State’s high court finds DA abuse, overturns death sentence

The job of a public prosecutor is to bring criminal cases on behalf of the government, acting in essence as a trial lawyer for the people. Central to the prosecutorial role is the seeking of justice, which promotes the public good.

Justice flows two ways. Just as it is in the people’s interest for a prosecutor to ably and aggressively prosecute crimes that harm the public, the public good is also promoted by a fair playing field.

In other words, when a prosecutor engages in prosecutorial abuse by skirting justice and unfairly manipulating the criminal justice system to secure a conviction, public trust and the principle of fairness is grossly undermined. In short, justice is maligned rather than being promoted, and the public is harmed.

A ready example of that is demonstrated by a California Supreme Court decision handed down last week that ruled a one-time state prosecutor who is now a judge withheld critical evidence from the defense while trying a murder case, making it “reasonably probable” that the defendant received a more stringent sentence.

In fact, the man was under a death sentence, which the court overturned in a unanimous ruling that now entitles him to a new penalty trial if the current district attorney decides to seek another death sentence. If he does not, the defendant will be resentenced to life in prison without parole.

The case dates back to 1983, The defendant admitted to fatally shooting two jewelry store owners, but strong evidence known by the prosecutor that a drug cartel member had threatened to kill the man and his family if he did not carry out the shootings was suppressed and not made available to the defense. In fact, the prosecutor informed the jury at trial that there was no evidence of any threats.

The defendant’s appellate attorney says the case shows “corruption and fraud,” and wants the now-turned-judge former prosecutor sanctioned by the California Commission on Judicial Performance.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Court: Ex-prosecutor, now judge, hid evidence,” ob Egelko, Aug. 27, 2012

  • A level playing field in the criminal justice system serves the public interest by ensuring impartiality and fundamental fairness. Our Atlanta criminal defense firm provides proven and impassioned representation to persons charged with crimes who face the formidable tools and resources of state and federal prosecutors. For further information, please visit our Georgia Criminal Defense Overview page.