Saturday, May 24, 2014

Improper bolstering of witnesses requires new trial

Deborah Hughes won in State v. Neal, No. 108,273 (Kan. App. May 2, 2014), obtaining a new trial in a Johnson County drug prosecution.  The prosecutor made the following comments during closing argument:
The floor and the bed. One said the shorts are on the floor one on the bed. They had little inconsistencies like that. Think about it, if you are going to risk your career, a lifetime in law enforcement, on this case, wouldn't you take the time to get every little detail right? Wouldn't you sit down and go, ‘hey, we're going to do this, we don't want to get caught, let's make sure that you and I have our stories exactly the same?
. . . .
Does Detective Chisholm get some brownie points, does he get additional salary? What does he get for coming in here and making something up, other than possibly ruining his career, and the two other individuals that are already tried and convicted. So, no, Detective Chisholm is simply telling you what happened.
. . . .
But if you were to accept the defendant's version of what occurred, that means the officers were lying.
Now think about that, all the things law enforcement didn't do. They intentionally didn't do a video. They intentionally didn't do an audio. They intentionally lost evidence and didn't do fingerprints and DNA. Because all of that would have shown the officers were lying. Is that reasonable?
During rebuttal, the prosecutor turned the discussion to the defense attorney:
Ladies and gentlemen, nobody wants you to jump to conclusions. But what we do ask you to do is to use your common sense. Now think about this, defense counsel isn't saying the officers made a mistake. She is saying that they're lying.
The COA agreed that these comments unfairly bolstered the witnesses, commented on veracity, and (even if it correctly stated defense counsel's argument), constituted an improper personal opinion about witness credibility.  The COA also held that the prosecutor's pervasive and improper comment on credibility in a case that turn on credibility was gross and flagrant and evinced ill will.  As a result, the COA ordered a new trial.

[Update: the state filed a PR on June 2, 2014.]

[Further update: the KSC denied the state's PR and the mandate issued on May 1, 2015.]

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