COURT DISCOVERS SIXTH AMENDMENT
Washington City Paper – With crack and marijuana stashed in his pocket, Kenneth Millard and some friends scattered when an unmarked police car rolled into the parking lot outside his apartment building in Southeast. The cops were looking for someone else, but Millard fell into the trap.
After bolting through a cut in the woods and stumbling down a steep hill, Millard bounced off the side of another police car blocking his escape route. He dodged and weaved down Jasper Road SE until two officers tackled and cuffed him on the pavement. Police said a Colt .22 handgun, loaded with 11 rounds, flew out of Millard’s waistband during the chase and landed near a manhole.
When officers caught Millard that February night in 2005, they found 10 plastic bags filled with crack cocaine and marijuana in the right front pocket of his coveralls, according to court records. Millard’s lengthy rap sheet was growing longer, and he was heading back to jail.
At his trial in 2006, the jury convicted Millard on five drug and firearm charges, and the judge sentenced him to four-and-a-half years in prison.
But he just caught a break.
The D.C. Court of Appeals has reversed all of Millard’s convictions, wiping them off his record with a unanimous decision in March.
After overturning one of its own earlier precedents, the highest court in the District has reversed convictions in at least 14 cases involving drug dealers and others caught with drugs. The reversals hinge on an important constitutional issue stemming from eight words tucked in the Sixth Amendment known as the Confrontation Clause. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused has the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
In Millard’s case, the “missing” witness was a chemist from the Drug Enforcement Administration whose drug analysis report stated that the baggies in Millard’s pocket contained cocaine and marijuana. Because the analyst didn’t appear in court, Millard’s drug convictions were reversed, but the firearm convictions were tossed out, too, because of weak evidence and their connection to the drug case.
The legal fight playing out in D.C. will be spreading across the nation after a Supreme Court decision in June in a case with striking similarities to Millard’s. The 5-4 ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts could result in thousands of reversed convictions and dismissed drug, drunken-driving, and other charges, creating the potential for chaos in the justice system.