People v. Uribe: Prosecutor’s Conduct Was “Grossly Shocking and Outrageous” — But Not Shocking or Outrageous Enough to Warrant Dismissal of the Charges
The latest turn of the screw in the infamous Uribe case, in which Santa Clara County prosecutors failed to hand over critical exclupatory evidence. The trial court dismissed the charges in the case in response to the continued lying of the prosecutor after the case had already been reversed for a Brady violation, but the Court of Appeal now reverses that dismissal. The analysis:
A prosecutor’s false testimony in any court proceeding is a grave affront to the judicial system. It is undoubtedly an act that is “outrageous” in a general, nonconstitutional sense. When such prosecutorial misconduct impairs a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial, it may constitute outrageous governmental conduct warranting dismissal. But here the false testimony occurred in a peripheral hearing and was not shown to have prejudiced defendant’s right to a fair trial. The misconduct thus did not constitute outrageous governmental conduct in violation of due process. Accordingly, while we acknowledge the trial court’s understandable and profound concern about the former prosecutor‟s misconduct, including his false testimony, the court chose the wrong remedy. We will reverse the dismissal order.
The messages coming from the California higher courts on prosecutorial misconduct are awfully bleak these days. It was earlier this year that the California Supreme Court depublished People v. Higgins, the case that found a San Diego Deputy District Attorney had engaged in a “pervasive pattern of inappropriate questions, comments and argument, throughout the entire trial, each one building on the next, to such a degree as to undermine the fairness of the proceedings.” The Court of Appeal’s new opinion in Uribe is careful to note that “Our conclusion should in no way be construed as a signal that we condone the misconduct that the trial court found, based upon substantial evidence, to have occurred here.” And while I’m sure that is a sincerely intended caveat, legal opinions are not simply exercises in academic research; and where there is no sanction, there is little disincentive to repeat the type of conduct that is ostensibly being deemed problematic. It was almost exactly a year ago, in fact, that this blog ran a post titled Report: Most Prosecutorial Misconduct Goes Unpunished.