Prosecutorial Misconduct

The prosecutor and defense attorney in a criminal case each have certain roles.  They also each have limitations by which they must abide.  This post will discuss a prosecutor’s limitations in convincing the jury to convict a defendant.

One of the guidelines for a prosecutor’s conduct is the prosecutor cannot urge the jury to convict on the basis of a “civic duty.”  He or she also may not urge the jury to convict on the basis of sympathy for a victim.  This is a very thin line and at times, it is difficult to distinguish when a prosecutor crosses this line.
A recent Michigan Court of Appeals case out of Kent County discussed prosecutorial misconduct.  In that case, the defendant robbed a group of family and friends in a ground-floor apartment.  After forcing himself into the apartment, he robbed several people and struck them with his gun.  Afterwards, the victims returned and looked for the defendant to retaliate against him.  They were unable to locate him.  Eventually, someone contacted the police.

In the prosecutor’s closing arguments, his primary argument surrounded the theory that the victims’ first instinct was to retaliate by using street justice.  Specifically, “Their first instinct was street justice.  Why – why do courts exist?  It is to resolve wrongs in a civilized manner in the courtroom.  Show these kids, show them that they can trust the system.”

The Court in this case indicated the prosecutor’s statement clearly injected issues beyond defendant’s guilt or innocence and unfairly encouraged jurors not to make a reasoned judgment.  However, the Court ultimately decided the remark was of no consequence.  The Court reasoned that the remark was not far off topic because of the victims’ initial attempts to retaliate.  The Court also reasoned that the facts the prosecutor based his closing on were supported by evidence and amounted to a fair commentary.
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