A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that threw out the conviction of a former nurse at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph, for sexually assaulting an emergency room patient.
David Lall was tried twice in Berrien County Trial Court on charges stemming from the alleged 2004 incident.
The use of certain evidence by the prosecution in the second exposed Lall to double jeopardy, violating his constitutional rights, the courts held.
In February, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati affirmed an order releasing Lall from custody and barring his retrial on a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell in March 2013 ordered the entry of an unconditional writ freeing Lall, who in 2006 was convicted of first-degree CSC and sentenced to 56-112 months in prison.
Bell is a judge in the District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
The Michigan Attorney General's office appealed, resulting in the appeals court's affirmation of Bell's decision.
Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Wild said the attorney general does not plan further appeal. A trial court order vacating Lall's conviction is to be entered, she said.
Lall petitioned the federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus in 2009, claiming that his constitutional protection against double jeopardy had been violated.
Lall was charged in an Aug. 21, 2004, incident in which a woman claimed he drugged her, then sexually assaulted her as she drifted in and out of consciousness.
During his first trial, a jury acquitted Lall of delivery of a controlled substance with intent to commit sexual assault.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a charge of first-degree CSC, and he was retried on that charge in 2006 and found guilty.
After the first trial, Judge Alfred Butzbaugh, who heard the case, held that double jeopardy barred the prosecution from retrying it on the theory that the sexual penetration was in conjunction with another felony, delivery of Valium to the victim.
But the judge said the prosecution was not prevented from arguing that Lall delivered Valium to the victim without her consent under other theories of first-degree CSC, which he used force or coercion, or that she was incapacitated or physically helpless.
The jury in the second trial found Lall guilty, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
The appeals court rejected Lall's double jeopardy argument and found that the jury in the first trial could have acquitted him on the drug charge for reasons other than the factual conclusion that he did not administer Valium without the victim's consent.
Lall contended that the prosecution's introduction of evidence in the second trial that he administered a drug to the victim without her consent was double jeopardy because he had been acquitted of that charge in the first trial.
A federal magistrate judge conducted a lengthy review of the case and concluded that Butzbaugh's factual findings after the first trial were reasonable.
But the Michigan appeals court findings were "fantastic and wholly unsupported in the record of the case as it was actually tried," the magistrate judge concluded.
U.S. District Judge Bell agreed that the appeals court acted unreasonably and ordered Lall's release.
A guilty verdict to a charge of first-degree CSC in the second trial, under the prosecution's theory of the victim's mental incapacitation, required the jury to decide a fact of which Lall had been acquitted in the first trial, the federal courts held.
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