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Those charged with a crime are entitled to a fair trial under the United States Constitution. However, a fair trial can quickly be undermined if a prosecutor makes improper comments during the course of the criminal proceedings.
If such comments rise to the level of depriving a defendant of his or her due process right to a fair trail, a conviction may thereby be reversed, as seen in the Connecticut Appellate Court case of State v. Martinez.
An alleged drug transaction
An officer followed two people who were suspected to be purchasing drugs. At a public park, the two people met with the defendant and a woman on a park bench.
From more than 80 yards away, the officer observed the parties' interactions using binoculars. Despite the fact that much of the group's interactions were obstructed from his view, he alleged that a drug transaction had occurred in which the defendant and the woman next to him exchanged something, followed by exchanges with the people purportedly buying drugs.
When the officer called in additional units, the defendant did not attempt to run or resist arrest, and no contraband was found on him, although the woman with him apparently was found with small parcels of narcotics and $25 in cash. In addition, the defendant was found to have $60 in cash on his person, but evidence of this cash was suppressed by the court in response to the defendant's motion. The jury heard no evidence regarding the cash.
The jury found the defendant guilty of possession of narcotics with intent to sell and conspiracy, based on the fact that he allegedly had control over the narcotics discovered on the woman with him. The defendant appealed the conviction on several grounds, including a claim that the prosecutor's comments during the closing arguments had deprived him of a fair trial.
Prosecutor's comments improper
The Connecticut Appellate Court noted that the defendant's possession of $60 in cash had been suppressed by the court, and the trial court had stated the cash would not be the subject of testimony during the trial. However, during closing arguments, the prosecutor remarked that someone selling drugs would generally make sure that the drugs and money were in a coconspirator's possession. The prosecutor also noted that there was no money found on the defendant.
There was no evidence in the record supporting this alleged practice and, in fact, the state failed to present evidence from any of its experts in narcotics trafficking that it was a common practice. Therefore, it was improper for the prosecutor to make this statement to the jury without support in the evidence. Additionally, the prosecutor's statements that a defendant having no money was "typical behavior of drug dealers" was contrary to the earlier court suppression order.
While either statement alone might not have established impropriety, the cumulative effect of both statements deprived the defendant of his right to a fair trial on the drug charges. The defendant's conviction was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.
Protecting your constitutional rights
If you are charged with a crime, there are constitutional requirements and limitations which must be observed, whether during your arrest or during a trial. A person accused of a crime should have an experienced criminal defense attorney who will pursue the best possible outcome for the case, while protecting the client's rights throughout the process.