Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Claus von Bulow Case

New Trial

Rumors started floating out of the courthouse within days that the von Bülow team was going to win. But it took seven months for the justices to make a decision.

The high court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial on two grounds: first, the Kuh notes should have been given to the defense as well as to the prosecution; and second, the state police violated the 4th Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches when they sent some of the pills to a state lab for testing. The black bag itself could stay in, the court ruled. Alexander and Eddie had conducted a private search.

The chief justice wrote in his concurring opinion that "the facts surrounding Count I (the first coma) at most support a conclusion that the defendant acted in an unhusbandlike, rather than a criminal manner." He agreed that the second charge should be retried, but argued for dismissing the first count altogether.

The decision said that withholding the Kuh notes created an "injustice and hardship to the defendant" and its effect was to "block the flow of potentially relevant evidence that may have been vital to his defense." Interestingly, the same court found that, while Kuh should have turned over his notes, there was nothing wrong with him acting as a private prosecutor.

The illegal search ruling was troubling for the prosecution. Because of it, the next jurors would not hear anything about a single pill found to contain amytal, a rapid-acting sedative and hypnotic, or 31 capsules of Dalmane, an anti-insomnia drug. Overdoses of Dalmane could cause anything from drowsiness to coma.

There would also be no testimony about lidocaine, a local anesthetic, found in the metal box next to the black bag, or a clear glass ampoule found in the black bag. The ampoule contained morphine and codeine, according to the state toxicologist.

In his closing arguments in the first case, Famiglietti said "one of the capsules which was found inside the Dalmane bottle... is marked secobarbital [but] actually contains not only secobarbital, but amobarbital and cyclizine. I can't see if that drug belonged to Martha [Sunny] von Bülow, why she would take a capsule and mix in some other drugs with it. It is only consistent with the surreptitious or the secreted administration of drugs on the part of another person."

Based on the Supreme Court's decision, the next prosecutor would not be able to use that argument because he or she would not be able to say what type of drugs were found in the bag.

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