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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Judge denies motion to suppress Crisostomo’s footprints evidence

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has denied murder suspect Joseph A. Crisostomo’s motion to suppress the footprints evidence the CNMI government seized from him at the Department of Corrections.

In an order on Wednesday, Camacho ruled that Crisostomo’s Sixth Amendment rights were not violated when the Commonwealth took his bare footprints without the presence of his lawyer, Janet H. King.
“The court finds that taking footprints is akin to taking fingerprints, blood samples, or hair samples and, as such, is not a critical stage of the criminal proceedings at which the presence of counsel is constitutionally guaranteed,” the judge said.

Just as with a fingerprint or handwriting sample, Camacho said that Crisostomo will have the opportunity at trial to challenge the evidence gathered during the footprint-taking proceeding, by way of cross-examination or the introduction of contradictory evidence.

Camacho also ruled that assistant attorney general Brian Flaherty, who participated in the footprint collection process, may continue to represent the Commonwealth in this case.

The judge said he reviewed the video recording of the footprint collection process and that he is satisfied that Flaherty’s involvement does not make him a necessary witness at trial.

Crisostomo is facing charges in the kidnapping and murder of bartender Emerita Romero in February 2012.

According to court records, the Commonwealth obtained a search warrant on Dec. 23, 2013, for a set of weight bearing footprints to be collected from Crisostomo.

The following day, police detective Simon Manacop served the warrant on Crisostimo at DOC. He stated that the footprints collected would be compared with barefoot print evidence found within the La Fiesta crime scene, where Romero’s body was found on Feb. 7, 2012.

King was unable to attend the footprinting procedure. However, after speaking with King on the phone, Crisostomo agreed to have his footprint taken.

Aside from Manacop and Flaherty, present at the time were three detectives and two investigators from the Office of the Attorney General’s Criminal Division.

King objected to the process. Asserting it was a violation of her client’s Sixth Amendment rights, King asked the court to suppress the footprint evidence.

The OAG argued that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were not violated because the collection of footprints is not a critical stage of the criminal proceeding, and thus the footprint evidence should not be suppressed.

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to the assistance of counsel and applies in the CNMI.

In denying Crisostomo’s motion to suppress, Camacho said he heard ample testimony concerning the procedure used to obtain the suspect’s bare footprints and reviewed the video recording taken during the process.

Camacho said the procedure used to take Crisostomo’s footprints did not include any kind of interrogation, nor did it contain any elements of unfair suggestibility.

The jury trial of Crisostomo will start on April 7, 2014.

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