Friday, August 31, 2018
The indiana Supreme Court has sanctioned a former prosecutor
We find that Respondent, Trista Hudson, committed attorney misconduct by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and by prosecuting a charge she knew was not supported by probable cause. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended for at least eighteen months without automatic reinstatement.
At relevant times, Respondent served as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Porter County. In 2013, “Defendant” was charged with five counts of child molesting, the first four of which were tried together and are at issue here. Counts I and II alleged criminal deviate conduct involving Defendant’s stepchildren K.C. and E.C., respectively. Counts III and IV alleged fondling with respect to K.C. and E.C. The four counts were based upon statements made by the children to various police officials, and there was no physical or medical evidence of child molesting.
Five days before trial, Respondent interviewed E.C. in preparation for trial with a detective present. During this interview E.C. recanted the facts underlying Count II, stating he had lied at the request of his and K.C.’s biological father. Respondent believed E.C.’s recantation was truthful.
However, Respondent did not disclose E.C.’s recantation to defense counsel, nor did she withdraw Count II at any point prior to or during trial. During her direct examination of E.C. at trial, Respondent avoided asking any questions about the allegations underlying Count II. E.C.’s recantation, and the fact his father had coached him to lie, was revealed at trial during defense counsel’s questioning of E.C. and other witnesses. Respondent did not immediately disclose to the court that she had known about E.C.’s recantation for nearly one week. After the prosecution concluded its case-in-chief, the trial court addressed Respondent’s failure to disclose the recantation and determined that the appropriate remedy was to enter judgment of acquittal for Defendant as to all four counts.
Quite thankfully, we have not previously had occasion to consider the question of an appropriate sanction for a Rule 3.8(a) or Rule 3.8(d) violation. There can be little doubt that prosecuting a charge known to lack probable cause, and failing to disclose known information or evidence tending to negate a defendant’s guilt, are among the most serious ethical violations a prosecutor could commit. “The State is never more awesomely powerful, nor is the individual more vulnerable, than in a criminal prosecution[.]” State v. Taylor, 49 N.E.3d 1019, 1023 (Ind. 2016). These rules of professional conduct are central to the prosecutorial function and essential to ensuring the integrity and fairness of our criminal justice system.
The respondent asked for a public reprimand; the Disciplinary Commission proposed a four-year suspension.
The court split the baby
After careful consideration of this matter, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended for a period of at least eighteen months and required to go through the reinstatement process before resuming practice.