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Prosecutorial misconduct causes reversal of murder conviction

in  an important case involving prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument, the Washington Supreme Court  reversed a first degree murder conviction in State v. Walker. The decision was announced on January 22, 2015, and reaffirms the criminal law requirement of a fair jury trial.

The prosecutor had repeatedly expressed his personal opinion about the defendant’s guilt, partly through the argument itself, and partly through Power Point slides. One of these depicted the defendant’s booking photo with the words “GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT” superimposed in very large boldface red letters. Of the 250 slides used in the Power Point presentation, over 100 of them were headed by the caption “Defendant Walker guilty of premeditated murder”. A number of these involved altered versions of exhibits admitted during the trial.  The  majority of the court found over 100 of them to improperly express the personal opinion of the prosecutor that the defendant was guilty, which Washington courts have repeatedly held denies the accused person  a fair trial.The court held that other slides were improper because of racial slurs or other inflammatory text or positioning next to photos of the victim of the crime.

While the court did not condemn the use of Power Point presentations during closing argument, it noted that “advocacy has its limits” and  that a prosecutor has a duty to ensure a fair trial. The prosecutor’s office involved here had notice of these limits, since it had previously been warned not to use such tactics in closing argument in a decision handed down in 2012, In re Glasmann.

The defendant will receive a new trial as a result of the court’s decision.

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