Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on how to handle prosecutorial misconduct

Long time readers of this blog know that I often complain how courts do not seem to take the problem of prosecutorial misconduct seriously. Often courts do not do enough to discourage it or to impose sanctions for it. Luckily, there is one court that is doing its part.  This week I saw two different stories on prosecutorial misconduct, both from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The first one involved an oral argument (you can see the video appears below).  Here the court was reviewing a case in which the court denied the defendant a chance to reply to an argument by the DA in which the DA made arguments based on facts not in evidence.  The oral argument on behalf of the government is worth watching.  The judges who participated were clearly bothered by the prosecutor's conduct and it seems pretty clear the conviction will be reversed because of it.  The implication is that the prosecutor purposely decided to wait until rebuttal to make a comment based on facts not in evidence because the defendant would not be able to reply to the comment. The court then denied the defendant three minutes for a rebuttal to the prosecutor's statement giving rise to the question on appeal.

The government's argument begins at the 26 minute mark. The argument starts poorly for the government and gets worse.  At the 44 minute mark, one of the judges reduces the issue clearly to the bottom line: trials should be fair and prosecutorial misconduct can't be tolerated. Interestingly, he then goes on to talk about some reasons why there is too much prosecutorial misconduct: too much prosecutorial discretion. Now, that's a different issue we could talk about another day!  Take a look at the specific comment starting at minute 44 of the video (or here).

UPDATE:  A few days later the US Attorneys Office filed a motion to vacate the conviction.  Go here for the update.

Keep reading below for news on the second story I mentioned.

The second story I saw this week about of the Ninth Circuit was this:  "In another sign that the Ninth Circuit is leading the way in holding prosecutors to their Constitutional obligations while insuring the Constitutional rights of defendants, a panel earlier this month, in Dow v. Virga, No. 11-17678 (Sept. 5 2013 9th Cir.), granted habeas relief where the California prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ow of San Mateo County, knowingly elicited and then failed to correct false testimon..."  For more commentary see Seeking Justice.  For a copy of the opinion go here.