Category Archives: Prosecutorial Misconduct

Exonerations On the Rise

 

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News reporters Alanna Durkin Richer  and Curt Anderson of the Associated Press wrote an article describing how last year, 68 out of 157 exonerations were cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty. In Trial or Deal? Some Driven to Plead Guilty, Later Exonerated the article describes the difficult dilemma of many defendants in the criminal justice system: either accept the Prosecutor’s plea offer or risk facing much harsher consequences if found guilty at trial.

Apparently, more than 300 of the more than 1,900 people who have been exonerated in the U.S. since 1989 pleaded guilty, according to an estimate by the National Registry of Exonerations. The registry is maintained by the University of Michigan Law School using public information, such as court documents and news articles.

Last year, 68 out of 157 exonerations were cases in which the defendant pleaded guilty, more than any previous year. The numbers reflect an overwhelmed criminal justice system with public defenders taking more cases than they can handle; as well as court officials who try saving the government money with plea bargains compared with costly trials.

The data is even more daunting. Last year, more than 97 percent of criminal defendants sentenced in federal court pleaded guilty compared with about 85 percent more than 30 years ago, according to data collected by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The increase in guilty pleas has been a gradual rise over the last three decades.

No one knows exactly how many innocent people are behind bars for pleading guilty. Sociologists have estimated that between 2 and 8 percent of people who plead guilty are in fact innocent.

The article emphasized how defendants who were exonerated after pleading guilty often have prior criminal records and come from poor backgrounds and are not well-educated. They’re typically represented by public defenders juggling dozens of cases in a day.

Many exonerees were cleared of wrongdoing by taking a new look at DNA evidence in blood or other body fluids, according to the University of Michigan database. Some were the victims of prosecutorial misconduct, while shoddy police work was to blame in other cases — such as a mistaken FBI hair analysis or falsified fingerprint evidence. Some falsely confessed because of improper interrogation techniques while others maintained their innocence throughout.

Making the matter worse, it’s not just prosecutors and defense attorneys who seek to cut plea deals. The article said many judges prefer that route, too. Judges who resolve cases rather than let them languish tend to be seen as more successful. Similarly, explained the article, prosecutors who close cases tend to rise faster in their careers.

My opinion? People facing criminal charges MUST seek experienced defense counsel to defend their rights, investigate the facts, interview witnesses, argue pretrial motions, put their clients in the best light possible and conduct an active; fair trial when necessary.

Pleas contact my office as soon as possible if you, a friend or family member is facing criminal charges. The epidemic of increased exonerations due to injustice in our courts as well as our incoming administration’s trampling of individual rights shows a growing need for competent representation. Put simply, defendants should not plead guilty to criminal charges they are not guilty of.

Premeditated Murder Unproved.

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In State v. Hummel, the WA Court of Appeals Division I reversed a defendant’s conviction for first degree murder due to insufficient evidence of premeditation. It reasoned that proof of a strong motive to kill the victim does not, in itself, establish planning or the method of killing. Because the prosecutor did not request the court instruct the jury on murder in the second degree, the Court dismissed the case with prejudice.

The facts are interesting. Two juries in Whatcom County Superior Court found defendant Bruce Allen Hummel guilty of killing his wife, Alice Hummel. Both were retired Alaska teachers. Their two daughters lived on Alabama Hill in Bellingham in the early 1990s. This case was heavily covered in the Bellingham Herald.

The story begins with Mr. Hummel informing their children that their mother decided to move away and leave the family. Over the years, the girls continued to receive letters and gifts in the mail from Alice. Bruce Hummel told the girls Alice had earned a promotion and moved to Texas.

In 2001, the girls reported their mother missing in 2001. They recalled the strange circumstances of their mom’s disappearance. Bellingham police detectives found only traces of their mother’s existence: a current driver’s license from Alaska, monthly disability deposits from a teachers’ retirement system in Alaska, and withdrawals from a bank account in Alaska. Once detectives confronted him with $340,000 in disability checks he had collected under Alice’s name, Mr. Hummel admitted Mrs. Hummel had been dead for years. He claimed she committed suicide by cutting her wrists. Her body was never found.

Hummel was convicted of 12 counts of wire fraud in federal court, for the theft of the disability checks, then charged with murder in the first degree in Whatcom County.

At his first trial in August 2009, Hummel of first-degree murder in August 2009. He appealed as he started serving a sentence of 45 years in prison. The Washington State Court of Appeals found, in 2012, that that there was sufficient evidence to prove the case, but that Hummel’s rights were violated during voir dire, when potential jurors were questioned in private about sensitive issues in their personal lives. (Many other similar, serious cases have been overturned in Washington for not undertaking what is called the Bone-Club analysis, essentially a checklist to avoid violating a defendant’s right to a public trial).

At his second trial in May 2014, Hummel was again convicted of first-degree murder. This time he was sentenced to 26 years in prison, a shorter term because the Court of Appeals found his federal crimes should not count toward his criminal history because there was no comparable state law to federal wire fraud in 1990.

Hummel appealed with assistance from the Washington Appellate Project. Hummel argued there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction because the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the essential element of premeditation.
The Court of Appeals agreed. It reasoned that no trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Hummel killed Alice with premeditated intent to commit murder in the first degree. Reversal for insufficient evidence is “equivalent to an acquittal” and bars retrial for the same offense.  Also, the Court reasoned that the Double Jeopardy Clause forbids a second trial for the purpose of affording the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence which it failed to muster in prior proceedings. Because the prosecutor did not request the court instruct the jury on the lesser included crime of murder in the second degree, the Court of Appeals held it could not remand to enter a judgment on murder in the second degree.
The Court of Appeals reversed and vacate the conviction for premeditated murder in the first degree, and remand the case back to Superior Court to dismiss the conviction with prejudice.
My opinion? This isn’t over. I’m certain the State shall appeal to the WA Supreme Court.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

“Voodoo Science” Debunked

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Interesting article from the Wall Street Journal written Alex Kozinski , a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals since 1985, discusses how the U.S. has relied on flawed forensic evidence techniques for decades, resulting in false convictions.

According to Judge Kozinski, the White House released a report that fundamentally changes the way many criminal trials are conducted. The new study from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) examines the scientific validity of forensic-evidence techniques—DNA, fingerprint, bitemark, firearm, footwear and hair analysis. It concludes that virtually all of these methods are flawed, some irredeemably so.

The study indicates that only the most basic form of DNA analysis is scientifically reliable. Some forensic methods have significant error rates and others are rank guesswork. “The prospects of developing bitemark analysis into a scientifically valid method” are low, according to the report. In plain terms, says Judge Kozinski, “Bitemark analysis is about as reliable as astrology.” Yet many unfortunate defendants languish in prison based on bad science.

Even more disturbing, the article states that forensic scientists – who are often members of the prosecution team – sometimes see their job as helping to get a conviction. This can lead them to fabricate evidence or commit perjury, says Judge Kozinski. Many forensic examiners are poorly trained and supervised. They sometimes overstate the strength of their conclusions by claiming that the risk of error is “vanishingly small,” “essentially zero,” or “microscopic.” The report calls such claims “scientifically indefensible,” but jurors generally take them as gospel when presented by government witnesses who are certified as scientific experts.

Apparently, problems with forensic evidence have plagued the criminal-justice system for years.

The PCAST report recommends developing standards for validating forensic methods, training forensic examiners and making forensic labs independent of police and prosecutors. “All should be swiftly implemented,” says Judge Kozinski, who adds that preventing the incarceration and execution of innocent persons is as good a use of tax dollars as any:

“Among the more than 2.2 million inmates in U.S. prisons and jails, countless may have been convicted using unreliable or fabricated forensic science. The U.S. has an abiding and unfulfilled moral obligation to free citizens who were imprisoned by such questionable means. If your son or daughter, sibling or cousin, best friend or spouse, was the victim of voodoo science, you would expect no less.”

My opinion? Jurors rely HEAVILY on forensic evidence in their deliberations. And it makes sense: it’s a huge task to weigh evidence and sift through the rhetoric of arguments from the prosecution and defense. Cold, hard, quantifiable and scientific facts make it easy for jurors to render decisions.

Consequently, the information from this report is both good and bad news. It’s good because the truth about  “voodoo science” in the courtroom has finally surfaced to the mainstream. It’s bad because hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people are convicted of crimes and serve years in prison based on unreliable evidence for crimes they didn’t commit.

Fortunately, there’s hope. According to Judge Kozinski, the report “provides a road map for defense lawyers to challenge prosecution experts.” Excellent.

Competent attorneys should immediately gain an understanding of challenging prosecution experts who bring voodoo science in the courtroom. It’s the only way to shed light on this grim subject and bring justice to our courts.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecutors Must Reveal Toxicologist Identities in DUI Trials.

In State v. Salgado-Mendoza, the WA Court of Appeals Division II reversed a defendant’s DUI conviction because the Prosecutor failed to give Defense Counsel the name of their Toxicologist expert witness before trial.

On the evening of August 11, 2012, a Washington State Patrol trooper observed Mr. Salgado-Mendoza driving his vehicle and struggling to stay in his lane of travel. The trooper stopped the vehicle. Salgado-Mendoza was investigated and arrested for DUI. His BAC test showed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.103 and 0.104; which is over the .o8 limit.

Several months before his trial date on the DUI charge, Salgado-Mendoza requested that the Prosecutor disclose information about any and all expert witnesses the Prosecutor intended to call at trial. This regularly happens when defense attorneys argue motions to compel. The Prosecutor attempted to contact the toxicology lab by phone to narrow the list of possible toxicology witnesses, but was unsuccessful.

Three days before trial, Salgado-Mendoza filed a motion requesting that the court dismiss the case or exclude the toxicologist’s evidence based on governmental misconduct.

On the afternoon before trial, the State received a list of three toxicologists, one of whom might testify the next day. The State provided this list to Salgado-Mendoza.

When the parties appeared for trial on May 9, Salgado-Mendoza re-argued his motion to exclude the toxicologist’s testimony or to dismiss the DUI charge because the State had still not disclosed which toxicologist would testify. The Court denied the motion. Salgado-Mendoza was found guilty at trial.

Salgado-Mendoza appealed his conviction to the superior court. Finding that the district court had abused its discretion by (1) not excluding the toxicologist’s testimony due to the State’s violation of the discovery rules and mismanagement of the case in failing to disclose its witness prior to trial, and (2) excluding the defense expert’s testimony about the breath-alcohol testing machine, the superior court reversed the DUI conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial. The State appealed to the WA Court of Appeals.

Ultimately, the WA Court of Appeals held that the Prosecutor violated the discovery rules under CrRLJ 4.7(d) by failing to take reasonable steps to obtain the name of its witness in a timely manner. It reasoned that the Prosecutor had an obligation to attempt to acquire and then disclose that information from the toxicology lab. Consequently, the Prosecutor’s failure to provide the defense with a specific witness’s name before trial is not reasonable. This, in turn, amounted to governmental misconduct under CrRLJ 8.3(b).

Furthermore, the Court held that Prosecutor’s misconduct was prejudicial and that the exclusion of the toxicologist’s testimony was the proper remedy. The Court emphasized this remedy was necessary because the issue was an issue of public importance:

“On retrial, the State should ensure that it provides the name and address of the person or persons it intends to call at trial or comply with CrRLJ 4.7(d) when preparing for the new trial.”

My opinion? Good decision. It is extremely difficult to provide a competent and adequate defense when Prosecutors do not follow the rules of discovery.

For those who don’t know, a Prosecutor must follow many procedures when trying cases. The following procedures expedite a fair trial and protect the constitutional rights of the defendant: (i) promote a fair and expeditious disposition of the charges, whether by diversion, plea, or trial; (ii) provide the defendant with sufficient information to make an informed plea; (iii) permit thorough preparation for trial and minimize surprise at trial; (iv) reduce interruptions and complications during trial and avoid unnecessary and repetitious trials by identifying and resolving prior to trial any procedural, collateral, or constitutional issues; (v) minimize the procedural and substantive inequities among similarly situated defendants; (vi) effect economies in time, money, judicial resources, and professional skills by minimizing paperwork, avoiding repetitious assertions of issues, and reducing the number of separate hearing; and (vii) minimize the burden upon victims and witnesses.

Here, knowing the names of the Prosecutor’s witnesses before trial is simply fair. Period.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

High Court Strikes Racism in Jury Selection

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The U.S. Supreme Court just sent a strong message about racism in the justice system.

In Foster v. Chatman, the Court reversed a defendant’s murder conviction after discovering that the Prosecutor systematically eliminated African American jurors from serving on Mr. Foster’s jury because of their race.

Petitioner Timothy Foster was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in a Georgia court. During jury selection at his trial, the State used peremptory challenges to strike all four black prospective jurors qualified to serve on the jury.

Foster argued that the State’s use of those strikes was racially motivated, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. The trial court rejected that claim, and the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. Foster then renewed his Batson claim in a state habeas corpus proceeding.

While that proceeding was pending, Mr. Foster’s defense attorneys used the Georgia Open Records Act to obtained the Prosecutor’s file used during trial. In notes, prosecutors had highlighted the African Americans on several different lists of potential jurors. On one list, under the heading “Definite NOs,” prosecutors listed six potential jurors, all but one of whom were black.

Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the case on the issue of whether the Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case.

The Court reasoned that the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision that Foster failed to show purposeful discrimination was clearly erroneous. They started with Batson’s three-step process for adjudicating claims such as Foster’s. First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a preemptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race. Second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question. Third, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.”

Here, and in sum, the Court reasoned that Foster established purposeful discrimination in the State’s strikes of two black prospective jurors:

” . . . along with the prosecution’s shifting explanations, misrepresentations of the record, and persistent focus on race, leads to the conclusion that the striking of those prospective jurors was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent . . . the focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury.”

My opinion? Good decision. The decision is a forceful blow against racism in the courts. Although the Foster decision won’t end racial discrimination in jury selection, it is certainly vindication for the potential jurors who weren’t allowed to fulfill their civic duty all those years ago because of their race. As for Foster, his future is still in limbo. The Supreme Court’s decision entitles him to a new trial before a jury of his peers that hasn’t been tainted by racial discrimination. Still, that mere fact doesn’t guarantee a different outcome. The new jury may come to the same conclusion as the old one. But if nothing else, Mr. Foster’s death penalty has likely been put off for many years to come. And in the world of death penalty litigation, that counts as a win.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Thierry: Prosecutor’s Improper Closing Argument Reverses Conviction.

Ethics class ordered for tired attorney who made improper closing argument  | The Law for Lawyers Today

In State v. Thierry, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a Prosecutor’s statements during the closing argument of a child sex abuse case was an improper appeal to passion and prejudice.

The State charged Alfred James Thierry Jr. with four counts of Rape of a Child First Degree and two counts of Child Molestation First Degree, based on conduct against his son, JT.

At trial, the Prosecutor’s closing argument discussed direct versus circumstantial evidence. This explanation included the following:

“None of you were present when these acts occurred. No one testified for you that they watched any of these acts happen. That would be direct evidence of the acts themselves, but that is not required and, if it were, the State could never prosecute any of these types of cases.”

She made a similar argument shortly thereafter, in a discussion of the sufficiency of the State’s evidence:

“Did Thierry rape and molest his son? Yes, he did. The evidence tells you that he did. What’s the evidence? JT is the evidence, and he is all that is required for you to find him guilty of these crimes. If the law required more, if the law required anything, something, anything beyond the testimony of a child, the child’s words, JT’s words, those instructions would tell you that, and there is no instruction that says you need something else. And, again, if that was required, the State could rarely, if ever, prosecute these types of crimes because people don’t rape children in front of other people and often because children wait to tell.”

She again returned to this argument near the end of her initial closing remarks, in discussing the burden of proof:

“Now I want to talk just briefly about the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. You don’t need to know all of the pieces. You don’t need to have all of the information or have all of the answers. If that were necessary, first of all, the standard would be beyond all doubt possible, but if that were necessary, once again, the State would not be able to prosecute any of these crimes or really any crime, actually, because how can you all as jurors who are selected from the community know nothing about any of the people involved, and certainly yourselves were not present for any act or crime that was committed, how can you know with 100 percent certainty?”

The prosecutor continued in this vein during rebuttal, returning to her public policy theme:

Defense counsel wants you to basically disregard everything that JT has said between what he told Sayfullah, between what he told Ms. Arnold-Harms, between when he told his primary care provider Ms. Lin and what he told Amber Bradford. ‘Just disregard all of that because he’s a child, because he was 8 when he said these things and because he was 9 when he was on the stand. Nothing he said is credible so just disregard it all.’ If that argument has any merit, then the State may as well just give up prosecuting these cases, and the law might as well say that “The word of a child is not enough.

At that point Thierry’s defense attorney objected that the prosecutor was “fueling the passion and prejudice of the jury.” The court overruled the objection and permitted the prosecutor to continue.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts.

Thierry appealed that several of the remarks the Prosecutor made in closing argument merit reversal. He also argued that the cumulative effect of the improper statements denied him a fair trial.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with Thierry and decided that the Prosecutor’s arguments were improper and that it had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict.

The court reasoned that as a general matter, to prevail on a prosecutorial misconduct claim a defendant must show that the prosecutor’s conduct was both improper and prejudicial in the context of the record and all of the circumstances of the trial. To establish prejudice sufficient to require reversal, a defendant who timely objected to the challenged conduct in the trial court must show a substantial likelihood that the misconduct affected the jury verdict.

The Court further reasoned that it’s improper for prosecutors to use arguments calculated to inflame the passions or prejudices of the jury.  Arguments that compel the jury to send a message to society about the general problem of child sexual abuse qualifies as such an improper emotional appeal.

Here, the Prosecutor’s statement that, “If Defense Counsel’s argument concerning JT’s credibility has any merit, . . . the State may as well just give up prosecuting child sex abuse cases, and the law might as well say that ‘the word of a child is not enough’” also qualified as an improper appeal to passion and prejudice.

The Court further reasoned that even if the Prosecutor’s argument was deemed purely a response to the defendant’s argument, Defense Counsel never suggested that the jury should not believe JT because of his age. Furthermore, nothing in Defense Counsel’s closing argument, therefore, warranted the prosecutor’s message that the State may as well give up prosecuting child sex abuse cases if JT were not believed and Thierry acquitted.

Finally, the court reasoned that the Prosecutor’s arguments had a substantial likelihood of affecting the verdict. The outcome of the case depended entirely on whether the jury chose to believe JT’s accusations or Thierry’s denial. Consequently, the Prosecutor’s remarks created a substantial risk that the jury decided to credit JT’s testimony for improper reasons. The prosecutor’s remarks exacerbated that risk by misrepresenting Defense Counsel’s argument so as to unfairly undermine Thierry’s defense.

The Court of Appeals reversed Thierry’s convictions and remanded the case for further proceedings.

My opinion? Good decision. Generally, it’s a professional courtesy to not object during opposing counsel’s closing arguments. It’s considered rude. Nevertheless, defense attorneys must object at all times when appropriate, even if doing so is frowned upon by judges and juries. Prosecutorial misconduct happens all of the time, and ESPECIALLY during closing arguments. Those statements, made again and again, definitely affected the outcome of the case. Again, good decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Cayetano-James: Prohibiting Phone Call Testimony

Notaries Earn Extra Income Serving As A Remote Testimony Witness | NNA

In State v. Cayetano-James, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided the trial court mistakenly denied the defendant’s motion to have a witness testify telephonically from Mexico.

The defendant was charged with Rape of a Child in the First Degree. While the case was pending, he filed a notice of the defense of alibi. The Prosecutor changed the trial dates and amended the charges. In response, Defense Counsel filed and argued a motion to dismiss under CR 8.3(b). Because of this, Defense Counsel argued a potential witness in Mexico will most likely need to be contacted to refute the amendment to the charges.

On March 27, 2013, the trial court heard a defense motion to permit the telephonic testimony of witness Ms. Camacho. Defense counsel argued that because of Camacho’s immigration status, the court should allow her to testify by telephone or, alternatively, order her telephonic deposition. Although Defense Counsel argued that Camacho’s testimony was material, the court denied the motion for telephonic testimony. The court also denied Defense Counsel’s motion for a continuance. Finally, at trial, the court excluded Camacho’s Skype testimony and phone call testimony of other witnesses. Not surprisingly, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

On appeal, the WA Court of Appeals held the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the telephonic testimony of this defense witness.

First, the court reasoned that the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 3 of the Washington Constitution guarantee that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This right to due process includes the right to be heard and to offer testimony. The accused’s right to due process is, in essence, the right to a fair opportunity to defend against the State’s accusations.

Second, said the court, the right to call witnesses in one’s own behalf has long been recognized as essential to due process. “Just as an accused has the right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony, he has the right to present his own witnesses to establish a defense.” Additionally, Washington courts have broad authority under ER 611 to control trial proceedings and also have discretion to permit telephonic testimony under CR 43(a)(1).

Finally, the trial court abused its discretion when it excluded “essential facts of high probative value whose exclusion effectively barred [the defendant] from presenting his defense” without a showing by the State that allowing Camacho to testify by telephone would disrupt the fairness of the fact-finding process. This deprived the Defendant’s witness of the opportunity to present testimony that would have been relevant, material and vital to the defense; and violated his constitutional right to present a complete defense.

The court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial.

My opinion? Good decision. Obstructing a defendant from presenting witnesses for their defense violates the 6th Amendment. Period.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Irby: A Juror’s Bias Reverses Conviction

Rigged: Racial Bias in Jury Selection | The Portland Observer

In State v. Irby, The WA Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction of a defendant because a juror’s remarks during jury selection indicated her express bias against the defendant.

In reaching their decision, the court reasoned that when a juror makes an unqualified statement expressing actual bias, seating the juror is a manifest constitutional error that may be raised on appeal. Also, a juror’s statement during voir dire that she “would like to say he’s guilty” requires a new trial because no inquiry was made from the Prosecution that would have neutralized the statement.

In 2005, James Rock was murdered at his home in rural Skagit County. The investigations led to Terrance Irby, a known associate of Rock. Rock’s neighbors had seen Irby in the neighborhood on March 8. Irby was soon located in custody in Marysville. He had been arrested there on March 8, after running a red light and attempting to elude police. In Irby’s truck, officers found Rock’s weapons and boots splashed with Rock’s blood.

Irby was arrested and charged with Aggravated Murder in the First Degree, Burglary in the First Degree, and Felony Murder.

Oddly enough, in 2011, the WA Supreme Court had already reversed Irby’s convictions because of a violation of his right to a public trial. The violation occurred when the court and the attorneys agreed by e-mail, without Irby’s participation, to dismiss some of the potential jurors before voir dire began.

The State recharged the case. He awaited trial.  Irby had three different standby counselors while his case was pending. Irby fired all of them before the second trial began. As a consequence, the trial court granted Irby’s request to proceed pro se; or in other words, by himself without defense counsel.

On March 5, 2013—the first day scheduled for jury selection —Irby voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings. Irby said he did not believe he could get a fair trial in Skagit County. Trial became somewhat of a circus. By Irby’s choice, the trial proceeded before a jury that had been picked without any participation by Irby. Every day before trial resumed, the trial court had Irby brought from the jail into the courtroom so that the court could verify that he still wanted to remain absent.

The jury convicted Irby as charged on March 12, 2013.

The primary issue on appeal was whether juror bias – specifically, the bias of the juror who said she “would like to say he’s guilty” – violated Irby’s right to a fair and impartial jury.

In reaching its decision the Court of Appeals reasoned that under RAP 2.5(a)(3), a party may raise for the first time on appeal a “manifest error affecting a constitutional right.” Here, criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. Criminal defendants have a federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. The error alleged here, seating a biased juror, violates this right.

Furthermore, the court reasoned that seating that particular juror manifested actual bias. Under RCW 4.44.170(2) actual bias is “the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the action, or to either party, which satisfies the court that the challenged person cannot try the issue impartially and without prejudice to the substantial rights of the party challenging.” The Court of Appeals said both thetrial judge and the Prosecutor failed to elicit any assurances from that juror that she had an open mind on the issue of guilt. This was wrong.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the juror at question demonstrated actual bias and that seating her was manifest constitutional error requiring reversal of all convictions and remand for a new trial.

My opinion? It’s awful and tragic that Mr. Rock died a violent and painful death. My condolences go to his family and everyone who cared for him. Anyone in their circumstance would want the murderer brought to justice and convicted for these horrible crimes.

However, gaining convictions is meaningless if the courts and prosecutors violate a defendant’s rights in the process. It devalues the entire criminal justice system. It loses credibility and coherence.

Perhaps the Judge and Prosecutor failed to make a record of “rehabilitating” that particular juror of her biases – a process which happens at EVERY jury trial I’ve conducted – because neither Mr. Irby nor a criminal defense attorney was at jury selection to attempt to strike that particular juror for cause. Neverthless, all of us now have a greater understanding of why it’s necessary for attorneys to engage the colloquy of ensuring that jurors are NOT biased – even when they most certainly are.

Eliminating biased jurors from trial not only ensures a fair trial for the defendant. It also creates a court record for ensuring that jury verdicts are not overturned on appeal. As this one was.

Good decision.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prosecutor Jailed for Bad Conviction.

67 Men in Delaware Prison Demand $400M for Alleged Mishandling of Pandemic  | Delaware Law Weekly

For the first time ever, a Prosecutor will go to jail for wrongfully convicting an innocent man.

In Texas, former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to intentionally failing to disclose evidence in a case that sent an innocent man, Michael Morton, to prison for the murder of his wife. 

When trying the case as a prosecutor, Anderson possessed evidence that may have cleared Morton, including statements from the crime’s only eyewitness that Morton was NOT the culprit. Anderson sat on this evidence, and then watched Morton get convicted. While Morton remained in prison for the next 25 years, Anderson’s career flourished, and he eventually became a judge.

Anderson pled to criminal contempt. He will have to give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and spend 10 days in jail. Anderson had already resigned in September from his position on the Texas bench.

What makes today’s plea newsworthy is not that Anderson engaged in misconduct that sent an innocent man to prison. Indeed, while most prosecutors and police officers are ethical and take their constitutional obligations seriously, government misconduct–including disclosure breaches known as Brady violations–occurs so frequently that it has become one of the chief causes of wrongful conviction.

What’s newsworthy and novel about today’s plea is that a prosecutor was actually punished in a meaningful way for his transgressions. Rogue cops and prosecutors going unpunished is the rule rather than the exception. 

My opinion? Ken Anderson’s conviction and incarceration is an anomaly in a society where police and prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unpunished. But it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, today’s result will deter rogue cops and prosecutors in the future from engaging in similar misconduct. But this will happen only if judges across the country do what the judge did more than 25 years ago in the Morton case: issue an order requiring that proper disclosure to the defense, or risk criminal contempt proceedings.

For defense attorneys, the best way to prevent similar miscarriages of justice from happening is to explicitly write in the Demand for Discovery, “Any evidence which tends to negate the guilt of the accused as to the offense charged or which would tend to mitigate the accused’s punishment.” According to court rule and statute, the Prosecutor must disclose this evidence.

Also, entering an Omnibus Order signed by the judge tends to put attorneys on their best behavior. An omnibus hearing is a criminal pretrial hearing. Typically, disclosure of evidentiary matters, procedural, and constitutional issues are attempted to be resolved. In my Omnibus Motions/Orders I (again) request all evidence from the Prosecutor which tends to negate the defendant’s guilt.

Creating a court record like the one described above puts all parties on notice that discovery violations will NOT be tolerated. In some cases, I’ve sought sanctions against Prosecutors when I later discover they withheld evidence that they later tried to get admitted at trial.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Walker: WA Supreme Court Decides Prosecutor’s Powerpoint Presentation Violates Defendant’s Right to Fair Trial

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EXCELLENT opinion. In State v. Walker, the Washington Supreme Court decided the Prosecutor improperly used a PowerPoint presentation during closing argument to convey egrigious misstatements which violated the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

At his jury trial, defendant Odies Delandus Walker was convicted as an accomplice to Murder in the First Degree, Assault in the First Degree, Robbery in the First Degree Solicitation and Conspiracy. The WA Supreme Court addressed the issue as whether those convictions must be reversed in light of the Power Point presentation the prosecuting attorney used during closing argument.

The Prosecutor’s presentation repeatedly expressed the prosecutor’s personal opinion on guilt-over 100 of its approximately 250 slides were headed with the words “DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER,” and one slide showed Walker’s booking photograph altered with the words “GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT,” which were superimposed over his face in bold red letters. The prosecutor also appealed to passion and prejudice by juxtaposing photographs of the victim with photographs of Walker and his family, some altered with the addition of inflammatory captions and superimposed text (please click the above link to the Walker opinion for a look at the specific Powerpoint slides and images).

In reaching its decision, the court reasoned that while the prosecutor is entitled to draw the jury’s attention to admitted evidence, those slides, as presented, served no legitimate purpose. Their prejudicial effect could not have been cured by a timely objection, and we cannot conclude with any confidence that Walker’s convictions were the result of a fair trial. Consistent with both long-standing precedent and our recent holding in In re Personal Restraint of Glasmann, 175 Wn.2d 696, 286 P.3d 673 (2012), the court reversed Walker’s convictions and remanded for a new trial.

The Court also gave some powerful language regarding how the prosecution committed serious misconduct in the portions of the PowerPoint presentation discussed above:

“We have no difficulty in holding the prosecutor’s conduct in this case was improper. Closing argument provides an opportunity to draw the jury’s attention to the evidence presented, but it does not give a prosecutor the right to present altered version of admitted evidence to support the State’s theory of the case, to present derogatory depictions of the defendant, or to express personal opinions on the defendant’s guilt. Furthermore, RPC3.4(e) expressly prohibits a lawyer from vouching for any witness’s credibility or stating a personal opinion ‘on the guilt or innocence of the accused.’”

My opinion? Good decision. It’s very encouraging for trial attorneys to learn from these opinions. For example, we can argue Motions in Limine asking that the State’s PowerPoint presentations are disclosed in advance of closing arguments. The Walker opinion expressly endorses this approach.

Furthermore, this is the second opinion this month handed down by the WA Supremes regarding Prosecutorial Misconduct during closing arguments (please read my blog on State v. Allen). It appears the WA Supremes are on a roll.

Good opinion!

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