Tagged: prosecutor

Interview with Benjamin Ferencz Sends a Powerful Message

The last Nuremberg prosecutor alive, Ben Ferencz now 97 years young, has recently been interviewed by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes. He was an adjunct professor for many years here at Pace Law School. He was only 27 when he was tasked with the impossible – to try the WWII war criminals for the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity in Nuremberg – and it was his first trial. He visited the camps and collected evidence that beyond any reasonable doubt showed guilt for perpetrating unimaginable atrocities during the war against populations of Gypsies, Communists, and Jews.

He shares his powerful memories as if it all happened yesterday, warns, and sends a powerful message.

War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.

And he adds:

If it’s naive to want peace instead of war, let ’em make sure they say I’m naive. Because I want peace instead of war. If they tell me they want war instead of peace, I don’t say they’re naive, I say they’re stupid.

Related Readings:

NY Court of Appeals Overturns a Murder Conviction Because of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

POST WRITTEN BYProf. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.

On July 1, 2015, the N.Y. Court of Appeals issued a 5-1 ruling regarding a prosecutor’s comments on summation that may overstate the probative value of DNA evidence presented at trial and defense counsel’s obligation to object to such comments. People v. Wright, No. 109, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 05621 (July 1, 2015).

The case involved the murder and alleged rape of a woman in Rochester, N.Y., who was found dead of strangulation by means of a ligature, shortly after she had sexual intercourse. A Monroe County prosecutor pursued charges of intentional murder, felony murder, and rape. Defense counsel admitted in opening statement that defendant had intercourse with the victim around the time in question, but argued that this intercourse was consensual. Counsel also vigorously opposed the murder charges.

In its case in chief, the prosecution called three expert witnesses who testified about the potential scientific value in general of the different methods of DNA testing they employed. The experts also carefully explained the limited probative value that could be deduced from their analysis of the ligature and items relating to the victim’s sexual intercourse.

The jury rejected the rape and felony murder charges, but convicted the defendant of intentional murder, pursuant to Penal Law § 125.25(1). The trial court imposed a sentence of 25 years to life. By a 3-2 vote, the Appellate Division affirmed. People v. Wright, 982 N.Y.S. 2d 219, 115  A.D. 3d 1257 (App. Div. 4th Dep’t 2014).

In the July 1 ruling, all six Court of Appeals judges who participated in the case (including especially dissenting Judge Eugene Pigott) credited defense counsel for effectively eliciting from the prosecution’s expert witnesses during cross-examination the limited probative value their testimony provided regarding identifying the defendant as the person possibly responsible for the murder. The appeal therefore focused decisively on statements made by the prosecution on summation and defense counsel’s response (or lack thereof) to such comments.

Upon review of the record, the Court’s majority held that during summation the prosecution prejudicially overstated the probative value of the DNA evidence its own witnesses provided relating to the circumstances of the case. The Court identified several instances in which the prosecutor told the jury that expert testimony conclusively showed that defendant’s DNA was a match for that found on the ligature. The Court noted that these comments contravened what the experts had in fact stated: that DNA analysis was only able to show that the defendant’s DNA could not be excluded from that found on the ligature.

The Court determined that the prosecutor’s “apparent intent was to persuade the jury that the DNA established that defendant had committed the rape and murder, when the evidence did not, and could not, dispositively establish his guilt.” The Court further held that defense counsel provided ineffective assistance because it could not identify any tactical reason to excuse counsel’s “multiple failures” to object to the prosecutor’s “numerous misrepresentations of the evidence.”

In support of its ruling, the majority noted the significant impact that DNA evidence may have on a jury’s deliberations. It further concluded that aside from the expert testimony, evidence produced at trial was insufficient to support defendant’s conviction for second degree murder. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Appellate Division and remanded the case for a new trial.

More on Grand Juries and the US Justice System

On December 5, 2014, as part of the HuffPost Live, Pace Professor of Law and Director of the Pace Criminal Justice Institute Lissa Griffin joined Roger Fairfax, Professor of Law at George Washington University, and the host Josh Zepps for a live discussion about the role and function of grand juries in the US justice system. Josh Zepps introduces the segment by saying that

[i]n the span of two weeks, two grand juries have failed to indict cops involved in the death of unarmed black men. Most counties don’t even have grand juries. Why do we? How do they work? And what can be done to fix our flawed legal system?

The two guests explain what grand jury is, how it operates, how it decides to indict, the role of the prosecutor during grand jury proceedings, and the lack of judicial involvement during this stage. The discussion further progressed to consider comparative perspectives, including the French, German, and English indictment procedures.

Ferguson After Grand Jury

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has been in the media forefront since the tragic shooting in August 2014 but it gained new traction recently when the Ferguson Grand Jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. Traditionally, a grand jury hearing is a one-sided presentation of the facts and evidence by the prosecutor. Not here, however: District Attorney Robert McCulloch decided to let the grand jury hear all the evidence, including a narrative statement by the target. Why? Take a moment to explore this question and read Reflecting on the Ferguson Grand Jury by Joel Cohen & Bennett L. Gershman.

The central irony in this case is that the familiar abuses in the grand jury process typically occur when prosecutors refuse to present all of the evidence and, indeed, hide evidence that might have led a grand jury to refuse to indict – to vote a “no true bill.” What is particularly odd about the Ferguson Grand Jury presentation is the complaint that by his decision to present all of the evidence, McCulloch actually dis-served the prosecution. Why did McCulloch take these steps? We do not know, and we are likely never to know.

Texas Prosecutor Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced in the Morton Case

The prosecutor in the Michael Morton case in Texas, in which the defendant was exonerated, has pled guilty to criminal contempt for intentional non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence and will give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and serve 10 days in jail.  Among the withheld evidence was the account of an eyewitness, the defendant’s son, who said he was not the murderer.

No matter what one’s views are on this unprecedented event, it should raise consciousness about the risk of withholding substantial exculpatory evidence and risking the conviction of an innocent person.