Is it really true that one should never talk to police? While many wish to speak to police to “clear” themselves of suspicion, a lot can go wrong, so most attorneys advise their clients to remain silent. Exonerations certainly highlight the need for vigilance to avoid becoming wrongly convicted. We now know that many wrongful convictions are the result of law enforcement’s inaccurate statements from unrecorded interviews, or coerced confessions, or twisted words. There are many strong reasons to remain silent, and popular videos warn people to protect themselves. It’s a basic right that should certainly be exercised.
But, please understand that your silence can be used against you in today’s corrupted justice system. The Jason Young case illustrates this. A mistake on the part of Young’s attorneys resulted in the jury being told that he had ignored two civil complaints launched against him during the course of a murder investigation. Responding would have forced him to waive his 5th amendment right. At the advice of his attorney, he ignored the complaints because he was under investigation for the murder of his wife. Please read here to understand how these legal maneuvers pushed him into a corner. He continues to pay for his choice to remain silent, as he lost his recent bid for a new trial.
November 3, 2006 — Michelle Young found murdered in her home
2008 — Michelle’s family filed wrongful death suit, child custody suit against Young. Young did not respond.
December 15, 2009 — Jason Young arrested for the murder of Michelle Young
June 2011 — Trial — Mistrial declared — Jurors voted 8: not guilty, 4: guilty
March 2012 — Trial 2 — State introduced inadmissible evidence per NC statute 1-149 — Guilty verdict
April 1, 2014 — NC Court of Appeals grants Young a new trial citing that Judge Stephens abused his discretion by allowing the civil suit testimony.
August 21, 2015 — NC Supreme Court reverses CoA decision citing that his attorneys failed to preserve his grounds for appeal based on statute 1-149, as they never cited it in court.
June 15, 2017 — MAR hearing for ineffective assistance of counsel for attorneys’ failure to research inclusion of civil case, failure to properly object to its inclusion.
August 29, 2017 — Judge Ridgeway’s decision denying Young a new trial.
There is a lot to the case, but understand that there was no evidence connecting Young to the murder. There was a lot of unsupported circumstantial evidence, (much of which has been completely refuted on this blog site and in my book) and the state’s weak case resulted in an 8-4 vote for acquittal and a mistrial.
The prosecution used unlawful tactics to ensure a conviction in trial two. First, they asserted that Young’s silence was proof of his guilt — that surely he would have responded to the civil complaints if he was innocent. They stated that he had much to lose — custody of his daughter and four-million dollars in life insurance by maintaining his silence. But remember that he was following the advice of his attorney to refrain from talking during an ongoing investigation. Young hoped that police would solve the crime and absolve him of any involvement, and he could then regain custody of his child. He was using common sense and refusing to answer questions, as was his right.
Secondly, the prosecution elicited severely prejudicial testimony from a witness who stated that Judge Stephens (the very judge presiding over the murder trial) had declared Jason Young the slayer in a default judgment after he failed to respond to the wrongful death lawsuit.
Everyone knows that a jury is never to consider silence of the accused as proof of guilt, but the prosecution presented it, the judge allowed it, and the defense failed to properly object to it. Opinions of the judge about the case are also prohibited, yet the jury heard that the judge believed he was guilty of murder in the wrongful death suit.
As a result, Young was convicted . . . and is now immersed in a lengthy appeal process to undo the injustice.
The subject of the appeal has been based on a long standing statute that forbids the use of civil case information to assert the truth of the matter presented — to prove that he’s guilty of the murder.
No pleading can be used in a criminal prosecution against the party as proof of a fact admitted or alleged in it.
The reason it’s forbidden is because the threshold of proof in a civil case is low. Jason’s trial attorneys failed to cite statute 1-149 in their objection to the prejudicial civil testimony. It was a big mistake that they readily admit. The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the conviction citing that the judge abused his discretion by allowing the testimony. Unfortunately, the NC Supreme Court later reversed the decision, stating that the trial attorneys failed to properly preserve Young’s right to appeal since they never cited the statute in their objection. Note: If your attorney messes up, you will be the one to suffer the consequences. How many average citizens would know anything about a statute? Most people simply trust that their attorney has it covered. Chances are they don’t.
The Supreme Court sent the remainder of Young’s appeal issues back to the Superior court. In June, Judge Ridgeway heard arguments based on the same subject, but this time it was about Young’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and now, there’s a loophole that’s being manipulated. There are permissible exceptions to 1-149 which allow portions of civil case records, as long as it’s not used to assert the truth of the matter.
One of the exceptions is impeachment. If for example the accused makes one statement at a civil trial and a contradictory statement at a criminal trial, it is permissible to point out that inconsistency. This would be a permitted exception to 1-149. However, in the Young case, the prosecution never cited that they were presenting the civil testimony to impeach Young. And in fact, they are not able to claim they are using it for impeachment purposes because Young did not testify at the second trial.
So, what was their reason? At the Court of Appeals hearing, the government claimed they brought in the civil testimony because Young testified at his first trial and described specific details about his alibi. They have no way to prove he was being dishonest. They hated that he remained silent all that time . . . that he ignored the civil suits . . . that he waited until he had all the state’s evidence before speaking. But that’s his absolute right to do so. SO, they claim they used the civil testimony to illustrate that “See! If all he had to do was explain those minute details about his alibi, he had NO reason to remain silent by ignoring the civil complaints. His silence must be an indication of guilt!” There is no legal exemption of Statute 1-149 that permits such testimony.
Further, the testimony about the trial judge’s opinion of Young’s guilt in the civil matter IS clearly offered to assert the truth of the accusation. How could it be anything but that?
In my opinion, Judge Ridgeway was wrong in his opinion. He stated ” The admission of the civil pleadings was consistent with the Supreme Court’s explanation of N.C. General Statute 1-149 — the civil pleadings and evidence relating thereto was probative for impeachment purposes of defendant’s testimony at his first trial, to discredit his alibi, and to raise questions concerning defendant’s conduct in the several years following the murder.” Again, they can’t use ones silence as impeachment.
The case will now go back to the North Carolina Court of Appeal. I am hopeful they will find that the ineffective counsel claim is valid, and it’s so disturbing that all of this could have been avoided if public officials would behave in an ethical manner, instead of breaking the rules to “win.”