Society places a tremendous amount of trust in prosecutors. They are vested with the power to pursue criminal charges and keep the average citizen safe. However, sometimes prosecutors step outside the bounds of what they are ethically allowed to do, confusing juries or avoiding legal arguments to obtain a conviction at all costs.
However, if a prosecutor convinces a jury to convict a defendant on these grounds, a court reviewing the case will find that obvious prosecutorial misconduct exists, and the conviction can be vacated, as recently illustrated in the Second District Court of Appeals case People v. Mpulamasaka.
People v. Mpulamasaka and Prosecutorial Misconduct
In Mpulamaska, the defendant was placed on trial based on allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman outside of a Highland Park restaurant in 2011. The trial commenced in 2013, with the defendant claiming that the sexual encounter between he and the woman was consensual.
The issue of prosecutorial misconduct arose in the closing arguments, at which time the state’s attorney used several tactics to invoke a purely emotional response from the jury, including sitting in the witness stand and talking about the courage of the alleged victim while questioning the defendant’s versions of events. The appellate court called this conduct by the state’s attorney “troubling.”
The court held that while there is no clear law or ethical rule that bars a prosecutor from sitting in the witness stand during closing arguments (and indeed prosecutors have quite a bit of leeway in making these arguments), this act amounted to vouching for the woman’s story, which is barred by ethical rules.
The court of appeals believed that the conduct of the prosecutor in Mpulamaska was so prejudicial that the defendant would not have been convicted of aggravated sexual assault but for the actions of the state’s attorney. Accordingly, the verdict of the jury was reversed.
Types of Prosecutorial Misconduct to Watch Out For
While Illinois courts have never dealt with a case quite like Mpulamaska before, there are several other things prosecutors may do that are always considered misconduct including:
· Arguments or other statements intended to confuse the jury or draw attention to irrelevant issues
· Arguments meant to appeal more to emotion to logic, including using terms such as “predator” to describe a defendant
· Misstating expert testimony or improperly questioning the reputation of an expert
· Accusing counsel for the defendant of trying to confuse the jury or otherwise acting unethically without any grounds for making such claims
Any of this conduct is grounds for seeking appeal of a conviction.
Chicago Criminal Appeals Attorney
Prosecutors are required to prove the guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction, but there are limits on how far they can go to prove a case. If the statements by made by a prosecutor in the course of a trial amount to misconduct, it may be grounds to have your conviction vacated. For more information about appealing a criminal conviction in Illinois, contact the Chicago offices of Barney & Hourihane today to speak with an attorney about your case.