Friday, February 25, 2011

Defense attorney's job is to defend

Meryl Carver-Allmond won in State v. Charles Smith, No. 99,655 (Kan. Feb. 11, 2011), obtaining a new trial in a Douglas County robbery conviction. We blogged about this case here when Meryl won in the COA. The state filed a PR, which the KSC granted, ending in the same result--a new trial:
However, the attorney's presentation of the withdrawal motion suggests that the problem may not have been based upon the falsity of the facts Smith wanted introduced. Those facts, e.g., whether Smith suffered from a physical infirmity or whether he had income from a job or a workers compensation claim, were easily verifiable and apparently the attorney did have knowledge that not all of the facts were false because he related that Smith was receiving workers compensation benefits. Moreover, if the problem had been false facts, the attorney could have simply advised the court that his client wanted him to introduce false testimony and the matter could have been quickly resolved.

Instead, the defense attorney, Rumsey, commenced his presentation by explaining that he was convinced from viewing the videotape that his client was guilty. He then related that the evidence Smith wanted to introduce would create an inference that Smith lacked the motive and ability to commit the robbery. Finally, Rumsey declared that the problem was that Rumsey would know that Smith's evidence would be false or fraudulent. In context, the argument suggests that Rumsey believed that he could not introduce any evidence, even truthful facts, if that evidence might create an inference that Smith was not guilty, because Rumsey was convinced of Smith's guilt, i.e., the inference created by the evidence would be false or fraudulent. The State makes that very argument on appeal, asserting that any attorney viewing the videotape would identify Smith as the robber and would thereby be precluded from presenting the evidence Smith wanted introduced.

The fundamental flaw in Rumsey's apparent withdrawal motion argument (and the State's position on appeal) is that it ignores the separation of duties in a criminal prosecution. "The lines of demarcation separating the duties of each of the players in a criminal trial are sacrosanct, i.e., the prosecutor representing the people; the defense attorney representing the accused; the trial judge representing the interpreter of the law; and the jury representing the finder of facts." State v. Kemble, 291 Kan. 109, 238 P.3d 251, 260 (2010). If any of those lines are crossed, the criminal justice system is compromised.

Here, the jury, as factfinder and final arbiter of guilt, had the sole responsibility to view the videotape, to look at the defendant, to make a finding as to whether the person shown in the videotape was the defendant, and, ultimately, to determine whether the defendant was guilty of robbery. Rumsey's duty as defense counsel was to advocate for his client, including the presentation of any truthful, relevant evidence that would assist in his client's defense. Rumsey exceeded the scope of his duties as defense counsel and invaded the province of the jury when he performed the fact-finding function of identifying the robber in the videotape as his client and, based thereon, made the determination that his client was guilty. Accordingly, if Rumsey's refusal to introduce evidence on Smith's behalf was based upon Rumsey's out-of-bounds determination of guilt, rather than on the falsity of the evidence, Smith's dissatisfaction was justified.
A good result after a long wait.

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