Drug Policy

Cory Maye's Appellate Brief

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Mississippi public defender Bob Evans and several attorneys at the D.C.-based Covington & Burling law firm have filed a brief with the Mississippi Court of Appeals on behalf of Cory Maye.  This is the fist step in Maye's appeal of his capital murder conviction for killing Prentiss, Mississippi police officer Ron Jones during a botched drug raid on Maye's home in December 2001.  You can download and read the brief here.

I'm obviously reading the brief as a partisan, and as someone who isn't a lawyer, but I find it enormously convincing.  It also illustrates just how bad Maye's trial attorney really was.  You wonder how many other criminal defendants' cases would look a whole lot different were they able to procure the service of a top-notch law firm.

There is one bit of new information in the brief that I'm embarrassed to say seems to have escaped everyone the past few years, including me:  If you look back through the trial transcripts, there's no testimony from any of the raiding police officers that they actually knocked on Maye's door.  There's testimony that they announced themselves, and that they made several attempts to kick down the door.  But not a single one of them testified to knocking, or to seeing or hearing another officer knock.  Taking the police testimony at face value, they announced "police!"—and then began kicking down the door.

This seems to be pretty important. The prosecution's contention may have had a bit more weight if the police claimed to have knocked several times and announced themselves before trying to take down the door.  But to yell "police," and then start kicking without a knock only bolsters Maye's claim that he thought criminal intruders were breaking into his home.

Put yourself in Maye's position again.  You're asleep.  It's after midnight.  For starters, it's probably a safe assumption that a sleeping person wouldn't hear—or at least shouldn't be expected to mentally process—the initial police announcement.  That's why knocking is so critical.  Instead, Maye was awoken to the sound of several men trying to kick down his door.  At that point, even subsequent police announcements probably wouldn't register, or at least you couldn't blame him for not processing them.  Moreover, Maye's attorneys note in the brief that one police officer inside the duplex on the other side during the Maye raid says he didn't hear any police announcement.

But there's room for more confusion, here, too.  Even assuming Maye heard and processed the police announcement, it isn't clear that he would have known the announcement was directed at him.  Indeed, he had little reason to think the police would ever break into his apartment.  He wasn't dealing drugs, and had no criminal record.  He did, however, live next door to a known drug dealer, the presumed target of the raid.  Even assuming Maye heard sirens, or saw lights, or heard a police announcement (and there's little reason to think he did any of that), it wouldn't be unreasonable for him to assume it was all directed at his neighbor, and to fear that the person trying to break into his home was his neighbor, or possibly one of his neighbor's clients, fleeing the police.  After all, the police are supposed to knock before entering, particularly when they're at the door of someone who hasn't committed any major crime.  Someone breaking into your home without knocking, in the dead of night, is more likely to be a criminal.

The warrant to search Maye's home, incidentally, was not a no-knock warrant.

The rest of the brief articulates the myriad other problems with Maye's conviction already discussed here at reason and at my personal blog, but in a manner more tidy, pithy, and convincing.

Covington & Burling attorney Abe Pafford says he expects the court to hear the case early next year.

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  1. Lets see the police had a standard warrant for a search of an innocent man. they bust in after midnight and expect not to be shot at. anyone with a resonable mind, who is not a felon who hears people kickin in the door in the middle of the night even if he hears police, is prolly gonna open fire. as it is far more likly to be a robber or drugggie (since the neighbor was a dealer) than the cops. he should be released post haste

  2. You wonder how many other criminal defendants’ cases would look a whole lot different were they able to procure the service of a top-notch law firm.

    All of them.

    Which isn’t to say most people in prison are there unjustly, as in this case. Just to say the system is a facade. Poor defendants are simply railroaded through.

    I once spent the day in traffic court over a fender bender. It was very enlightening. I saw about a dozen cases. The judge routinely suspended licenses over things like expired insurance. One guy had his car impounded and was sent to jail because it was his third time driving without a license. Some defendants were well spoken and prepared. It didn’t matter, everyone was hustled through with well rehearsed judgments coming from the bench.

    Then came a guy with a lawyer. This is what he did:
    He and his buddy went out drinking.
    He got behind the wheel and drove.
    He rear ended a vehicle stopped at a red light.
    He fled the scene of the accident.
    When he was later pulled over by the cops he tried to change places with his buddy (because he was less drunk) and claim his buddy was driving.

    He was given a fine and was allowed to continue driving to work (to work and home only).

  3. He was given a fine and was allowed to continue driving to work (to work and home only).

    Don’t forget that people with lawyers are also dealt with first, and get out of there much faster.

    If you have the money, always get a lawyer. If you are poor, the system will fuck you, so get a lawyer if you in any way possibly can.

  4. You wonder how many other criminal defendants’ cases would look a whole lot different were they able to procure the service of a top-notch law firm.

    The fact that one would need the services of a top notch law firm is a chilling indictment of the legal system.

    I’m not an attorney either but the facts of this case seem pretty clear.

  5. Here is my crazy new idea for the day. We should change the court system so that prosecutors and public defenders are randomly drawn from the same pool of lawyers.

  6. Next time I’m participating in a home invasion in the middle of the night with the intent of robbing and/or killing the occupant, I’m going to shout “Police!” right before kicking in the door, in the hopes that it will make said occupant less likely to open fire on me.

  7. In my view it is not unreasonable to expect the police to knock on the door and wait for a response. There are two things that can happen – someone comes to the door, and the warrant is served.
    Or somebody pulls the old Jimmy Cagney, “Top of the World, Ma” and goes out in a blaze of glory, which saves us the cost of a trial.
    But as “Reason” has ably demonstrated, these no knock “invasions” are dangerous to the police, and the innocent.

    one other thing to mention, with home invasions, its entirely unreasonable to expect people to just sit there while a group of strange men kick in your door after midnight.

  8. its entirely unreasonable to expect people to just sit there while a group of strange men kick in your door after midnight.

    It is entirely unreasonable to expect citizens who have the right and means of self-defense to do so.

    Subjects, conditioned to submit to the Total State and rely on it entirely for their safety and security? Not so much.

  9. This is the fist step in Maye’s appeal of his capital murder conviction for killing Prentiss.

    Good, enough already with the carrot, it isn’t working. It’s time to take out the fists.

  10. When you break in someone’s home it really shouldn’t matter what logo is on your clothing or the race of the person you are terrorizing. You deserve to be shot. It’s pretty simple.

  11. When you break in someone’s home it really shouldn’t matter what logo is on your clothing or the race of the person you are terrorizing. You deserve to be shot. It’s pretty simple.

    Bravo, John C Jackson. Bravo!

  12. In my view it is not unreasonable to expect the police to knock on the door and wait for a response. There are two things that can happen – someone comes to the door, and the warrant is served.
    Or somebody pulls the old Jimmy Cagney, “Top of the World, Ma” and goes out in a blaze of glory, which saves us the cost of a trial.

    Or, they pull that same “Jimmy Cagney” and kill a few cops in the process.
    Or, they flush whatever drugs they had and ruin a whole ton of police work.
    Or, they run and possibly escape.

    For the record, I’m ardently against the Drug War and for the legalization of drugs, but you have to realize that cops are people too and they want to get shot at just as much as you want to have someone break into your home in the middle of the night. They are going to do what they perceive as being in their best interest.

    Ideally, there would be no war on drugs and these kinds of violent invasions would not be necessary all that often, but there is. What’s needed is some middle ground, probably involving better oversight of warrant acquisition and a tempering of current police tactics. But to say that police should knock and wait for an answer every time is ignorant.

  13. Or, they pull that same “Jimmy Cagney” and kill a few cops in the process.

    Or, they flush whatever drugs they had and ruin a whole ton of police work.

    Nobody said that respecting our due process rights would be cost-free. They are not there for the convenience of the police.

    There has never been any question that due process would result in some criminals getting off (remember the old saw about “better ten guilty men go free”?).

    If the police have reason to believe that a suspect is dangerous, they can always arrest him outside his home, which should be a lot safer for them, and then execute the search warrant.

    Or, they run and possibly escape.

    Not if the police have done a competent job of staking out the building.

  14. Or, they flush whatever drugs they had and ruin a whole ton of police work.

    If they perform a “ton” of police work, and can only come up with a location containing a quickly flushable amount of drugs, they are unqualified for their jobs, or they are wasting our tax dollars to catch small-time criminals.

    (Not that the entire drug war enterprise isn’t a massive waste of our tax dollars already)

  15. Good lawyers RULE!!!!

  16. Sam B. sez: “and they want to get shot at just as much as you want to have someone break into your home in the middle of the night”

    Toughski shitski. That’s what I am paying them for – getting shot at (so that I wouldn’t be), among other things. If they can handle that, they are welcome to find other line of work.

    …what I REALLY would like to see is a mandate that every piece of legislation aimed at “enhancing officer safety” would result in police salaries reduction proportional to risk decrease. Good luck having this passed, though.

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