Thursday, January 15, 2015

Conviction For Murder Of Four Police Officers Reversed Due To Prosecutor's Misstatement Of Law

Prosecutorial misconduct has led to the reversal of a conviction for involvement in the murder of four police officers in an opinion issued today by the Washington State Supreme Court.

The defendant drove the shooter to and from the murder scene.

The prosecutor misstated the law in closing argument

The State was required to prove that Allen had actual knowledge that [shooter] Clemmons would commit the murders. During closing argument, the prosecuting attorney initially stated the correct definition of "knowledge" as it was used in the jury instruction. 29 VRP at 3544. He said, "[I]f a person has information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe that a fact exists, then the jury is permitted, but not required, to find that that person acted with knowledge." Id. However, immediately afterward, the prosecuting attorney stated that "[f]or shorthand we're going to call that 'should have known."' Id. at 3544-45. The prosecuting attorney went on to repeatedly and improperly use the phrase "should have known" when describing the definition of "knowledge." Id. at 3545-46, 3548-49, 3566, 3570.

 The prosecuting attorney also presented a slide show simultaneously with his closing argument. This slide show repeatedly referred to the "should have known" standard. Pl.'s Ex. 352, at 1, 5-7, 12, and 14. One slide even stated, "You are anaccomplice if: ... you know or should have known," with the words "should have known" in bold...

 The improper argument was repeated in the prosecutor's rebuttal closing argument.

The unanimous court found a substantial likelihood that the misconduct affected the jury verdict. (Mike Frisch)

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