Prosecutorial Misconduct Warranted a New Trial
The Fourth Department reversed defendant’s conviction and ordered a new trial because of the prosecutor’s misconduct. The prosecutor shifted the burden of proof, vouched for the single witness, and appealed to the sympathies of the jury:
The prosecutor began her summation by improperly characterizing the People’s case as “the truth” and denigrating the defense as a diversion ,,, . In addition, the prosecutor implied that defendant bore the burden of proving that the complainant had a motive to lie, thereby impermissibly shifting the burden of proof to defendant … .
Perhaps most egregiously in this one-witness case where credibility was paramount, the prosecutor repeatedly and improperly vouched for the veracity of the complainant … . The prosecutor asked the jury “to listen carefully to the 911 call. It may not clearly state what happened, but statements that [the complainant] made like, I’m bugging, but I tried to catch him, that’s why I left,’ are examples of the ring of truth.” Defense counsel objected, and the objection was sustained. Nonetheless, the prosecutor continued: “I submit to you the (complainant’s statements) are truthful.” The prosecutor also bolstered the complainant’s credibility by making herself an unsworn witness in the case … . In addressing inconsistencies between the complainant’s testimony and his earlier statement to the police, the prosecutor argued that the complainant made only “[o]ne inconsistent statement, from talking to the police and talking to me” (emphasis added). The prosecutor’s remark suggests that the complainant made numerous prior consistent statements to the police and to the prosecutor herself, and we conclude that such suggestion has no basis in the record … .
The prosecutor also improperly appealed to the sympathies of the jury by extolling the complainant’s “bravery” in calling the police and testifying against defendant … . The prosecutor told the jurors that it was “not an easy decision” for complainant to call the police, and asked them to “hang [their] hat on . . . [the complainant]’s bravery by coming in front of you.” The prosecutor argued that the neighborhood where the crime occurred and where the complainant’s family worked “is an anti-police atmosphere.” After defense counsel’s objection to that comment was sustained, the prosecutor protested that “it was a statement in evidence” when, in fact, that testimony had been stricken from the record, and County Court had specifically warned the prosecutor not “to go into what this area is like.” The prosecutor nonetheless continued her summation by asking the jurors to “[u]se [their] common sense to think about whether or not this happened and why there’s no other witnesses” (emphasis added). The prosecutor argued that the complainant “is someone who knows the game. He knows the neighborhood, and he knows what would have been the easy thing to do, and I submit to you that easy thing to do was not to call 911 that day.” She continued: “So please tell [the complainant] he did the right thing by calling 911 and telling them one man’s word is enough. Tell them that he is brave to report this.” The prosecutor ended her summation by urging the jury to “tell [the complainant] that his truthfulness is enough to convict the defendant” by returning a guilty verdict. People v Griffin, 2015 NY Slip op 01346, 4th Dept 2-13-15