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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Supreme Court upholds disturbing the peace conviction

The Supreme Court issued Commonwealth v. Duan Sheng Hong, which affirmed Duan Sheng Hong’s conviction for disturbing the peace. The High Court addressed two issues: (1) the Commonwealth’s post-discovery, pre-trial disclosure of letters written by Hong, and (2) the trial court’s admission of the letters and testimony of an FBI agent into evidence.

Hong argued for reversal on the ground that the Commonwealth’s production of letters about a month before trial violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Brady requires the government to give a defendant evidence that would help his or her case. Hong further argued that the court failed to consider the prejudicial and probative impact of both the letters and the FBI agent’s testimony, violating Commonwealth Rule of Evidence 403, which requires courts to weigh the probative and prejudicial effect of evidence before its admission.

The Commonwealth disagreed. It maintained the letters, which were written by Hong himself, were not helpful to his defense and that, in any event, Hong had adequate time to review the letters before trial. Therefore, no Brady violation occurred. The Commonwealth also asserted the trial court considered the prejudicial and probative effects of the letters and testimony.

The High Court agreed with the Commonwealth. The Court held (1) no Brady violation occurred because Hong had over three weeks to review the six pages of letters he wrote, and (2) no error transpired because the trial court implicitly considered the prejudicial and probative impact of the letters and FBI agent’s testimony.

The Supreme Court’s full opinion is Commonwealth v. Duan Sheng Hong, 2013 MP 19, and can be found at http://www.justice.gov.mp/. (NMI Judiciary)


…and affirms sexual abuse of minor conviction

The Commonwealth Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Jonathan M. Diaz, a former teacher at Tinian Junior High, for three counts of sexual abuse of a minor who had been a student at the school. Diaz had appealed his conviction, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction and the bench trial violated his federal constitutional right to a jury trial.

Diaz’s sufficiency argument centered around two issues: First, that the government had not proven that sexual abuse occurred and, second, that Diaz was not in a position of authority in relation to the minor. The High Court disagreed on both points. The Court found sufficient evidence of sexual abuse because the minor had testified that she had had “sex” with Diaz and later clarified she had had “sexual intercourse” with Diaz.

The Supreme Court also found Diaz was in a position of authority in relation to a minor because he was a teacher at the same school as the minor. It did not matter that the two met during the summer or that Diaz was a junior high teacher while she was a high school student because Diaz held coercive power over the minor by virtue of his position.

Diaz’s final argument focused on whether the Commonwealth’s system of having bench trials for lesser offenses violates the federal Constitution. The High Court determined it did not. In doing so, the justices highlighted that the question has long been settled. Commonwealth case law has consistently found the bench trial system constitutionally acceptable for nearly three decades while federal case law has permitted the system for over a century.

The Supreme Court’s full opinion is Commonwealth v. Diaz, 2013 MP 20. (NMI Judiciary)

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