Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Improper comments by prosecutor lead to conviction reversal

Long time readers of this blog know I have posted many stories on prosecutorial misconduct including many in which convictions have been reversed simply because of improper comments by prosecutors.  Here is another one, recently reported in the Legal Profession Blog.  Take a look an you tell me if you think the comment deserved a reversal.

As reported in the LPB, here is how the court explained the issue:
In her closing argument, the prosecutor asked the jury, “Did you watch [Defendant] in the courtroom when [Victim] took the stand? He wouldn’t even look at her. He looked at every other witness in the eye, but he wouldn’t look at her.” The argument had no purpose other than to invite the jury to draw an adverse conclusion from Defendant’s failure to get on the stand and explain why he would not look at Victim as she testified. After Defendant objected, the jury heard the district court overrule the objection, which placed the “stamp of judicial approval” on the improper argument, further magnifying the prejudice. . . .  Having obtained the district court’s stamp of judicial approval, the prosecutor compounded the prejudice by repeating the statement and adding, “And why wouldn’t he look at her? Because he knew what he’d done. He knew what he did.” . . . The prosecutor’s accusatory tone was tantamount to pointing a finger at Defendant.
And based on this argument, the court held that the prosecutor’s arguments violated Defendant’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and deprived Defendant of a fair trial, resulting in reversible error; adding that "Prosecutors do not have license to make improper and prejudicial arguments with impunity. We reverse the Court of Appeals holding that Defendant received a fair trial, and we remand to the district court for a new trial."

If this conduct justifies a reversal of a conviction shouldn't it also justify sanctions for violation of Rule 8.4(d) on conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice?

What do you think?

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