Sneaking Suspicions
Archives--June 20-26, 2004

This page includes posts from June 20-26, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

June 25, 2004
Shameless self-promotion

Tonight I posted my latest golf book review, of John Feinstein's Caddy for Life. This is a warm-hearted, frequently wrenching biography of Tom Watson's long-time caddie, who died this spring from ALS.

June 24, 2004
At last, a new tactic

Legislative proposals to increase the minimum wage are among the hardy perennials of nearly every state legislature, as well as Congress.

The arguments for and against such bills are usually well-researched, well-rehearsed, and numbingly repetitive.

Perhaps that why I laughed so hard when I saw the most recent counter-tactic introduced against a minimum wage bill introduced and passed in the Delaware State Senate.

S.B. 22 would increase Delaware's minimum hourly rate for most employees to $7.15 by January 2006, with a 50 cent bump-up to start in January 2005. It easily passed the Democrat-dominated Senate, but faces an uneasy fate in the Republican-dominated House.

This week Wayne Smith, the House majority leader, joined with fellow Republican Joe DiPinto in sponsoring a proposed amendment to the bill.

The wording of H. A. 1 is simply elegant:

In order to effect the wholly positive benefits promised by the sponsors and in order to eliminate the loss of jobs and increase in prices to consumers which always follow government mandated wage increases, the law of supply and demand is hereby repealed.

It's not that this argument is so new, but I really enjoyed seeing the new packaging.

June 24, 2004
Recommended viewing

Tonight we attended a Rehoboth Film Society screening of Norman Jewison's 2003 feature, The Statement.

It's well worth watching. Several performers were first-rate, especially Michael Caine, Alan Bates, and Charlotte Rampling. The storyline itself is a bit jumbled at times, but there are several great set pieces throughout.

June 23, 2004
We're Number 50!

Delaware has a few distinguishing historical characteristics. For example, the state's vehicle license plates proudly announce that it is The First State, commemorating the fact Delaware was the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

Someone once wrote that after that particular achievement, on December 7, 1787, Delawareans celebrated by taking off the next couple centuries.

Nonetheless, we've recently managed to distinguish ourselves once again.

Delaware is now the only state that has not adopted the lower .08 blood alcohol level for its DUI laws.

Depending on one's commitment to federalism principles, this is either a good or a bad thing.

There are consequences for this decision, of course. As pointed out in the News-Journal editorial today, not dropping down to .08 means a loss of millions of dollars of federal transportation dollars each year. By 2010, the annual penalty in foregone Federal funds will be about equal to what Delaware earns from a penny of gasoline tax. 

At some point, the need for this money may override the arguments used by the two state senators who are taking the lead in blocking legislation to bring Delaware in line with its 49 sister states. Otherwise, any such reform effort may depend on a few retirements.

June 22, 2004
Let’s go to the videotape—what? What do you mean, it’s gone?

As noted in prior posts, videotaped evidence taken by the police offers significant opportunities for fair hearings for both the prosecution and the defense. The ability to observe direct photographic proof of what actually happened during a police stop can eliminate false claims of police brutality, convince some defendants that a plea bargain is the best available option, and back up a claim that the cops went too far.

As with other human endeavors, however, these systems are not foolproof. This week a Delaware Common Pleas Court judge dealt with the consequences of a police screw-up involving videotaped evidence.

David Shugard was arrested and charged with DUI and with driving with a broken windshield. As usually happens in such cases, the original basis for the stop allegedly arose when the police officer following behind Shugard noted some erratic driving. The initial contact with Shugard, captured on videotape, eventually led to a series of field tests for sobriety. Based on his performances, Shugard was placed into custody and charged. 

Shugard’s attorney filed a pre-trial discovery request for the videotape. According to an undisputed proffer from the AG’s Office, however, by that time a fellow police officer had already used the same tape for another case, literally erasing the evidence.

After briefing and argument, the magistrate suppressed the state’s use of the arresting officer’s direct testimony instead of the missing videotape. The state then appealed the magistrate’s decision to the next level.

The potential importance of the lost videotape was not lost on Judge Rosemary Beauregard:

…[A] video recording captures a chain of events and is more than just a single piece of evidence. More importantly, in DUI prosecutions, those events captured by the in-car camera are often the bulk of the State’s case. Destroying discoverable evidence so central to the State’s case severely prejudices the Defendant. The in-car camera presumptively captured the Defendant’s alleged impaired driving prior to the stop as well as the sobriety tests that followed. The contents of the videotape would have been objective evidence and may have been used by Shugard to directly rebut the testimony of the officer. Depriving Shugard of such a central piece of evidence, which he was entitled to have, is significantly prejudicial.

Nonetheless, the judge also recognized that the testimony from the police officer could be sufficient to support a conviction. After all, that’s how most DUI cases were heard before the in-car video systems were installed. The real problem was whether to uphold the evidence suppression decision, where there was no evidence of intentional misconduct. As she saw it, the penalty imposed by the magistrate was too harsh:

The proper remedy contemplated by [prior case law] when the State loses evidence in its possession is to grant the Defendant an “inference” that the lost evidence would be exculpatory in nature if available, and to require the State to stipulate to that fact. [citation omitted]. ... If it is a bench trial, as in this case, the judge must balance the exculpatory inference against any secondary evidence offered by the State. Here, the officer’s testimony regarding his personal observations is secondary evidence. The appropriate action would be to hear his testimony, and balance it against the exculpatory presumption…. [T]his inference in many cases, especially in cases factually similar to the case at bar, may very well undermine the State’s ability to prove its cases beyond a reasonable doubt.  

The judge then remanded the case back to the magistrate for further proceedings.

This is a fair result. The defendant doesn’t receive a windfall based on police evidence-handling errors, and the state receives an appropriate warning about the potential consequences of less than careful conduct.

[Full disclosure--Judge Beauregard is a friend. It's nice to note how she applies her practical approach to her work.]

June 21, 2004
Noting the beginning and the end of the day

Something about our house has made it the place to be for a small flock of mourning doves for the last several years.

I think it's the roof. The pitch (7/12) is a bit steep compared to most others, and the house sits relatively high in the neighborhood. That's an extremely tentative assessment, not least of which because there is less than 5 feet of elevation change throughout, and the highest point anywhere is only about 26 feet above sea level.

On the other hand, when you're a dove looking for a safe place to hang out between feedings, this may be the best alternative.

And when one compares the sound they make to the potential local options for other visiting flocks, such as crows and vultures, we're glad they're here.

June 20, 2004
Not that hungry, thanks very much.

Fathers' Day this year included an enjoyable visit from older brother.

As often happens, the conversation turned to potential menu items, with his own special spin on the topic.

We were out on the boat with my wife and father, on a gorgeous sunny day that felt more like late September than late June. As we trolled slowly into Herring Creek from Rehoboth Bay, we came across a few active osprey nests. The parents were watching carefully over their newly chicks, which appeared to be about halfway to adult size.

An osprey's diet is almost entirely fish, so we quickly agreed that eating one of these birds presented a challenge for the potential gourmet.

Or as my brother put it, "They're just sushi with feathers."


Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004