Prosecutor misconduct cases

March 6, 2009
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For those current and aspiring prosecuting attorneys out there, read two of today’s Court of Appeals opinions to learn what not to do while at trial. The appellate court dealt with two cases of prosecutorial misconduct but found both were harmless enough not to warrant a reversal of convictions.

The cases are Artillius Washington v. State, out of Tippecanoe County, and Travis Johnson v. State , from St. Joseph County.

In Washington’s case, the Court of Appeals found the deputy prosecuting attorney’s remarks about defense counsel during closing to be clearly unprofessional and unacceptable, including the statement, “I could get just as improper and I get jury verdicts returned all the time on this very evidence. All the time. Guilty.”

The appellate court went on to chastise the attorney, saying upon reflection, the attorney should recognize that behavior has no place in the practice of law. But because Washington didn’t show how those comments had any likely effect on the jury that prejudiced him, he wasn’t denied a fair trial.

In Johnson’s case, the prosecutor committed misconduct by repeatedly referring to Johnson’s right to an attorney. The trial court even interrupted her closing arguments after she said “You need a lawyer when you know you’ve done something wrong.” As a result, the trial court admonished the jury saying the prosecutor’s comments can’t be considered in determining Johnson’s guilt. Because of the evidence of Johnson’s guilt and the admonishment, it was enough to make the error harmless, according to the Court of Appeals.

Any thoughts on these cases or any prosecutorial misconduct or missteps you’ve witnessed?
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