Three days ago the Federal Appeals Court with jurisdiction over Florida overturned a Doctor’s conviction in US v. Ignasiak because the government at Trial failed to produce witnesses for autopsy reports and handwritten testimony. The Doctor, known to his friends and family as ‘Dr. Bob’ in over twenty years of practice wrote hundreds of prescriptions for vicodin, oxycondin and other drugs and according to the government at trial contributed to the deaths of at least five of his patients, while causing many others to become addicted to powerful painkilling drugs.
From the opinion: During Ignasiak’s trial, the government introduced the autopsy reports of five of Ignasiak’s former patients in which the cause of death was determined to be, at least in part, intoxication from controlled substances… defense counsel objected based upon the Confrontation Clause…
Astonishingly, at trial the government failed to bring in the actual doctors who wrote the autopsy reports. Recently this blog noted the trend toward greater scrutiny of the Confrontation Clause which requires the government at trial to produce the actual witnesses who conduct laboratory and forensic evidence rather than merely producing the reports generated by the witnesses. If you’re a Doctor falsely accused of medical fraud, pain mismanagement or dispensing controlled substances call a Clearwater Drug Attorney for an immediate consultation.
The purpose of a trial should always be to find the truth. The truth can be found by a jury only if the Defense is allowed to question the expert authors of reports which are based on opinions and conclusions. This decision furthers the argument that it’s unconscionable that the government was allowed to introduce expert opinions at a criminal trial without being required to subject those opinions to cross-examination. All the Courts in Florida – State and Federal, including those in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas are bound by this decision.
Synopsis of the Case (Full U.S. v. Ignasiak Opinion): The Defendant was a doctor licensed in the State of Florida who appeals his convictions for dispensing controlled substances in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 and for health care fraud. The Defendant contends that the district court at trial abused its discretion by allowing the introduction of autopsy reports and handwritten medical reports without requiring testimony by their authors.
The Federal Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit reversed defendant’s convictions because the admission of the autopsy reports and testimony about those reports, without live in-court testimony from the medical examiners who actually performed the autopsies, violated the Confrontation Clause under the facts of the case and that because the government’s case was not overwhelming the violation of the Defendant’s right to cross-examine witnesses was not harmless error in this case.
Is Justice just a game? The purpose of a Criminal Trial is to find the truth – maybe it’s hiding behind black’s King…Checkmate!
|Daumier, The Chess Players, 1863.
One of the fundamental pillars of justice in America is that the defense is entitled to evaluate all testimony at trial thru the process of cross-examination. The constitution guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is known as the Confrontation Clause (which tho we are near Christmas has little to do with the Clause known as Santa).
For many years the Supreme Court allowed prosecutors to present evidence in an indirect manner which avoided the necessity of having witnesses confronted at trial, filtering even to our Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater Pinellas County, Forida where lab reports were found to be sufficient without testimony. However, the Supreme Court has begun to shift in favor of Defendant’s rights to cross-examine witnesses especially where expert witness testimony is proffered thru reports rather than with the actual witness at trial. Interestingly for your favorite Pinellas Crime Lawyer & Supreme Court Spectator, it seems to be driven by the conservative wing of the Court.
Part of the underlying reasoning for this shift as earlier entries in this blog have shown is the failure of Government forensic laboratories to give unbiased results.
The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment is a focal point of recent litigation. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004); Melendez–Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314 (2009); Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S.Ct. 2705, 180 L.Ed.2d 610 (2011). Listen to arguments of the case, see also for more Supreme Court audio arguments.
The Court’s opinion in Williams v. Illinois, argued December 6, should be announced soon: Is it a violation of the Confrontation Clause to allow an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing conducted by another analyst who has not appeared as a witness at the trial.
The First Circuit recently vacated a conviction over lack of confrontation (Ramos-Gonzlez)… In this cocaine case the government adds substitute chemist Morales to the witness list shortly before trial. Morales is called by the government testifying to the work of the previous chemist as the prosecutor failed to have Morales do his own testing… The Court stated that, “Morales’s testimony was neither cumulative of nor sufficiently corroborated by alternative evidence, and it comprised the only compelling basis for the jury to conclude a critical element of the government’s case—that the substance seized from the truck was cocaine. We cannot conclude that the presence of cocaine would have been proved without the testimony of Morales, and therefore the admission of his testimony was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”