Saturday, September 12, 2009

Questionable Superior Court Evidentiary Decisions in the Esteban Carpio Case

I feel more convinced than ever that Esteban Carpio did not receive a fair trial, which is a different question than whether he committed the acts of which he was charged.

First of all, Esteban Carpio' face and forehead were deform beyond recognition at the time when he was questioned at the hospital. The Providence Superior Court decision on the voluntariness of Esteban Carpio statements to police essentially acknowledges that this was so, noting that Carpio's skull was fractured when he arrived at the hospital and a neck brace was applied to stabilize his vertebrae. Nonetheless, the decision also reports that a police official loosened the neck brace, disregarding medical personnel's opinion that the brace was recommended, so that Carpio could sit up and talk. During whatever may have been said, it was two or three in the morning and a police official was saying to Carpio over and over again, "Stay with me." It seems obvious to me that someone in Carpio's condition could not voluntarily agree to speak without a lawyer, even while recovering from a skull fracture from the day before.

More importantly, the Superior Court denied a defense motion to enter into evidence medical records from mental health clinics and hospitals, deciding instead that:
Finally, at the conclusion of the suppression hearing, counsel for the Defendant moved to admit the Defendant’s prior medical records from the Faulkner Hospital and the Providence Center for the Court’s consideration. The Court accepted them de bene in order to determine
admissibility. They are irrelevant and immaterial. This admission is denied. State v. Lorenzo, supra; State v. Squillante, supra.
How could medical records about psychiatric or psychological treatment be irrelevant to the question of knowing and voluntary waiver of the right to remain silent? Before Esteban Carpio's trial began, the Superior Court judge excluded evidence which would almost certainly have demonstrated that Esteban Carpio sought mental health treatment before the acts of which he was accused.

It certainly would be difficult for the defense to prove that the defendant had a mental defect which would vitiatate his ability to voluntarily speak without an attorney present after the Court excluded evidence of his contacts with mental health personnel and the determinations that those personnel had made.

Apparently, during questioning the defendant made repeated comments to the police which a reasonable jury member could have taken as evidence that the defendant had a mental impairment that should have be considered when determining the voluntariness and capacity of the defendant at the time. The Court gives this evidence short shrift:
The tone of the interview is peppered with this type of amicable repartee between Sergeant Mansolillo and the accused. If the Defendant is attempting to convince the Court that his “Devil comments” to Sergeant Mansolillo should induce it to accept that at the time he was
somehow mentally deficient or unable to grasp the reality of his situation, the tone of the interview belies that assertion. The test, of course, is that the Court must find that alleged mental impairment caused Defendant’s will to be overborne. U.S. v. Casals, 915 F.2d 1225 (8th Cir.) Additionally, except for the “Devil” comment, no evidence was submitted by the Defendant in support. The Defendant cannot argue, and does not argue, coercive conduct on the part of the officers because the statement of April 17, 2005 is clearly barren of any such conduct.
Sergeant Mansolillo and Detective Finegan are two highly experienced officers. Their conduct was professional without any hint that they were rude, abrasive or unduly forceful. As this Court sees it, they treated the Defendant with deference and on occasion kindness. Considering the
totality of circumstances of the event, the motion to suppress the April 17, 2005 statement is denied.
Considering the evidence that Esteban Carpio had mental health issues that might have included schizophrenia and psychosis (with his belief that the devil was talking to him and engaging in conversation with him and others), I believe the Court erred in obstructing proffered evidence of such a defect from affecting the decision on the volitional nature of his statements as well as the mental health related information that would reach the jury.

In addition, there was some clear "testilying" by police in this case. The Superior court recounted:
The Defendant was arrested in a struggle with certain Providence police officers in the area of Washington and Matthewson Streets. Because of his resistance to being handcuffed, some blows were obviously struck by some officers but whatever they were; there is no evidence that the Defendant suffered any incapacitation at that time. The police, in particular Detective Sergeant Sweeney, was concerned about possible abuse and immediately ordered “no unnecessary force to be used here. Just get him in handcuffs.” (Supp. 181.) Decision of the Superior Court, p. 6.
Why would it be necessary to remind police not to use illegal force unless they had a known habit or tendency to do so? It simply defies common sense to believe that police chasing down a subject whom they believe to have killed a fellow officer nonetheless have time, concern, and presence of mind to say "no unnecessary force to be used here." Those are clearly words of legal terminology that were sculpted into the conversation after the fact, to help the prosecution and ameliorate the obvious conclusion that Esteban Carpio was beaten half to death, rather than words that a police detective spoke at the scene.

This goes to the reason for an all-white jury. An all-white jury would be more likely and willing to believe that Carpio "got what he deserved", and aslo less willing to consider evidence that Carpio suffered from a mental defect that prevented criminal responsibility.


Dan said...

He shot a cop in the face while being questioned for another crime he almost certainly committed. In my book he got what was coming to him. Good job officers.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

Dan, you said that Esteban Carpio "almost certainly committed" the stabbing of the old lady for which he was arrested. "Almost certainly" is not a standard that I'm comfortable with, particularly when it comes to bringing a young man with known mental health problems and questioning him until one in the morning without a lawyer present.

If the police had rounded up some representation for this man instead of trying to get a statement from him while knowing that he was mentally challenged, then they wouldn't have been questioning him for hours on end at the time when he allegedly shot the officer.

Now, we know that depriving people of sleep can be torture. That's why we're discussing torture so much in the context of Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Did the police really believe they could get something useful from Esteban Carpio at midnight that they couldn't get the following morning.

Well, one of the effects of dragging a mentally ill kid in and questioning him for hours on end, into the late night, is that the kid can become desperate and do desperate things.

If the police had any sense, they would review their OWN policies about questioning suspects without representation and about questioning subjects into the late night.

You said, "Good job, officers!", but this particular good job left one detective dead. If they keep doing that same sort of good job every day for a year, maybe how many more police officers will die doing a "good job"?

The police obviously did something wrong if a relatively small man was able to overpower a detective, take his gun, and jump out of a window.

Has it ever occurred to you that instead of jumping out the window, Carpio could have hid behind the door and killed two or more officers?

The Providence Police Department should try to learn from its mistakes. Beating Esteban Carpio to a pulp will not deter other mentally ill people from doing exactly what Carpio did, in the same room on another occasion.

So, if only to be able to go home to their own families at night, police should change something about their OWN procedures.

As far as "getting what was coming to him", you seem to believe that courts are unnecessary because police can mete out summary mob justice on the streets. If so, why not get rid of these wasteful criminal courts entirely and leave it to police to punish people themselves on the street? I'm sure you can think of one or two reasons, so I'll let you chew on that.

Meanwhile, if the police gave Esteban Carpio "what was coming to him" by beating him half dead on the street, then a trial on the charges of assault and murder are unconstitutional double jeopardy. If the police have already give Carpio "what was coming to him", then surely it would be unjust to put him through an criminal trial and give him MORE THAN what was coming to him.

If we think Due Process is served by two levels of punishment -- one before a trial and one afterward -- then we should change our state and national Constitutions to reflect what we ACTUALLY DO instead of reflecting merely fanciful and fallacious imaginary aspirational forms of justice that never really intend to practice in the United States.

If we're not going to follow our Constitutions, then why have them at all? Just as a false beacon that leads other countries justice astray?

If we don't try people before we convict and punish them, then we are simply a country of liars, daily saying one thing while doing something entirely different. If we are to be barbarians, then the name of our nation should be changed to the United States of Barbaric Pre-Trial Extra-judicial Torture.

And we can do away with the tax expense of paid police forces and call these "police officers" what they are: Lynch mobs dressed in blue.

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