State Bar disciplinary charges filed against prosecutor for misconduct & reversal of conviction in (an unrelated) published case today!

23 Feb

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Chalk two tallies up for justice today!  The state bar announced they are filing disciplinary charges against former City Attorney (yes, THE City Attorney at the time) Carmen Trutanich (always name names) for Brady violations (and failing to correct false testimony) in a death penalty case.  The matter arose before the State Bar after a federal judge overturned the murder conviction and death sentence due to the misconduct.  Read full press release below.

Meanwhile, the Second District reversed a child molestation case on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct after a Supreme Court remand for the appellate court to consider the case in light of Centeno (which, btw, is a TERRIFIC prosecutorial misconduct case.)

The misconduct was misstating the law as follows:

“Let me tell you that presumption [of innocence] is over. Because that presumption is in place only when the charges are read. But you have now heard all the evidence. That presumption is gone.”

The Court held this argument was a misstatement of the presumption of innocence standard (duh.)

The prosecutor also “buttressed this grossly inaccurate explanation of reasonable doubt with the erroneous statement that the jury’s decision regarding defendant’s guilt is just an ordinary decision people make “a hundred times a day.”

Appellate counsel argued that the “hundred times a day” argument was also misconduct: “Cowan cites People v. Nguyen (1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 28, 36, where the court strongly disapproved of arguments suggesting the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard is used in everyday life.”  The Court declined to address the propriety of the second argument because there was no objection and because the error could have been cured by an admonition.

People, PLEASE object to this “hundred times a day” argument not only on the basis that they cannot equate BRD to everyday decisions, but also on the ground that it is misconduct to say that defendants are convicted everyday on this standard.  I really think it’s improper for the jury to consider other cases/convictions because, if for no other reason, the jury does not even know the strength of the evidence in other case. (Note, I haven’t researched this second issue.)

Press release:

STATE BAR FILES DISCIPLINARY CHARGES AGAINST FORMER L.A. CITY ATTORNEY FOR PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

Contact: Laura Ernde 415-538-2283 barcomm@calbar.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 23, 2017 – The State Bar of California has filed disciplinary charges against a former Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen A. Trutanich, stemming from alleged prosecutorial misconduct during a death penalty case he handled more than 30 years ago when he was a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County.

Trutanich, 65, [bar #86629], is accused of withholding the true name and address of a witness from the defense and failing to correct false testimony by two of his witnesses in the People v. Barry Glenn Williams, Los Angeles County Superior Court case A623377.

Last year, a federal judge cited prosecutorial misconduct in overturning Williams’ murder conviction and death sentence, which then triggered a review by the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel. The bar is notified when a criminal conviction is overturned due to attorney misconduct.

Trutanich, who served as the elected Los Angeles City Attorney from 2009-2013, will have a chance to respond to the charges, which must be proven in State Bar Court and approved by the California Supreme Court before any discipline is imposed.

The State Bar Board of Trustees in October recommended enactment of a proposed new ethics rule regarding the special duties of prosecutors in criminal cases, specifically addressing their responsibility to disclose evidence to the defense. The rule is awaiting approval by the California Supreme Court. The charges against Trutanich are based on existing rules and laws regarding a lawyer’s duty to uphold the law and to not suppress evidence.

The filing of disciplinary charges by the State Bar does not constitute a finding of professional misconduct. Attorney discipline charges are adjudicated in State Bar Court. The California Supreme Court has final authority over all disbarments and suspensions.”

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