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Breaking Legal Developments

01-15-2001

Published by:
Peter A. Lynch, Esq.
of Cozen O'Connor
palynch@cozen.com
http://www.cozen.com

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:      This weekly newsletter covers:

  1. New Jersey Court Upholds Spoliation Sanctions for Evidence Mishandling
  2. Maryland Court Reverses Arson Conviction for Interrogation Violations
  3. Montana Supreme Court Affirms Arson Conviction Finding Financial Motive of Co-Actor Admissible


(1) NEW JERSEY COURT UPHOLDS SPOLIATION SANCTIONS FOR EVIDENCE MISHANDLING

In Manorcare v. Osmose, No. A-327-99T3, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division reviewed a trial court order dismissing plaintiff's complaint. The case involved appropriate sanctions for a fire retardant treated plywood where the manufacturer was afforded and opportunity to inspect the damage plywood and did so, but was denied notice of the removal and replacement of the damaged plywood.

The court noted the plaintiff took samples of some of the plywood and discarded others. The court stated spoliation liability exists regardless of intentional or negligent conduct. Because the defendant did not have the benefit of independent testing or viewing the roof environment, it could not show other potential conditions caused the loss other than the plywood. The court found spoliation and examined if the dismissal ordered was too harsh a remedy. The court held the appropriate sanction was to bar the admissibility of evidence obtained during the removal and replacement. The case could go forward based on evidence and observations made before the replacement of the plywood.


(2) MARYLAND COURT REVERSES ARSON CONVICTION FOR INTERROGATION VIOLATIONS

In Winder v. State. 51, (PDF viewer needed), the Maryland Court of Appeals reviewed the defendant's murder, arson and burglary convictions. Three victims were found dead inside a home after passerby phoned in seeing a fire. Investigators determined the fire was intentionally set and that the victims were dead before the fire was started. The defendant was observed at the scene with a bandage on his hand and a cut on the nose. After consenting to a search, he was interrogated for more than 12 hours before confessing. His motion to suppress his confession was denied by the trial judge. On appeal he claimed his confession should have been suppressed because of improper threats and promises.

The court noted the promise must have caused the suspect to confess and he must have relied on the promises. The court noted the interrogators offered to provide special leniency consideration in the prosecution of his case. They stated they were "not interested in sending you to jail for the rest of your life, ... We think the person who committed these needs help."

They also told the defendant "the friends of the victims were coming after him for revenge. The officers explained to him if he identified the bodies and showed remorse for murdering the victims, essentially they would protect him from any vigilantes. If he continued to deny committing the murders, however, the officers implied that they could not guarantee Appellant's safety."

The court held the officer's tactics were not proper and reversed the arson and murder convictions. The confession should have been suppressed.


(3) MONTANA SUPREME COURT AFFIRMS ARSON CONVICTION FINDING FINANCIAL MOTIVE OF CO-ACTOR ADMISSIBLE

In State v. Enright, No. 99-545, the Montana Supreme Court reviewed evidentiary objections of a co-conspirator tried jointly with the lead defendant. The two defendants had been charged with murder and arson of Enright's step father. He died in a trailer fire after insurance had been obtained on his life. At the joint trial, evidence about the financial motive of Link was introduced. The court found that evidence admissible.

"Evidence that Link had a motive to assist Enright commit arson is clearly relevant to the question of his guilt or innocence." Link argues that any evidence of financial motive for Leonard's death was irrelevant to the arson charge because he had already been acquitted of purposely or knowingly causing Leonard's death in his first trial. We find that argument unpersuasive. That the potential financial gain could only come if Leonard died makes it no less a motive for setting the fire-or assisting Enright to do so."

Mr. Lynch can be reached at Cozen and O'Connor, 501 West Broadway, Suite 1610, San Diego, California 92101, 800-782-3366 (voice), 619-234-7831 (fax), palynch@cozen.com (e-mail), http://www.cozen.com, emergency loss assistance - pager (619) 333-2713.

Please direct comments, suggestions, stories, and other items to the author by e-mail at palynch@cozen.com

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