of the defendants had been seen prior to leavingloading something into the trunk of the car (Keane &amp McKeown,2012). During the trial of the case, the prosecution relied heavilyon the New York statute that states that presumptive evidencepertaining to the possession of guns by every person in a vehicleexcept in instances where the weapon has been found on the person ofa particular occupant, where the vehicle is operated by a hireddriver or chauffer or in instances where one of the occupantspossesses a valid license for the particular firearm. In essence, thedefendants raised objections to the introduction of the heroin andthe three guns on the basis of the New York statute. This wasespecially with regard to the first provision for exception of the“illegal firearm possession”. The male defendants’ counselargued that the guns were in the possession of the girl in which caseit should not be presumed that the men were in possession of them.This meant that the presumption of possession in their case waswrong. However, the court denied this objection stating that thecourt had the capacity to infer possession based on the presence ofthe defendants in the car. Indeed, two state appellate courtsaffirmed these convictions, after which the respondents filed apetition (habeas corpus) with the federal district court (Wall,2009). This court stated that the respondents’ mere presence in thevehicle did not provide sufficient basis for the presumption of thefirearms’ possession. However, this ruling was reversed by theSupreme Court which noted that the statutory presumption had beenconstitutionally applied to the respondent and did not amount toviolation of the respondents’ rights to due process. This reversalwas based on the reasoning that a permissive rather than mandatoryevidential presumption was constitutional in instances where arational connection between the presence of the respondents in thevehicle and the presumption of the guns’ possession (Wall, 2009).In this case, the presence of the respondents in this vehicle and thefirearms’ possession was seen as more likely than not.

Whilethere may be differing opinions regarding the evidentiarypresumptions, such evidence should never be used in makingconvictions. This is especially considering that it seems to workagainst the rights of the defendant(s). Scholars have noted that suchevidential presumptions depreciably erode the defendants’constitutional rights to be proven guilty based on evidence thatproves guilt beyond reasonable doubt rather than on the evidence’spreponderance (Wall, 2009). It has well been noted that everydefendant is presumed innocent until he or she has been proven guiltyin a court of law. This means that the prosecution has the sole dutyof proving that the defendant is guilty or rather the burden of prooffalls with the prosecution. However, presumption reallocates theburden of proof on the party against whom such presumption works.This means that the burden of proof is relegated to the defendantrather than prosecution, which essentially implies that the defendantis assumed guilty until he or she can prove himself or herselfinnocent. This, essentially, goes against the constitutional rightsof the defendants.

Question3: ExpertWitness Testimony in United States v. Paul, 11th Cir. Court ofAppeals (1999)

Issuespertaining to expert witnesses in courts of law have drawnconsiderable controversy in a large number of jurisdictions. Indeed,there has been contention with regard to whether or not expertwitness testimony is admissible in a court of law or should be usedas a basis for convictions. However, scholars have noted that it isoften impossible to make an intelligible facts assessment without anyapplication of some technical, scientific or specialized knowledgeand skill. The most prevalent source of such knowledge remains theexpert witness, although there exists other ways of supplying thesame (Walton, 2007). A large proportion of literature rides on theassumption that expert testimony only comes in form of opinions.However, it has well been acknowledged that experts may provideexpositions or dissertations or any other principles that arerelevant to cases thereby allowing the judges to apply the same tothe facts before them. The controversy is clearly seen in UnitedStates v. Paul, 11th Cir. Court of Appeals (1999).

InUnited States v. Paul, 11th Cir. Court of Appeals (1999), a bankmanager named Ed Spearman had been telephoned by an unidentifiedindividual warning him that another person intended to extort somemoney from the bank by leaving a note. The caller who identifiedhimself as a bank investigator told Spearman to follow the directionsof the note. This prompted the manager to call the FBI and banksecurity, who laid a trap for the extortionist. A note was deliveredthe following morning instructing the manager to deliver $100000 to arestroom at McDonald’s restaurant failure to which he would bemeted with violence. An FBI agent delivered the money posing asSpearman, after which a man called Sunonda Paul entered the restroomand left with the briefcase (Walton, 2007). Upon apprehension, hesaid that he was going to the gym and had taken the briefcase simplybecause he found it there. However, he did not have any athleticequipment or gym clothes but had casual street clothing. In essence,he was convicted on a count of bank extortion a charge to which hepleaded not guilty. Further, Paul objected to the inclusion of FBIdocument examiner Larry Ziegler’s testimony pertaining tohandwriting analysis. As much as the fingerprints in the demand notedid not match those of Paul, a handwriting analysis concluded thatPaul wrote both the note and the envelope (Keane &amp McKeown,2012). When asked to write the words “restaurant” and “Spearman”,Paul misspelled both words and wrote “resturant” and “Sperman”just as he had in the note and on the envelope.

Thekey issues in this case revolve around the question on whether thedistrict court had abused its prudence through qualification ofZiegler as an expert and allowing the prosecutor to offer handwritinganalysis evidence or even whether it had done the same through theexclusion of Denbeaux’s rebuttal testimony (Walton, 2007). Further,there was the question regarding whether the closing argument givenby the prosecutor in the course of the trial had given Paul theburden of proof.

Paul’scontention that Ziegler`s testimony was not admissible as handwritinganalysis was not reliable scientific evidence was rejected sinceunder Federal Rule of Evidence 702 states that in instances where thetrial judge is faced with a volunteer of expert scientific testimony,he has to determine at the outset whether the expert would testify toscientific knowledge that is helpful to the trier of fact in thecomprehension or determination of a fact in issue. In essence, thetrial judge has the duty of ensuring that the testimony is based onreliable foundation, as well as relevant to the case.

Further,there was the question on whether the testimony by Ziegler couldoffer any assistance to lay persons who do not have similar expertisein the comprehension of the facts of the case. It is stated thatexpert witnesses who are properly qualified can testify with regardto their specialized knowledge in specific fields in instances wheresuch testimony would be helpful to the trier of fact to comprehendthe evidence and determine the facts in issue. Given that Paul neverchallenged Ziegler’s qualifications as a handwriting analysisexpert, the latter’s testimony was admissible. This is especiallyconsidering that he was particularly qualified and experienced inhandwriting analysis.

Further,there was the question on whether the testimony of the handwritinganalysis expert was prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 asthe jury could believe his analysis as scientific even when it wasnot. It is noted, however, that Paul sought the evidence of noauthority in determining that the testimony sounded scientific evenin instances where it was not. However, it was determined in UnitedStates v. Jones that the jury’s capacity to carry out similarvisual comparisons as the expert eliminates any danger forunwarranted prejudice emanating from the mystique that is oftenattached to the experts (Walton, 2007). Indeed, it is noteworthy thatZiegler had specifically cited points of comparison that he hadrecognized between the handwriting examples provided by Paul and theextortion note. In essence, it was the duty of the jury to carry outits own comparison and come up with its own conclusions pertaining tothe author of the extortion note (Walton, 2007). On the same note,while Ziegler had recognized the deficiency of a licensing board fordocument examiners whose expertise is questioned, the profession wasnever subject to the standards or regulations that measure orquantify individual examiners’ work. In essence, the court couldnot exclude Ziegler`s testimony as prejudiced.

Question4: Best Evidence Rule in United States v. Duffy, 5th Cir. Ct. ofAppeals, (1972)

Theimportance of evidence in the determination of facts pertaining to aparticular case cannot be gainsaid as far as the dispensation ofjustice is concerned. Evidence is provided in varied forms includingdocuments, call logs, fingerprints and other items. In instanceswhere documents are offered in a court of law as evidence, the bestevidence rule states that the original document is superior to itscopy (Walton, 2007). Indeed, in instances where the original copy isavailable, its copies would never be admissible as evidence in anytrial. In essence, the best evidence rule applies in instances wherea party aims at admitting as evidence the contents pertaining to adocument during trial but the original document is unavailable. Insuch instances, the party must offer acceptable excuses or reasonsfor the absence of the original document. In cases where the documentis unavailable and the court sees the reasons provided as acceptable,the party would be allowed to utilize the secondary evidence so as toprove the document’s contents and use it as admissible evidence.This implies that the best evidence rule is only applicable ininstances where a party aims at proving a document’s contents thatis sought for admission as evidence.

InUnited States v. Duffy, 5th Cir. Ct. of Appeals, (1972), thedefendant James H. Duffy, who was employed at an auto body shop inauto dealership had gone missing at the same time in which thetrade-in vehicle that had been acquired recently disappeared. Inessence, Duffy was tried for transporting the car in interstatecommerce between California and Florida. During trial, the plaintiff(United States) offered testimony given by a witness who had beenarrested by police in California in possession of the car. Thewitness stated that Duffy had sold him the vehicle. Further, thearresting officer in California, as well as an FBI agent offeredtestimony pertaining to the car and the contents. These two statedthat there were two suitcases in the stolen car’s trunk and a shirtwith a “D-U-F” laundry mark (Houck, 2004). The contentionrevolved the provision of this statement as evidence. In this case,Duffy stated that the actual shirt had to be presented as evidencerather than a testimony pertaining to the same. Upon conviction andbeing handed a two-year sentence, Duffy appealed stating that the FBIagent and officer’s testimony that described the shirt were simplyinadmissible since the shirt was the best evidence in this case andthere was no excuse regarding why it could be presented in a court oflaw. However, this objection was overruled (Bronstein, 2011). Thecourt stated that the applicability of the rule itself was restrictedto proof pertaining to contents of a particular writing. Indeed,precision in the presentation of the exact words of a particularwriting in court is extremely crucial especially with respect todispositive or operative instruments like contracts, wills and deedsas a slight variation or modification of words would make an immensedifference in the rights (Houck, 2004). Further, there existsconsiderable danger of inaccuracy in the process of providing a copythrough typewriting or handwriting. In the case of oral testimonythat purports to offer evidence from memory of the writing, thereexists immense risk of error more immense that in instances where anindividual tries to give a general description of other situations(Bronstein, 2011). These dangers of mis-transmission can be preventedthrough presenting the original writing.

However,the shirt incorporating a laundry mark would not be seen as a writingin ordinary circumstances, in which case it is not covered under“Best Evidence Rule”. In instances where the disputed evidence isan object that has an inscription or mark, it is considered a chattelor writing in which case it is in the trial judge’s discretion totreat it as such. In this case, the trial judge was right to allowtestimony pertaining to the shirt without necessitating that theshirt be produced. Since the writing that was in this case wasconsiderably simple (“D-U-F”), there existed little or no dangerthat that the agents would forget the or inaccurately remember thewriting’s terms. Further, it is noted that the terms incorporatedin this writing were not critical or central to the case at hand(Hall &amp Smith, 2001). Indeed, the crime for which Duffy wascharged did not revolve around possession of a particular article forwhich the failure to produce this article may be prejudicial to thedefense, rather the shirt amounted to collateral evidence in thecrime and was only a single piece of evidence in a considerable orsubstantial case for which Duffy was the defendant.

Question5. New Expert Testimony in Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals,Inc., 509 U.S. 579, (1993)

InDaubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, (1993) theplaintiffs who included Daubert and other minors had suffered birthdefects pertaining to limb reduction. They argued that they hadsustained the defects when their mothers took drugs that weremanufactured by Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc while pregnant withthem. In the course of this trial, the plaintiffs offered theevidence of an expert who stated that the drug that the defendantmanufactured resulted in deformities. It is noted that a largeproportion of the scientific field is not in agreement of the notionthat the drug resulted in limb deformities, in which case the FederalDrug Authority (FDA) continues approving the drug’s use onexpectant mothers. The issue, in this case, revolved around whetherthe testimony of the expert as offered by the plaintiffs could beconsidered admissible.

Forany expert scientific testimony derived from research that is carriedout with the aim of litigation to be admissible, it must indicatethat the conclusions were made after following the acknowledgedscientific techniques of research. The court rejected the experttestimony presented by the plaintiffs and stated that it wasinadmissible in the case. It is noted that in instances wherescientific theory or expert testimony is used, there is difficulty indetermination of what amounts to facts and the scientific theory thatcan be admitted in court (Bronstein, 2011). Further, in instanceswhere the testimony of the expert is shown as having resulted fromresearch carried out with the aim of being used in litigation, it isimperative that the expert demonstrates how he reached hisconclusions and quotes objective sources so as to indicate that hefollowed scientific techniques as practiced in recognized entities inthe field (Hall &amp Smith, 2001). Unfortunately, the expert of theplaintiff could not do this, thereby rendering his testimonyinadmissible.

Onthe same note, the expert presented by the plaintiff had not carriedout research autonomous from the litigation and the theories were notpublished in any scientific journal or even reviewed by peersalthough there had been sufficient time to do the same as thelitigation and theories had been there for ten years. Under FederalRule of Evidence 702, the plaintiffs were required to demonstratethat the evidence that was presented would be helpful to the trier offact in the determination of a factual issue (Bronstein, 2011). Inessence, the plaintiffs could not demonstrate causation directly andstill try to demonstrate it via circumstantial evidence that isoffered by the experts. It is worth noting that the testimony couldnot establish that the defect had not emanated from independentcauses as limb reduction birth defects are known to occur in babiesborn of mothers who had not consumed the drugs (Hall &amp Smith,2001). Of particular note is the fact that the experts produced bythe plaintiffs could not conclusively demonstrate that the medicationmore than doubled the vulnerability of the children to the defectrather they only showed that there existed a statistical relationshipbetween the consumption of the medication and the occurrence of thebirth defect.


Bronstein,D.A (2011). Lawfor the Expert Witness, Fourth Edition.New York: CRC Press

Hall,J. G., &amp Smith, G. D. (2001). Theexpert witness.St Albans, UK: Xpl Law.

Houck,M. M. (2004). Traceevidence analysis: More cases in mute witnesses.Amsterdam: Elsevier Academic Press.

Keane,A., &amp McKeown, P. (2012). Themodern law of evidence.New York: Oxford University Press

Wall,W. J. (2009). Forensicscience in court: The role of the expert witness.Chichester, West Sussex, U.K: Wiley-Blackwell.

Walton,D (2007). WitnessTestimony Evidence: Argumentation and the Law.New York: Cambridge University Press