Monday, November 12, 2007

Improper Argument Not Reversible Error

The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Michael Peterson in the first-degree murder of his wife. The court found that the prosecutor had crossed the line of permissible argument in closing by repeated arguments that the state's expert witnesses were more credible because they work for the state, in contrast to the defense experts.

Some highlights of the argument:

" [The state's experts]. You know what? They're state employees. Just like most of us that work here in the courthouse. And they work for your state. They work for your state, North Carolina.

         [Defense Counsel]: Objection.

        THE COURT: Overruled.

        [Prosecutor] : Not Chicago, Illinois. Not Connecticut. They work for us. They gave you truthful and accurate information. And you know what? They didn't get paid not one penny extra to come in here. [One state's expert] should have, my goodness what he had to go through on the witness stand, but, no, he didn't get an extra penny.
        They might not have written books that they're signing and autographing for everybody. They might not travel to all of the rest of the states and give seminars and lectures. They're not allowed to, actually. It's not that they're not good enough to, it's they're not allowed to. They might not have appeared on Larry King Live or Court TV. But you know what? They are tried and true. Tried and true. Because they work for us.

[Defense Counsel]: Objection."


"Now what further distinctions can be drawn about the experts? Well, one thing about [the state's experts] is they have been in this very courtroom before. They have. They've testified in front of people just like you. Durham County juries.
        [The defense experts], they've never been to Durham, as far as I know, in this courthouse before to testify, and they'll probably maybe never come back here again.
        But after the tents and the vans are removed from outside of the courthouse, after all of the reporters and the cameras are gone, after all these cords and tape and everything are taken up from the floor, after we put -- get the box down, after the microphones are all removed, Court TV goes to cover another case, after we get our courthouse back to normal, [the state's experts] will be back in this courtroom again. They will. There will be other cases. Other murder cases. They'll be in that very witness stand again. Because that's what they do for a living. That's their livelihood. That's how they pay their bills."

The state conceded that the closing argument was improper. The court accepted the concession but found the error insufficient to overturn the conviction. (Mike Frisch)

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Harmless error? Ends justify the means?

Too bad defense counsel didn't make reference to Mike Nifong and the Duke case as an example of how reliable government employees and experts can be.

Being a government employee is no guarantee of anything except that the person will be paid and has good benefits.

Posted by: W.R. Chambers | Nov 12, 2007 12:36:47 PM

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