Thursday, November 20, 2008
A majority of the Washington State Supreme Court declined to reverse a criminal conviction for prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument, notwithstanding its conclusion that the prosecutor had repeatedly misstated the burden of proof. The court quotes the closing at length:
Ms. Snow [prosecutor]: We also are not clear about the
size of the defendant's penis. We have no idea. And for them
to ask you to infer everything to the benefit of the defendant is not reasonable.
MR. CARNEY [defense counsel]: Objection, your
Honor. Misstates the burden of proof and presumption of
THE COURT: Counsel, the objection is overruled. Do
you want to talk about it? Come here.
(At this time an off-the-record discussion was held.)
THE COURT: Let's move on, Counsel.
MS. SNOW: Reasonable doubt does not mean give the
defendant the benefit of the doubt, and that is clear when you
read the definition.
Defense counsel calls [S.S.]'s description of what
happened a rambling eight-year-old's description. And the
bottom line for you is, it has been uncontroverted.
RP (Feb. 20, 2003) at 98-99. The prosecutor continued with an appropriate
argument that the jury should not confuse a child's memory with credibility
and discussed child testimony concerning penis pumps, pornographic video
covers, bathing, and sexual touching. Then the following transpired:
Ms. Snow: Finally, in this case I want to point out that
this entire trial has been a search for the truth. And it is not a
search for doubt. I talked to you about the fact that you must
find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the
standard to be applied in the defendant's case, the same as any
other case. But reasonable doubt does not mean beyond all
doubt and it doesn't mean, as the defense wants you to believe,
that you give the defendant the benefit of the doubt.
MR. CARNEY: Again, your Honor --
At that juncture, the trial court gave a curative instruction and the argument proceeded without further improper references to the burden of proof. The majority found that prejudice had not been established under the circumstances.