It is endemic throughout our culture: that image of the Law and Order episode where a fair and conscientious prosecutor is struggling against the nit-picking defense attorney to send the guilty to jail instead of back to the streets. From our Constitution to the local Kansas laws, the social contract we have states that all people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The sad fact is that too often the scales of justice can be unbalanced by prosecutorial misconduct. This happens at all levels: from the trial in Federal Courts of Senator Ted Stevens to the recent Kansas City, Kansas case of Matthew Davis, a man convicted of abandoning a body, due in large part to hundreds of pages of investigative material withheld from the defense and the jury.
In the case of Sen. Ted Stevens, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found in United States of America vs. Theodore F. Stevens, No.08-cr-231 (EGS) that the prosecution chose to ignore the court’s order to provide all communications from anyone in OPI to any other office within the Department of Justice. Instead of appropriate compliance, the prosecution provided only limited documents to the court and no copies of any documents to the defense. In that instance, Judge Black of the U.S. District Court refused to accept the claims by the prosecutor that this was a harmless error. Without proper notification, it was impossible for the defense to properly prepare for the arguments in court, putting the prosecutor in a stronger position to push for conviction without any concern for the rights of the defendant. In this instance, the defendant’s counsel appropriate sought redress by filing a motion to dismiss the proceedings entirely due to this flagrant misconduct on the part of the prosecutor. Whether it was hunger for headlines or the notoriety of “bagging” a United States Senator, in this instance the prosecutor flaunted both court direction and the requirements of evidence protocols.
While the prosecutor in this case claimed it was strictly “above board,” when the conviction becomes more important than the facts in a case, it is necessary to hold prosecutors accountable for their behavior. In this case, the defendant Matthew Davis was sentenced to 22 years in prison. As a result of the evidence the prosecution withheld, this 2005 conviction was thrown out in February 2009. This is just one of many cases recently tried in the Jackson County courts that have been overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. In essence, the court agreed that the defendant likely would not have pleaded guilty had he been aware that there was documentation of his original claims of innocence. Questionable issues ranging from missing 911 tapes to concealing romantic involvement of family members with suspects all have played a part in seeing true justice served instead of the hunt for convictions.
Defense counsel and appeals attorneys have a special obligation in cases such as these. Their experience and knowledge regarding the proper conduct of prosecutors and the rules of evidence are critical to ensuring a defendant receives as fair trial and competent defense. For defendants who are in their initial trial, or considering an appeal, it is critical to find an experienced layer who can properly evaluate the merits of the case as well as evaluate where or not there are concerns regarding the conduct of the prosecutors. Sadly, while every prosecutor may believe in their own righteous intent, their methods may lead to unfairness to the defendant. This trend shows strongly in Kansas City and Jackson County Circuit Court.
If you feel that you have been the victim of prosecutorial misconduct, it is critical that you find an appeals attorney experienced in such appeals and familiar with all the procedural rules relating to full disclosure of evidence to the defense. This can make the difference between an acquittal and years of wrongful imprisonment.