A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

By Burt Rose

The UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT has decided the habeas appeal of SANTANA OCAMPO, Appellant, V. ELDON VAIL, Appellee, No. 08-35586 (6/9/11). This was an appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Following a jury trial in Washington state court, Ocampo was found guilty of first-degree murder. Ocampo maintained that his constitutional right to confront witnesses was denied in his jury trial by the admission of testimony by law enforcement officers regarding statements made by a potential witness who did not testify. Athough the district court denied his federal petition for habeas corpus relief, the Panel reversed.

The primary issue at trial was whether Ocampo was present at the scene of the crime. The prosecution claimed that Ocampo was in a van with other gang members. Ocampo’s defense was that he was at a party the entire time. Testimony concerning out of court statements given to two detectives bolstered the state’s weak case against Ocampo, and flatly contradicted Ocampo’s alibi defense. Under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), permitting a police officer to summarize or outline an out-of-court declaration is an affront to the purpose of the Clause,

as it was explained in Crawford. Allowing police to refer to the substance of witnesses’ statements as they “narrate the course of their investigations, and thus spread before juries damning information that is not subject to cross-examination, would go far toward abrogating the defendant’s rights under the sixth amendment.”

Thus the court reversed the district court’s denial of Ocampo’s petition for writ of habeas corpus.

The Criminal Justice Section Student Research Center is open to help you in your court appointed and CJA cases. The hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The SRC, located in Room 303 of the Criminal Justice Center (The Jack Meyer’s lawyer’s lounge), offers free case law research for court appointed and CJA counsel. The research is provided by law students from local area law schools. Attorneys wishing to request research assistance on a court appointed case can do so either by visiting the lawyer’s lounge directly and meeting with a law student in person or they may submit a research request online at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch?appNum=1. To make sure a law student will be available for your project, first contact the lounge at 3-7538 or 3-7539 (CJC internal only) or phillysrc1@gmail.com to check student availability.


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