Public Defender Alleges Unethical Police Conduct
A public defender in Petersburg, Virginia is alleging police misconduct in proceedings to withdraw his client’s guilty plea. Jeffrey Fisher pled guilty to drug and gun charges earlier this year after being arrested during a raid of his home. Later, numerous disturbing facts about the case came to light that had been concealed by the prosecution.
The Unheard Defense: Fourth Amendment Issues
The warrant executed at the home was rejected by the first magistrate from whom it was sought, and then granted upon the second request. But the real problems appear to be how it was executed. First, the police forced the door open with a battering ram without first knocking and announcing their presence. This is only permitted in exceptional circumstances when the warrant specifies “no-knock.” Two police lieutenants present at the scene were allegedly told to “turn away” when this unlawful entry was performed.
The defense pleadings further allege that Detective Shane Noblin searched another man present at the home and took between $400 and $500 from him. In addition to potentially violating the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement, this money allegedly disappeared, which would violate Virginia’s inventory requirement for seized property.
The disappearance of the money seized from the other person at the home was discovered in an investigation of a larger sum of money that disappeared from the evidence locker, allegedly only a part of the roughly $13,000 that disappeared. As it happens, Detective Noblin became the focus of this investigation.
Disclosure Requirements: Sixth Amendment Issues
Besides the Fourth Amendment concerns about alleged misconduct in executing the warrant, the defense alleges that the prosecution failed to disclose any of the information about the violations, or about Detective Noblin’s history of misconduct, all of which would have been relevant evidence for the defense.
Under Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors are obligated to disclose any evidence favorable to the defense. This means any evidence that is exculpatory (tends to negate guilt) or impeaches the prosecution’s witnesses must be provided to the defense. Evidence of police misconduct in the search of the home was highly exculpatory, while evidence of Detective Noblin’s prior misconduct would constitute impeachment evidence. The prosecutor in this case failed to provide any of this evidence. It did not come out until a whistleblower, another former Petersburg detective, disclosed it to a public defender’s office investigator.
As it happens, this story broke at the same time that news emerged that the Virginia Supreme Court had rejected a proposal that would strengthen prosecutorial disclosure requirements. This disturbing and ironic coincidence of timing underscores the need for genuine discovery reform in Virginia criminal prosecutions. This event goes to show the uphill battle that criminal defendants face in the courts today, and how important it is to have a dedicated, hardworking, and knowledgeable attorney to stand between you and the wrath of the state.
Contact a Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney Today
The criminal justice system is remarkably unfriendly to defendants. Don’t face it alone. If you are accused of a crime, the odds may be stacked against you, but with a passionate and skilled attorney by your side, you have a fighting chance. The attorneys at Simms Showers in Leesburg will fight to protect your rights. We are not afraid to expose the government’s misconduct in prosecuting our clients, and we will work hard to find the best defense available to you. Call us today for a free consultation.