By G. Mony Manibog, Esq.
(Editor’s Note: Former Monterey Park Mayor, G. Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives to Journal readers.)
The U.S. Constitution gives every criminally charged defendant the right to a fair trial by a jury of his peers. Such rights forbid prosecutors from using
questionable tactics to bring about convictions and for those who do, there are criminal sanctions as well and may be subject to criminal proceedings.
In point is the recent case of Johnny Baca who was convicted of murder in a Riverside County court. A lower court had determined that the prosecutor lied on the witness stand in support of a jailhouse informant’s lies. Nevertheless, the lower courts did nothing to correct the issue.
However, a federal court judge ordered the state attorney general to dismiss the case, which was done, though it is not clear whether Riverside County would refile the case.
There has been a rash of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years, the most notorious being that of the late U.S. Senator from Alaska in 2010, Ted Stevens, who was convicted on federal corruption charges when the prosecutors failed to turn over to the defense councel some “exculpatory” evidence (evidence that would be favorable to the defense). Senator Stevens lost his bid for re-election, by a very slim margin, even after he was cleared, and died shortly thereafter.All too often, prosecutors, in their eagerness to win convictions to boost their careers, engage in “prosecutional misconduct”, which in effect violates a defendant’s right to a fair trial as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
In the Baca case, lower courts overturned the conviction and alluded to the lies and misconduct of the prosecution but no punitive actions were taken until a federal appeals judge, Alex Kozinski, excoriated the state attorney general and his prosecutor who attempted to defend the conviction, after it was shown that the county prosecutor lied on the witness stand to support the lies of a jailhouse informant. Therefore, judge Kozinski, who noted that the lower courts usually take no actions against erring prosecutors, made it clear that he wanted disciplinary measures against the prosecutor who lied on the stand and the one who put him there.
It must be noted that the aim of the law is to guarantee a fair trial and that criminal prosecutors are duty bound to ensure that the trials are fair and verdicts are just. This means they must also provide to defense counsel any “exculpatory evidence”, (evidence that would also be helpful to the defense).
Clearly, prosecutors who themselves lie on the stand to support their cases or place witnesses on the stand to lie for the prosecution, constitutes blatant prosecutorial misconduct and Judge Kozinski appropriately directed that such prosecutors be investigated and, if warranted, be disciplined and/or tried themselves for such breach of the law that could violate the rights of criminal defendants.
While the vast majority of prosecutors are decent men and women dedicated to prosecuting and convicting those who do harm to society, they are also under obligation to not violate one’s constitutional right to a fair trial and when it appears that overanxious prosecutors do so in an obvious effort to boost their careers, the hammer of justice must fall on them as well and do some penance behind bars too.