Supreme Court Says Prosecutor Went Too Far In Criticizing Defense Strategy
Another notable case of prosecutorial misconduct came earlier this year. In the state Appellate Court ruling in State v. Santiago, the judges said that Senior Assistant State's Attorney Terence Mariani made several improper comments during a murder trial, and that he had been previously warned about such conduct by state Supreme Court justices.
The conviction was overturned in the Santiago case. But though attorneys agree that prosecutorial impropriety is often alleged in criminal case appeals, it is rare for the courts to agree that it occurred and even rarer to overturn a conviction because of it.
'Bunch Of Excuses'
In the most recent case, Maguire, 47, was arrested in 2008 for allegedly molesting an 8-year-old girl. He sometimes served as a babysitter for the girl and her 10-year-old brother. It was the boy who reported the alleged sexual contact to his mother's cousin. Maguire was the boyfriend of a different cousin.
Charges against Maguire included first-degree sexual assault and felony risk of injury to a minor. The jury acquitted him of the more severe sexual assault charge, but convicted him of misdemeanor sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor. Maguire, who was sentenced to six years in prison, has remained free pending the outcome of the appeal.
During the trial, the defendant argued that the girl fabricated the story about the molestation and then repeated the lie to an older brother in the backyard. Pattis, the defense lawyer, argued that the lie took a life of its own when the boy repeated it to an adult, prompting investigations from the Department of Children and Families and police.
Pattis also asserted that the lie had the immediate effect of reuniting the alleged victim's parents, who, until that moment, had been "at war" with one another, "a fact that could not have been lost on the victim."
The defense attorney also noted that the girl's account of what happened changed significantly during the two years between the arrest and trial.
During her closing argument, Hodge's told the jury: "What [defense counsel's] asking you for is to condone child abuse. … I would assume what you wanted to hear was the truth, not a bunch of excuses, not … a big cloud of smoke and mirrors. … You wanted to hear the truth. That's not what you heard. You heard a … coached conversation between a defense attorney and his client."
Hodge continued: "It's not a secret that child abuse is a crime. But what counsel's asking you to do is to say that … child abuse that happens in secret is legal, and that is not the law. I ask you to find the defendant guilty."