Category Archives: prosecutors

Alaska bans plea bargaining

Well, it’s happened. Glenn Reynolds and Michelle Alexander are going to get their wish. Alaska – for the second time in the last 35 years – has banned plea bargaining.

Straight up. No deals. No agreements on sentencing. Done, with the swift stroke of the pen of their Department of Law 1. Prosecutors can negotiate charges, but in any case that is a sexual felony or involves domestic violence, they no longer have to discretion to agree upon a sentence in advance.

Essentially, they’re going to charge – or overcharge – and leave the sentencing up to the judge. Welcome to a world of “open pleas” 2.

How does this come about? As with all “great” ideas, it comes about with a horrific rape and murder by a guy who got out of jail earlier than he should have.

The change comes in the wake of a state review that shows prosecutors botched a 2009 plea deal involving accused killer Jerry Active. Active is the 24-year-old Togiak man accused of killing an elderly Cambodian couple — Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap — in their Mountain View apartment in May. He also is accused of sexually assaulting three generations of the family, including Sorn, a toddler and a 90-year-old woman.  Active had spent much of his adult life in the correctional system before the killings, which took place on the same day he was released from his latest stint in jail.

Well, I mean, if you put it that way. And so:

A new policy from the state Department of Law, effective immediately, instructs state prosecutors to stop negotiating sentencing terms in plea bargains for crimes like homicide, sexual assault, and other major felonies.

I have entirely mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I want to see if this experiment will work. On the other, I’m petrified that there are many people in Alaska who’re about to get fucked.

The system works as it currently does because there has to be a balance. While the defendant can always dangle the threat of trial, it’s usually a hollow one, because the potential for punishment after a guilty verdict – and it’s almost always a guilty verdict – is tremendous. You can bluff only up to a point. Pleas are entered to avoid that excessive punishment and to cut a bargain, essentially.

So what was the problem in Alaska?

Judges can now decide what sentence is fitting during hearings that make more information available to them: victim and witness statements, police reports and other information previously not known to the court.  While judges could always request the information and reject plea deals, Niesje Steinkruger — a retired Superior Court judge from Fairbanks — says that it rarely happened under the old rules.

She describes the absence of information previously presented to judges as troubling.  “When a plea is taken, usually all the judge has in front of her is a pretty thin file that only has the charging document, the complaint or the indictment,” Steinkruger said. “Judges do not have police reports. Judges do not have information from the victim, unless the victim has written a letter or is in the courtroom and provides information to the judge.”

Still not seeing it. What do defense lawyers say?

James Christie, an Anchorage defense lawyer, says the changes are beneficial even for lawyers who are intent on minimizing time served by clients. Christie says he supports the change because it puts an unbiased mediator in charge of decision-making, instead of biased defense lawyers and prosecutors.  “I would much rather have sentencing narrowly tailored in each individual case by an impartial judge than I would have the conditions crafted by somebody who has a dog in the fight, which typically are the prosecutors,” Christie said.

Let’s keep in mind that the prosecutors’ office has revoked the policy of plea bargaining. They’re not revoking it because their prosecutors were too harsh and they felt bad for defendants. it’s probably being revoked because it was too lenient and some guy got out and killed someone and they don’t want to be blamed ever again. This is not a policy change designed to benefit defendants. If it were, it wouldn’t be implemented.

So, you think you’re going to do better with judges? Judges who are almost certainly former prosecutors? Judges who’ve been watching his policy change and thinking oh, now you want us to put our necks on the line?

Defendants typically get higher sentences after “open pleas”. If it weren’t the case, wouldn’t that be the prevalent method of resolution of cases?

When you’re negotiating a plea – at least here in CT, for serious cases – the judge is almost always involved. In order to maintain a semblance of credibility, the prosecutor needs to make a “reasonable” offer: one that isn’t too far outside the norm of sentences for similar crimes and defendants. The judge “mediates” or negotiates and usually isn’t too far from either number.

With an open plea, however, the prosecutor is free to ask for the maximum in each case. And why wouldn’t they? it’s open season. And when faced with the choice of two recommendations: the harshest sentence from the prosecutor and the most lenient from the defendant, where do you think the judge will end up?

Almost everyone quoted in the news reports acknowledges that this change will place a greater burden on the resources of the judicial system in Alaska. So, in a time when the defenders of the accused are already overburdened and overworked, and indigent defense systems are crumbling and the injustices in the criminal system are racking up and sprouting up under the spotlight, Alaska has found the one remaining way to make it even harder for defendants to get individualized justice. You think having to hold a sentencing hearing in every single serious felony case is going to free up time for defenders to work on more cases?

If none of this convinces you, let’s go back to the last time Alaska tried this. It banned plea bargaining in 1975, before the ban eroded and plea bargaining was back in use by 1990. But in 1978, the ban was called “successful”. What do you mean by successful? I’m glad you asked:

[...] the length of prison terms for violent crimes had increased 50 percent; terms for felony sentences rose 200 percent for white-collar crimes and 300 percent for drug violations.

Oh. I see. Success means more people getting fucked and put in jail. You can’t rely on an “unbiased mediator” when the system within which the mediator operates is rigged against the defendant. Such faith presumes that the system is inherently fair. Anyone who has spent a minute observing the system can attest to the falsity of that presumption.

There seem to be some legitimate problems with the way criminal cases are handled in Alaska. Eliminating plea bargaining will only add another.

 

You’re to blame: an excuse for courts to deny justice

The Connecticut Law Tribune has published this very important and necessary editorial, criticizing all the arms of the criminal justice system for their complicity in repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments by Connecticut prosecutors.

Written in the wake of the extraordinary opinion in State v. Santiago last month, the editorial rightly questions whether prosecutors in the State are paying any attention at all to the steady stream of opinions coming from our appellate courts that deem their comments improper. The editorial also rightly questions the efficacy of such chastisement when our appellate courts also routinely renders these improprieties harmless: a sort of get out of jail free card. A wink and a nod, as the editorial calls it.

What’s to prevent a prosecutor from taking a calculated risk in crossing the line of acceptable conduct when our appellate courts on a regular basis give a wink and a nod to this kind of improper behavior? Maybe it’s time for grievances to be filed where certain kinds of misconduct, like that detailed in the Santiago case is documented.

With appellate courts reluctant to even name prosecutors, let alone find that their misconduct impacted the outcome of the case 1, with still no referrals to the grievance committee and with no financial incentive to “behave”, as it were, there really is no effective way to enforce Constitutional limits on prosecutors’ conduct and arguments.

But the editorial also rightly points the finger at the defense bar: we are just as complicit in numbing everyone to the real extent of the impropriety in these cases. While it is true that lack of an objection by defense counsel to improper argument is but one factor 2 to be considered, it is fast becoming the predominant factor.

This highlights another massive problem with the fair administration of justice that has fundamentally altered the way due process is dispensed in Connecticut that has been left untouched by this – or any other – editorial as far as I know. I’ve written about it here, though.

Our court has become extremely outcome oriented and that outcome is predominantly this: sustaining convictions obtained by trial courts and juries. In order to achieve that outcome, the Court has – with the Prosecution’s urging and prodding – made it optional and less desirable for trial judges to be the arbiters of the law and of what is admissible and what is not. It has blazed a path that absolves trial judges of any responsibility for gaps in knowledge of the procedure to govern the orderly administration of justice.

It has taken this awesome responsibility and placed it squarely on the shoulders of defense attorneys. We are the lighthouses by which the appellate courts will guide the ships to safe port. There used to be a time where trial lawyers could afford to sit back in their chairs, roll up their sleeves and “try cases from the file”, making statements that border on ineffective assistance of counsel like “I try to win at trial, not on appeal”.

Well you better win at trial now, because given the way the majority of the defense bar practices, no one is winning on appeal. Defense attorneys are complicit in not preserving objections, not objecting properly, not filing motions in limine, not filing requests to charge: in other words, every single thing that is necessary to properly preserve Constitutional and evidentiary claims of error for appellate review.

Appellate review isn’t the wide open football field that it used to be – or even should be. Rather, our appellate courts have reduced securing appellate review to jumping through flaming hoops that move unpredictably and narrow impossibly to the head of a pin.

Appellate courts repeat incessantly – in some areas of the law – that “talismanic incantations” aren’t required to invoke the protection of rights, or that to be valid, a plea canvass need not have specific utterances, but rather simply the gist of the matter.

Not so if you want to vindicate your Constitutional rights. A most specific and almost entirely accurate objection must be noted and repeated several times.

Appellate review has turned into a game of hide the ball and you’re it.

If we are to vindicate all the Constitutional rights that every citizen of this country is entitled to, then we have to start getting better at our jobs. We need to understand the game the court is playing and we need to play that game. We have to think of the long game: trial, appeal, habeas, federal habeas.

Because, for our clients, this is their life, not a game.

Breaking news: things cost money

In a sure to be groundbreaking series of articles, the Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender has discovered that the business of government – the every day practice of running a State – costs money.

This heretofore undiscovered concept works in this way: people work for the State. They get paid. Shocking and novel, I know. I wonder what the repercussions for society will be? I shudder to think of the fallout from this breathtaking expose that you know, people like to get paid for the work that they do.

Take his latest revelation, for example: that lawyers hired to defend death row inmates were paid money. Ingrates, right? Bastards should work free for the honor or something.

Silence as guilt and the silent death of the Fifth Amendment

Consider the following scenario: you’re walking down the street to your favorite microbrewery when a police officer stops you. “Excuse me”, she says. “Do you live around here?” “Yes, yes I do.” “Have you heard seen any strange people hanging around here?” she follows up. “No, not really.” Maybe you have your hands in your pocket; maybe you’re wearing a hoodie; maybe you’re a minority. “Did you break into that apartment there and steal a TV?” she asks, accusingly.

Now, maybe you’re a smart person, or maybe you’ve read this blog or many like it, or maybe you’ve had a brush or two with the justice system before and something somewhere in the recesses of your brain says to you “Don’t answer that! You don’t have to say anything! Walk away!”.

It’s been drilled into you: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you”. It’s a phrase that’s spawned an empire and will keep Dick Wolf’s family from having to work for about two centuries.

So you remain silent. You walk away. She doesn’t like that. She arrests you. You go to trial because you’re innocent. And then the prosecutor asks the officer about that incident. She says you went silent all of a sudden when asked the incriminating question. Maybe she says you shifted your feet, or averted your gaze. Then the prosecutor argues to the jury – the 6 people that will decide whether you keep your liberty or lose it – that only guilty people avoid answering incriminating questions.

If you have nothing to hide, you won’t hide anything.

It’s pretty clear that post-arrest silence cannot be commented on – because really, why even have the right if you’re going to allow that, but yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that [PDF] pre-arrest silence can be equated to guilt.

That means, if you’re questioned by a police officer, before being arrested, and you refuse to answer a question, that silence is proof that you’re guilty.

Because, see, it’s not that you don’t have a right to be silent – we don’t know that for sure – but you have to explicitly invoke that right. Meaning you have to say it out loud.

“Sorry officer, but I refuse to answer your question.”

You know what I call that? A technicality. A technicality that has now erased a whole lot more of what was written into the Fifth Amendment for your protection.

So why this line? Isn’t the “Miranda” warning prophylactic, as we were just told? Isn’t that merely an “advisement” of an already existing right?

So do I have the privilege against self-incrimination or not? Does it matter if I’m arrested or not? Should it? I’m either incriminating myself or I’m not. Does my custodial status matter?

Orin Kerr, writing at Volokh, asks two questions:

Finally, I have two major questions about how Salinas is supposed to work in practice. The first question is obvious: How clear an invocation of the Fifth Amendment right does it need to be?

Second, and perhaps more interestingly, it’s unclear to me what is supposed to happen when a suspect outside of custody clearly asserts his Fifth Amendment privilege.

You really should read his entire post – and this one by fellow blawger bmaz, and this one at Cato and this one by Bobby G. F. – but I can answer that second one easily: what’s supposed to happen is that law enforcement respects the existence and invocation of those rights and stops questioning.

But that’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is that they’re not going to advise anyone of these rights. They’re going to “manufacture” scenarios so as to elicit silences and then use those silences to form the basis for probable cause to arrest people. Can’t you just imagine that officer who says that “based on his training and experience”, “innocent people don’t make furtive gestures” and since you did and then “stared silently, with a guilty expression, at the floor”, there is probable cause to believe that you are, in fact, guilty?

I don’t trust them to not abuse this to arrest individuals they don’t have much else on, in an effort to get them into a custodial setting in a police department to further “question” them.

If silence is guilt, then is that enough for probable cause?

When a silence is as good as an admission, does it really matter how you question someone or what you ask them?

The State has already argued that it should have the authority to detain – and that’s a legal term meaning you’re not free to go – anyone on the street for no reason whatsoever. Now they can ask you questions and if you silently walk away, they get to claim you’re guilty because of that?

Do you feel the grip tightening? Do you feel trapped yet?

Perhaps it is easy for you to say – as it is for the august Justices of the Supreme Court – that only a guilty person would refuse to answer incriminating questions or speak up about their rights. But have you ever witnessed an “interrogation”? There’s a reason why false confessions is a growing area of social science study. And what of those with limited mental abilities, or language barriers?

The Constitution is not dependent upon your level of confidence or your proficiency in English. It exists, as it always has, as a document that has executed. It’s rights have been conferred and now we’re giving the exercise of those rights back to the control of the constabulary.

When those with power decide who gets what protection, eventually, no one gets any.

This is what blind deference to establishment in the name of safety has wrought.

But don’t keep silent about it; I might think you’re guilty.

 

Meet and greet the right to effective assistance

Florida’s Supreme Court, in what can only be described alternatively as “remarkable” and “yeah, no shit”, just last week decided that being “overworked” is a state that can lead to ethical violations and public defenders who are so “overburdened” can be permitted to refuse appointments en masse.

The story started with the public defenders in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida being horribly overworked and overburdened with high caseloads – hello, welcome to the state of being – and decided to refuse appointments in all third degree felony cases, some 21 in all.

We’re overworked, they said, like you’ve always said. So now that chicken has come home to roost. We’re so overworked, they said, that we can’t possibly effectively represent all these clients. We can’t investigate, we can’t meet with the clients, we don’t have time to talk to each client. We have to “triage”, which means give priority to the oldest and most difficult cases first, which means, if you’re keeping track, that clients sit in jail for shitloads of time without meeting lawyers and without having any work done on their cases.

So, the Florida Supreme Court said [PDF], this is not tenable. Such representation puts defense attorneys in the position of having to provide representation below constitutional standards.

So we will allow defense attorneys to withdraw and perhaps appoint other attorneys.

Defense attorneys. The gatekeepers of justice. The benchmark for what is Constitutional and what isn’t. The overreliance on Gideon as a test for the efficacy of the system. The new mantra of Appellate Courts seems to be “if defense counsel didn’t object, it must’ve been okay”. Nevermind that defense counsel was frazzled, unaware, overburdened and overworked.

Then we come to this choice quote, sure to be repeated in every story about this decision:

Witnesses from the Public Defender’s office described “meet and greet pleas” as being routine procedure. The assistant public defender meets the defendant for the first time at arraignment during a few minutes in the courtroom or hallway and knows nothing about the case except for the arrest form provided by the state attorney, yet is expected to counsel the defendant about the State’s plea offer.

In this regard, the public defenders serve “as mere conduits for plea offers.” The witnesses also described engaging in “triage” with their cases – giving priority to the cases of defendants in custody, leaving out-of-custody defendants effectively without representation for lengthy periods subsequent to arraignment.

The witnesses also testified that the attorneys almost never visited the crime scenes, were unable to properly investigate or interview witnesses themselves, often had other attorneys conduct their depositions, and were often unprepared to proceed to trial when the case was called. Thus, the circumstances presented here involve – 34 – some measure of nonrepresentation and therefore a denial of the actual assistance of counsel guaranteed by Gideon and the Sixth Amendment.

Great stuff. You know what’s missing? Any acknowledgment that the defense attorney is but a bit player in this game. That a share of the responsibility and blame lies with the prosecutors and judges.

Meet and greet pleas? You know why they happen? Because judges and prosecutors make “arraignment only” plea offers. Because they say: “take this non-jail time offer today or you’ll never get it back”. The defense attorney, reading a police report for the first time, cannot refuse to tell his client of the offer, nor can any sane attorney counsel his client otherwise.

But that’s not the attorney’s fault, nor is it the fault of high caseloads. They know nothing about the case in these meet and great pleas. You know why? Because they’re given no discovery. The State doesn’t turn it over for a while and in some cases it’s always a fight. But apparently that’s the public defender’s fault.

Are we overworked? Yes. Are we overburdened? Yes. Is there a conflict of interest? Yes. But it would be nice to see that the system actually acknowledged all the problems instead of making us the gatekeepers of fairness, which is a neat trick, if you think about it, because when it comes down to it, we control nothing.

Maybe now the right to effective assistance of counsel will mean something in Florida. Time to pay attention to those other rights.

—–
Compare and contrast the Connecticut Supreme Court which said, inexplicably, that there is no conflict when two members of the same office represent two co-defendants, one of whom was snitching on the other.

Also compare the FL Supreme Court’s cognitive dissonance when dealing with death row lawyers who are overworked and overburdened. Apparently death is different.

Sometimes, justice requires a bit of luck

JamesWalder Joseph Frey has spent a lot of time in jail. Some of it for crimes he committed and a lot of it for one crime he always said he didn’t. In 1991, he was fingered as the suspect in a brutal break-in and rape of a student at knifepoint. Just this week, a judge in Wisconsin reversed his conviction. But, in 1994:

He was convicted on Feb. 2, 1994, by a Winnebago County jury despite his claims of innocence, the victim’s dubious identification of him as the attacker, the lack of a DNA match and destruction by an Oshkosh Police detective of important evidence before the trial.

That old evidence included a jailhouse informant, the victim’s identification of Frey in a “live in-person lineup,” prior sexual assault charges and DNA results from the victim’s bedsheet that excluded Frey as the source.

The holy grail of wrongful convictions: 1) A misidentification; 2) DNA that excludes the defendant; 3) Evidence getting mysteriously destroyed by a police department; 4) Tunnel vision; 5) A jailhouse informant.

The “identification” was done by police in a “simultaneous” manner – a practice now frowned upon because it results in people picking the person who “looks most like” rather than “who is” the suspect. They also placed the same person in more than one lineup, which would signal to anyone with a functioning brain cell that the person who repeatedly showed up was one that police believed did the crime.

And there were other problems. The Innocence Project said the victim identified at least two other men before saying that Frey “looked similar” to her attacker.

There was DNA tested before trial and that DNA (stains from the bedsheet) excluded Frey, but the prosecutor argued – and the jury believed – that those stains could just be leftover from consensual sexual activity the victim had. The news report doesn’t reveal whether that was followed up with the victim at trial or compared to the DNA of any lover she might have had to confirm that.

But the real kickers here are the actions of the police department and the tunnel vision they tend to develop when they have a suspect in their sights. Confirmation bias kicks in and the police start viewing all the evidence through the lens of confirming their suspicion, rather than looking at it neutrally and seeing where it goes. Oh, and it would’ve been nice if, you know, they hadn’t destroyed evidence before the trial:

After those results were received — and before trial — all of the physical evidence in the case reportedly was destroyed, according to trial testimony of then-Oshkosh Detective Phil Charley, who acknowledged disposing of the items but “could not recall anyone ordering him to destroy the evidence,” the Innocence Project said.

Maybe there was a shortage of space. In Phil Charley’s brain. But wait, there’s more:

“In addition to the improper destruction of evidence,” the motion for DNA testing said, “all of the police documents, including police reports, inventory reports, submission and transmittal forms, testing requests and results and chains of custody, were destroyed by the (Oshkosh Police Department).”  “As a result, it is unclear what evidence was originally collected, identified for testing, or remained after destruction.”

I can’t think of one single legitimate reason to destroy these items, especially at or near the time of trial. Maybe 20 years down the road, after legal challenges have been disposed of, maybe. But police departments have strict policies about this. Because you never know, when one day 20 years down the road, DNA testing implicates someone else. What’s that you say? Is that what happened here?

Frey’s chance at exoneration came after a Winnebago County court clerk discovered a scrap of bedsheet left over from the “improper” destruction of the physical evidence by a now-retired Oshkosh Police detective before Frey’s 1994 trial, according to the Innocence Project’s October motion seeking DNA testing.

A scrap. Of a bedsheet. In a clerk’s office. That’s what needed to happen to save Frey. Not all the dubious evidence and the shenanigans that I outlined above. All of that is what got him convicted. It took a random bedsheet scrap that somehow escaped the purge of Detective Fife Charley.

And it wasn’t just that the bedsheet had DNA that excluded Frey. They already knew that. It was only when the DNA evidence matched that of another convicted rapist, who prior to his death in 2008, may have tried to confess to this crime, that the prosecutor was willing to concede that, okay, maybe, perhaps, if you squint really hard, they had the wrong guy.

Finality is such a powerful thing that even the most level headed and logical people get so entrenched in their positions. “It has been decided”, they say, “so mere doubt cannot and will not be permitted to give us doubts about the veracity of our decisions. We must be slapped repeatedly in the face to awaken us from our stupor”.

It was sheer dumb luck that brought Joseph Frey to the precipice of exoneration and freedom. How many are sitting in jail right now, convicted on this evidence, without that scrap of a bedsheet? How many are sitting in jail right now, because prosecutors are convinced, despite evidence to the contrary, that they got the right guy all those years ago? How many are sitting in jail right now, because prosecutors refuse to test DNA evidence, because it might prove they got the wrong guy? Hubris is a powerful thing and almost never results in any good.

How many are sitting in jail right now without any DNA out there to support their innocence, convicted based on tainted, faulty identifications, gung-ho cops and juries that can’t convict fast enough because criminals. Isn’t that most frightening thing of all? That there are innocent people in jail right now without any way for the world to know that they exist. Without any way of proving that they didn’t do it. Because they didn’t get lucky. Should the justice system require luck? Or should it require proof?

So the next time you read a story about an obviously guilty guy, think for a second. The next time you’re on a jury, think long and hard. Are you convinced? Is there any doubt? Or are you going to say good enough and figure maybe he’ll get lucky down the road?

Frey was represented in his motion for a new trial by a dear personal friend of mine, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, Tricia Bushnell. I know the volume of hard work that she and her students did in this case and words cannot ever justify the satisfaction that she must be feeling, so I can only say congratulations and that maybe now you should take a nap, Tricia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A deliberate pattern of improper conduct”

The long lament has been the unaccountability of prosecutors in the criminal justice system: they are given broad powers and responsibilities and then shielded at every turn from being held accountable for the myriad, tiny abuses that are committed on a fairly regular basis. Just last week we were all mourning the ineffectual Brady v. Maryland. We all screamed when Connick was announced, holding that prosecutors weren’t financially liable for misconduct impropriety. We all rolled our eyes when they changed misconduct to impropriety. We all roll our eyes when courts point out impropriety but refuse to name the prosecutors who committed that misconduct. But what isn’t at dispute is that prosecutors have a special role to play in the criminal justice system; their responsibilities are elevated and the standards they should be held to are higher.

A great deal is at stake in a criminal trial. The interests involved go beyond the private interests at  stake in the ordinary civil case.They involve significant public interests. . . . [T]he criminal jury trial has a role in protecting not only the liberty of the accused, but also the entire citizenry from overzealous or overreaching state authority.

Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145.

When presenting closing arguments, as in all facets of a criminal trial, the prosecutor, as a representative of the state, has a duty of fairness that exceeds that of other advocates. [A] prosecutor is not an ordinary advocate. His [or her] duty is to see that justice is done and  to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce prejudice and wrongful decisions by the jury.

State v.Moore, 69 Conn. App.  117, 130.

So believe me when I say that what the Connecticut Appellate Court did yesterday was truly extraordinary. It has happened maybe once or twice in the last decade or perhaps even two.

The opinion in State v. Santiago [PDF] starts thusly:

The defendant, Victor Santiago,appeals  from his conviction of felony murder in violation of  General Statutes § 53a-54c and murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a, claiming that he was deprived of his due process right to a fair trial due to improper comments made by the prosecutor, Terence D. Mariani, Jr., during his closing and rebuttal arguments to the jury.

He also asks this court to invoke its  inherent supervisory authority over the administration  of justice to reverse his conviction in light of Mariani’s improper comments made during his closing argument to the jury and his deliberate pattern of making such comments in numerous other cases.

Because we conclude that Mariani has engaged in a deliberate pattern of improper conduct in this case and others, and he remains undeterred by pronouncements by this court and our Supreme Court that his conduct was improper, we believe that nothing short of reversal will have the effect of deterring him.

We thus reverse the defendant’s  judgment of conviction and remand the case for a  new trial.

Unheard of. Just simply unheard of. Not only does the opinion name the prosecutor, but also calls his conduct a “deliberate pattern”.

Judge Sheldon, who wrote the opinion, is absolutely correct: the only just penalty for repeated Constitutional violations and wanton disregard for trial and appellate court orders and cautions and reprimands is to reverse the conviction. What else can be done to drive home the message that prosecutors are not free to abuse the law and that the rules apply to them, too. If they are to be given a license to disregard Due Process with ease, then how can one with a straight face then hold defendants and defense attorneys to much higher standards?

Mariani did everything in this case he isn’t supposed to: he played on the jurors’ sympathies for the victim and witness, he demonized the defendant and his family and equated the prosecutor’s job with that of the jury’s. Each by itself would be a reversible Due Process violation. The court then lists 8 other cases in which Mariani’s conduct was censured by the Appellate or Supreme Court and he was admonished not to do so again. And yet he persisted.

It’s not that he’s not smart or that he doesn’t understand it: the only explanation can be that he just doesn’t care. To repeatedly, continually disregard instructions from judges and appellate courts about the impropriety of one’s actions can only signal that the subject thinks himself or herself to be above the law. This clearly got to the Court, which reasoned:

Mariani made several improper comments in this case, a felony murder case, and, in so doing, jeopardized the constitutionality of the trial proceedings. More troublesome, however, is his repeated and deliberate use of improper argument throughout other cases. Despite the fact that this court and our Supreme Court have repeatedly determined that Mariani has exceeded the  bounds of proper conduct, he continues to do so. We thus conclude, as our Supreme Court did in Payne, that “nothing short of reversal will deter similar misconduct in the future.” Id., 466.

Stunning, unprecedented and well deserved. The only question remains is whether the Supreme Court will reverse, because you know, criminals.