Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Street Thug" Argument Draws Reversal

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed a criminal conviction due to the prosecutor's improper closing argument:

Early in his closing argument the prosecutor set the stage with this introduction:

"I would suggest to you that the facts of this case show you at least one thing clearly, and that is how dangerous it is to be a state trooper or to be a police officer. On this date, Trooper Demos stopped a motor vehicle. It was just a routine traffic stop. There are three individuals in that
vehicle. He and Trooper Keane told you about that. He has no way of knowing whether those three people are three people that are just coming from MIT in a study group or if they're three street thugs with guns and drugs, and that's how it turned out on this date" (emphasis added).

The prosecutor developed the "street thug" motif, stating shortly thereafter:

"There's no gray issues here now. You either believe [the Commonwealth's witnesses] or you don't.... You either believe them or you believe the other side. There's nothing in between. Either the gun was planted or the gun was on him. And that's where it was, I'd suggest to you, on the street thug" (emphasis added).

After explaining that the defendant was running away to reach some nearby woods to dispose of the gun and thereby avoid a firearms charge, the prosecutor declared:

"The entire defense in this case, I'd suggest to you, is a sham " (emphases added).

The prosecutor returned to the street thug motif three more times:

"And you'll also see, if you look at that video again, the wad of money in his front pocket. Of course, all us unemployed people have a big wad of money in our pocket. Where's my money? They are street thugs who are out, and what they're going to do with those guns, luckily, we didn't get a chance to find out" (emphases added).

Later, the prosecutor interjected:

"It's the arrogance of the street thugs that gets you in this case" (emphasis added).

He concluded his argument with the following comments:

"Well, he's not going to beat anything. Nothing. Because the street thugs aren't deciding this case. You are. And the credible evidence, the believable evidence in this case shows that this man had a gun. This man had ammunition. The gun that he had was defaced and he intended to shoot the trooper with it. That's what the credible evidence shows. To disbelieve that, you have to believe that Trooper Demos is lying, Trooper Keane is lying, the off-duty Officer Ellis is lying, Lieutenant Shea is lying, Trooper Arnold's lying, all of these troopers are lying. LeBlanc, who you heard from today, he's lying. The whole lot of them.

"The lies here came from there. As you look over all of this evidence, I suggest to you that will be obvious to you that the lies came from this table. And I'm not leaving out the attorney either, the questions that were asked and the way they were posed." (Emphases added.)

The Commonwealth conceded that the argument was "excessive" but claimed lack of prejudice. The court disgreed.

The case is Commonwealth v. Joshua Lewis. (Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2013/05/the-massachusetts-supreme-judicial-court-reversed-a-criminal-conviction-due-to-the-prosecutors-improper-closing-argument-ea.html

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