People v. Mpulamasaka, 2016 IL App (2d) 130703 (January). Episode 127 (Duration 15:34).
Prosecution walks the line to win a conviction. Appellate court quickly reverses.
This is how the prosecution defended its closing argument in this rape case:
“it’s okay to walk the line as long as you don’t cross that line, as long as you’re doing everything ethically and in good faith.”
In fact if the statement can be scrupulously honored, there is no problem at all.
However, when this mindset is combined with a willful non acceptance of the facts in a case nothing good can happen.
The State’s theory was that the Defendant committed a forcible rape against a mentally disabled women.
When, the facts in the case did not demonstrate that the victim was handicapped the trial judge issued a directed verdict on the count that alleged the victim was unable to grant consent.
This did not stop the prosecution from consistently arguing that the Defendant took advantage of a mentally disabled victim.
The State proceeded to argue these points to the jury…
- The State used evidence admitted for one purpose, ability to consent, to establish the element of force.
- The State knew that it had failed to establish that the victim was unable to consent and that defendant knew as much, yet argued repeatedly that the jury should consider the victim’s “disability” on the issue of force in that defendant “manipulated” her.
- During its closing and rebuttal arguments, the State made 21 direct references to the victim’s intellectual limitations.
- The prosecutors used the victim’s learning disability to confuse the jury on the issue of consent.
- The State depicted defendant as a “predator” who took “a piece of meat” home with him.
- During its rebuttal argument, it argued that the Defendant’s expert “was at the rent-a-doctor agency sipping a latte” and that he sold his integrity “for three pieces of silver.”
- At the same time, the State misstated their own expert’s testimony, arguing that their doctor “told you point blank, she didn’t say it’s likely, she said this was as a result of a violent sexual assault, point blank.” Unfortunately, this was not exactly the doctor’s testimony.
- By arguing repeatedly, with no evidentiary support, that the victim’s cross-examination answers were not “her own words,” the State violated defendant’s right to confront witnesses.
- The most troubling aspect of the ASA’s conduct was leaving the podium and sitting in the witness chair to argue the victim’s credibility and courage and then discussing defendant’s credibility.
- The State wrapped up its rebuttal with a final appeal to sympathy, calling defendant a “bully” who took advantage of the “weakest amongst us.”
- Overall, the State served only to inflame the passions of the jury and constructed a completely emotional appeal which ignored the facts in the case.
Trial Court’s Responsibility
The reviewing court also cautioned that trial courts have a responsibility to ensure a fair trial for both sides.
It is the trial court’s duty to maintain order in the courtroom. …the trial court here should not have allowed the prosecutor to argue from the witness stand.
The prosecution also has to balance their own rules of professional responsibility that they owe to the court.