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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two witnesses in Crisostomo’s case OK’d to testify via video conference

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho allowed yesterday the CNMI government’s witness in Virginia and another in Guam to testify using online video conferencing once the trial of Joseph A. Crisostomo starts.

Crisostomo faces charges in the killing of bartender Emerita Romero.

Camacho denied the government’s request that the testimony of Federal Bureau of Investigation technician David Snyder, who is based in Quantico, Virginia, and Motorola technician Gerald Hodges, who is based in Guam, be taken by deposition before Crisostomo’s trial.

Camacho, however, granted the government’s request to get the testimony of Snyder and Hodges using online video conferencing during trial.

He said Crisostomo’s right to confrontation will be fully protected with the use of video conferencing to take the testimony of the two witnesses.

Camacho determined that the government has not met the burden of demonstrating that there is an exceptional circumstance in this case that would best be addressed by taking depositions.

In the government’s motion for deposition or online video, assistant attorney general Brian Flaherty and then chief prosecutor Shelli Neal disclosed that they intend to call Snyder and Hodges, who were involved in obtaining and enhancing the recording of a 911 call allegedly made by Romero.

The government argued that the anticipated amount of testimony provided by Synder and Hodges does not warrant the expense in time and resources it would take to transport these two to Saipan for the trial.

The government asserted that this is an exceptional circumstance that justifies the taking of their testimony by deposition.

Allowing the two witnesses to testify remotely at trial, the government said, is necessary to support the important public policies of judicial expediency and convenience to witnesses.

The government also expressed concern that the FBI will no longer be willing to extend assistance to the Commonwealth if each individual who provides assistance is required to travel from Virginia to the CNMI to testify at trial.

Crisostomo, through counsel Janet H. King, opposed the government’s request. King argued that none of these public policies are important enough to override the defendant’s confrontation rights.

The hearing on the motions was held last Jan. 24.

In his order yesterday, Camacho said that Rule 15 of the Commonwealth Rules of Criminal Procedure allows the testimony of a witness to be taken by deposition and preserved for trial when such action is required by “exceptional circumstances” and is “in the interest of justice.”

Camacho said the government cites the expenditure of time and money as the exceptional circumstance supporting its request.

However, the judge pointed out, under Rule 15, the defendant has a right to attend depositions.

Camacho said it would be equally, if not more, expensive to transport the defendant, his attorney, and attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General to Guam and Virginia to conduct the depositions.

Camacho said that testimony by video conference is more protective of the defendant’s confrontation rights than a videotaped deposition, especially if the defendant is not present at the deposition.

Thus, Camacho added, he finds that the interests of justice are not served by ordering testimony by deposition.

The judge said the reliability of the proposed testimony is assured because, through video conferencing, Snyder and Hodges will be placed under oath, subject to cross-examination, and may be observed by the jury.

Camacho said he also finds that allowing these off-island technical witnesses to provide testimony remotely is necessary to further the important public policy of the fair administration of justice.

“By allowing expert witnesses to testify via video conferencing, both the prosecution and defendant can avail themselves of experts and professional services not previously accessible due to distance and cost,” he said.

Camacho said advancements in technology have made such services available to the CNMI and taking advantage of these opportunities is necessary to further the public policy of the fair and expedient administration of justice.

Crisostomo’s trial will start on April 7, 2014.

Romero’s body was found at the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque on Feb. 7, 2012, two days after she was last seen boarding a car near her house in Garapan.

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