Thursday, April 15, 2010

Prosecutorial Misconduct-Child Abuse Prosecution Blown

When the prosecutor lies about the law to the jury, he costs the taxpayers a costly prosecution for naught, and he costs the victims, justice. This is what occurred in this instance as reported the Tacoma News Tribune.  This is from Sean Robinson's article:

A decision issued Tuesday by the state appeals court overturned a South Hill woman’s convictions for first- and second-degree child assault.  The unanimous decision erases the conviction of Loni Venegas, who was charged in 2007 with assaulting her 12-year-old stepgrandson.   Judges from Division II of the state Court of Appeals cited wrongly excluded testimony, improperly admitted evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

The case originally was argued before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frederick Fleming. The prosecutors were Kevin McCann and Sunni Ko. The defense attorney was Judith Mendel. During the trial, Venegas said the charges were untrue and that the victim had fabricated stories of abuse. The boy had moved in with the South Hill woman after his mother died in a car crash.  Jurors convicted Venegas on June 6, 2008, after an eight-week trial. Venegas, then 34, was sentenced to 14 years and two months in prison.

The original charges cited repeated examples of assault on the child [. . . ]Separate charges were filed against Venegas’ husband, Remil Venegas, who pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of child mistreatment. State appeals judges ruled that expert medical testimony by a defense was wrongly excluded. The expert had offered an opinion that some of the victim’s injuries did not stem from abuse, but the jury didn’t hear it.

Appeals judges also said that the lower court allowed testimony regarding 'other acts'  by Venegas that created unnecessary prejudice and should not have been permitted.   The ruling also said one of the prosecutors misstated the law during the closing argument of the trial. According to the ruling, the prosecutor told the jury, 'In order to find the defendant not guilty, you have to say to yourselves, ‘I doubt the defendant is guilty, and my reason is – blank.’ ' [WHAT!]

Appeals judges called the phrasing a misstatement of the law, noting the doctrine of presumption of innocence continues from the beginning of a trial to its end. They cited an earlier appeals decision from 2009, also stemming from Pierce County.  The earlier ruling reversed a conviction on similar grounds: misstatement of the presumption of innocence. Appeals judges scolded prosecutors for making the same mistake again. 'We reiterate that prosecutors who continue to employ an improper, ‘fill-in-the-blank’ argument needlessly risk reversal of their convictions,' appeals judges stated."
This is really awful stuff.  This "step-grandmother's" behavior was beastial.  Now you see the problem.  The prosecutors' misconduct cost this child, and the taxpayers an important blow against child abuse. 
The thing is, you can actually see why the prosecutors in this case were motivated to act the way they did.  The defendant's alleged crimes were heinous, gut-wrenching, shocking to the conscience; but, the job description requires prosecutorial detachment and professionalism.  Not what went on in this case. 

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