Dog Lover Ruined by CT Court System
By Ndzana Seme

NEW HAVEN 07/27/2008 -
“You have the right to remain silent.” This sentence as heard in our courts in the U.S. is viewed by some as a celebration of freedom, as a clear dividing line between a totalitarian society where forced extraction of confessions and torture are common place, and a free society where individuals enjoy human rights.
But the sentence, which is in fact the beginning of the “Miranda Warning”, may also and is very often a view on the surface. For, the same sentence may be used, deliberately or unwittingly, by the legal system as a tool to confine many defendants to silence, most of all when the judge or the court official pursues his recitation with “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

It is even more frightening, above all to indigent and middle class people coping with a difficult daily survival, when the defendant is told the remaining part “
You have the right to speak to an attorney.”

The Miranda rights may be used by the courts to silence and torture defendants

Many of the rights in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, such as habeas corpus, the right to remain silent, and the right to an attorney, are designed to ensure that those accused of a crime are assured of those rights. The Miranda Warning clearly states that one should not speak in the court of law unless you are an initiate who is able to guard against use of your own words against yourself, an attorney in fact.

Since very few people in society are initiated in law schools and since indigent and middle class people are often unable to afford the cost of defense by a competent attorney, most defendants find themselves in a situation where, similar to the cows being taken to the slaughterhouse, are sentenced without the opportunity to say the words they would want to say for their defense.

Thus in many cases, the Miranda Rights end up torturing them, first through the calvary of securing a good lawyer, paying the unvavoidable bail or waiting for lengthy times in jail during pretrial period, and second through the nightmare of plea bargains, trial postponements, long waits in court rooms, denials of jury trials, and court decisions that are far from being objective.

“… the judge shut down my testimony on the witness stand on my own behalf two days in succession. She would not let me say what had happened in my own words,” stated the alleged victim of the Connecticut court depicted in this story. This happened to a college educated white male in a criminal case that is unique in Connecticut’s recent history; which is an excrescence of the U.S. legal system’s unpunished human rights abuses that further reflects the lot of hardships minorities routinely go through in courts.

Majority of the victims of our legal system are minorities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that more than 6 in 10 persons in local jails in 2002 were racial or ethnic minorities. An estimated 40% were black; 19%, Hispanic. The prevalence of imprisonment in 2001 was higher for black males (16.6%) and Hispanic males (7.7%) than for white males (2.6%); for black females (1.7%) and Hispanic females (0.7%) than white females (0.3%). Lifetime chances of a person going to prison are higher for men (11.3%) than for women (1.8%); for blacks (18.6%) and Hispanics (10%) than for whites (3.4%).

However, demographics often fail to show personal tragedies. Even with a 3.4% chance of going to prison and probably because of that, being victimized by the legal system is often life devastating.

William Doriss and the 6th Amendment rights

According to a Harvard study published by the journal
Health Affairs, illness and medical bills caused half of the 1,458,000 personal bankruptcies in 2001. In addition to divorces, cost of health is known as the main cause of whites going through despair and poverty.

Yet, an educated adult white male, a war veteran, a Connecticut-native, a father and a grandfather with no prior criminal record, a senior citizen with a legal and lawful business in the state, was driven to bankruptcy, homelessness, depression and poverty.

Along with his black girlfriend Carolyn, William (Bill) Doriss lived on Daggett Street in the Hill, a New Haven neighborhood then known as one of the most “dangerous” in the entire state as evidenced by its highest rate of police arrests. Doriss operated antiques service-to-the trade business in the tri-state area that provided the family with a middle class level of income.

Bill Doriss also owned two dogs, a Rottweiler called Zeus and a female dog. His girlfriend, his friend Norman Horner and three other friends would eventually often walk the dogs along Daggett Street. The Hill being then a neighborhood with loose, wild dog problem, a crowd of wild dogs would occasionally follow Doriss’ dogs at each walk and he would be questioned by the police several times when there was a dog problem in the area.

Doriss poured his heart out to us during a recent interview and stated that Sunday, November 11, 2000 is the day his life started falling apart.
After having read court documents about his two dog fight cases and held various interviews with William Doriss (we did not hear the other parties and anticipate to do so in the next steps), we wrote this article to highlight potential violations by the Connecticut legal system of Bill Doriss’ individual rights granted him by the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:

In all criminal prosecution, the accused shall enjoy the right to speedy trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

We noted that William Doriss was arrested twice (in November 2000 and July 2001) because of dog fights, was placed under $10,000 bail, was imposed “incompetent” public defenders as he was unable to pay a competent lawyer for his defense, was offered plea bargains by the prosecutor and his public defender to avoid trial, was worn down by trial postponements and days waiting in court rooms, was denied a speedy trial as he was tried 16 months after his second arrest, was not confronted with many witnesses against him, was denied a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and finally was sentenced to two years of incarceration, execution suspended, three years probation with conditions, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2855.

The facts as related by defendant and prosecutor’s witnesses

William Doriss was walking his dogs near the corner of Daggett St and Washington Ave at about 7:30 am. His female dog suddenly got loose and ran towards a big pit bull on 10 Daggett St. The big dog, also loose, immediately attacked his female dog and strongly grabbed the female dog’s entire head in its mouth for over 10 minutes.

While the owners of the loose pit bull dog were just staring, Bill Doriss tried to separate the dogs the best he could and was finally able to free his female dog, which ultimately was badly injured and lost an eye.

Another dog incident occurred on July 25, 2001 at about 9:00 am, while the first dog fight case was still pending in court. Doriss’ Rottweiler dog Zeus jumped from his truck’s wagon, ran and attacked a small Chihuahua dog that Zeus probably confused with squirrels it used to chase.

Bill Doriss quickly intervened and took the Chihuahua dog out of Zeus’ mouth. He tried to resuscitate the dying small dog and he failed.

On the witness stand in November 2002, the prosecutor brought forth witnesses who testified against Bill Doriss, accusing him of having instead encouraged his dog to attack the other dogs each time.

Two of those witnesses, Bethzaida and George Nieves, testified separately in court about the Chihuahua case that they left their 52 Daggett St home on foot at 8:20 a.m. on the day in question to make a 9:00 appointment at Yale-New Haven Hospital. They both testified that they witnessed the accident in front of 66 Daggett St on their way to Yale-New Haven. Bill Doriss had stated that he was not in the neighborhood before around 9:00 am.

Because he was not allowed to confront with the witnesses, the defendant is today only left to say:
“Unfortunately, Mr. DelBarba (the public defender) never asked me what time the accident happened, so the jury was deprived of that important piece of information which would have shown the Nieves's to be liars.”

The arrests

On Monday the 12th, 2000 between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., the doorbell rang and Doriss opened, just to be face to face with police officer Andre Diaz who was standing alongside an individual later known as James Kinsey. Doriss says Kinsey was some kind of a “street person,” always “hanging around”, but he was not living on 10 Daggett St.

Kinsey said,
“That's him.” Diaz asked Doriss for his driver's license. Then the police officer wrote up a summons to New Haven court, with 3 charges on it. Doriss says Officer Diaz did not ask him any questions but did say, upon leaving, “They'll probably throw it out anyway.”

On July 25, 2001, Bill Doriss states that
“at 8:20-8:30 am, I was downtown drinking coffee and reading the newspaper at Willoughby's with my dog Zeus. I arrived home about a minute or two before 9:00 am, and the (dog) accident happened shortly after that.” He adds that “the police report shows I was arrested at 9:40 a.m. I claim that I was arrested between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., probably closer to 9:30, and that 9:40 was the ‘booking’ time at police headquarters.”

Public defenders and offers of plea bargains

After the first dog incident and responding to Diaz’ summons, Bill Doriss made his first appearance in court, just to learn that he was charged on Docket # 495971 with three counts: (1) Failure to restrain an animal from doing injury to another animal, in violation of General Statutes 53-247a; (2) Intentional maiming or torturing of an animal, in violation of General Statutes 53-247b; and (3) Criminal trespass, in violation of General Statutes 53-108 (R. at 13). He noticed that Diaz had lied to him as no charges were thrown out.

The Judge asked defendant William Doriss whether he had a lawyer for his defense and he answered that he didn’t. About his multiple attempts to hire a competent, private lawyer for both cases, Doriss stated the following during our interview:

“I complained to the CCLU (Connecticut Civil Liberties Union) (Attorney Burton) Weinstein refused to take my case, as did the CCLU…I shopped around for an attorney for several years… The fees quoted me for the prior criminal case in New Haven Superior Court, upon which the federal case is based, were in fact $5,000 and $7,500.  For the federal case, which I filed in April, 2005 in Federal District Court, New Haven… The retainer fees quoted me ranged from $30,000 to $100,000. The $100,000 fee came from Robert Rosenthal, N.Y.C., who was part of the legal team which eventually freed Gerald Amirault in the famous Fells Acre Day Care Center case here in Massachusetts. Dorothy Rabinowitz has written brilliantly about this case. So Mr. Rosenthal's credentials were impeccable, and I have spoken with him over the phone several times. But he would not budge on the money. Needless to say, I didn't have anywhere near that kind of money. I couldn't even get the $30,000. My brother, who initially told me he would help me, backpedaled at the last minute. Everybody thought my case was a "lost cause." So far, everybody is right...”

Therefore, he was resigned to claim his constitutional right to a public defender. Public defender services office granted him Mr. Michael Alevy at first for pre-trial motions and hearings. He was later assigned Mr. John DelBarba and Ms. Jennifer Baldwin Nowak as co-chairs for the defense at trial.

Asked about his opinion on Attorney John DelBarba’s performance, Bill Doriss said:

“He has refused repeated telephone, mail, and e-mail attempts by me to communicate with him. I believe he now feels as if he may have screwed up. I do not know this for sure, but I believe my trial was his first, or perhaps an early trial in his career. He was very awkward and not at all sure of himself. The judge ran roughshod over him. He was severely intimidated by her, and I was in shock myself.”

Defendant’ refusal of second plea bargain and the court’s harassing tactics

For the second dog fight case Docket # 01-502506, William Doriss was charged with (1) Two counts of risk of injury to a minor, life and limb, in violation of General Statues 53-21(a)(1); (2) Two additional counts of risk of injury to a minor, health and welfare, in violation of General Statutes 53-21(a)(1); (3) Two counts of failure to restrain an animal from doing injury or damage to the property of another person, in violation of General Statutes, 53-247a; (4) Three counts of intentional maiming or torturing of an animal, in violation of General Statute 53-247b; and (5) Training an animal to engage in fighting, in violation of 53-247c.

After having honored a bail for $10,000.00, even though the bails commissioner recommended only $2,500.00 but the judge went with the prosecutor, he was offered a plea bargain of guilt to avoid trial. This time, because he believed he was innocent and that both incidents were accidents, the defendant rejected any guilty plead and required a speedy trial.

His experience with his prior plea bargain had shown him that he was completely wrong in accepting a guilty plea to an offense he did not commit. He accepted because he was threatened that the prosecutor would prosecute him and he would be found guilty on all counts and be sentenced to jail time.

But he eventually realized that his pleading not guilty was another opportunity for the prosecutor and the court to use the means they have to wear him down in order to force him to ultimately accept the plea offer.

Plea bargaining is the easiest way to dispose of a case. It is believed that plea bargains are systematically offered by both the prosecutor and the public defender to allegedly save court time and State resources.

Since then, the prosecutor enjoyed filing repeated requests for “continuance for good cause”, which the judge automatically granted without really looking at the issues or the excuses. The end results of such repeated postponements of trial is the heavy cost paid by the defendant in terms of removing him from his normal activities, long waits in court, loss of business, anxiety and physical exhaustion.

Williams Doriss resisted all those attempts by the court to forcing him to accept a plea bargain; which cost him enormous loss of business at Uncle Bill’s and ultimately mental depression as court appearances accumulated for both dog incident cases.  In his own words, he says:

“I do not know the exact number, but I believe I made between 20 and 24 pre-trial appearances in the two… cases before the trial began on November 4, 2002... Almost all of those trips to the courthouse were wasted trips where nothing was accomplished, for whatever reason I do not know… For example, Thanksgiving Week, 2001, my undocketed presence was requested three times. I appeared three times. Each and every time I appeared, I was told the prosecutor Elizabeth Bodine was not present and to go home. I was each time given a new court date… I believe the prosecution was trying to harass me and grind me down. I refused to get ground down, and they punished me for it by ‘throwing the book at me’.”

Asked about the reasons for such a pressure made on him, he believes the prosecutor, the judge and his public defender
“were scapegoating (him) for all the other dog cases in the neighborhood.”

Denial of speedy trial

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