According to articles appearing in the press, Johnny Baca was convicted in 1995 of being a hired killer. The conviction was apparently based primarily on the testimony of a jailhouse informant or "snitch." As I have commented in previous blog posts, the testimony of snitches is inherently unreliable as information is "currency" for them, and they are often willing to lie in support of the prosecution's case in exchange for some benefit - such as favorable treatment in their own case or in their conditions of confinement.
During the trial, the snitch testified under oath that he had not cut a deal with the prosecutors in exchange for his testimony (which is what the conviction was based on). Of course, the prosecutor was in the courtroom when the snitch testified in this manner, and never disclosed that this was not true. The snitch was committing perjury, and the prosecutor apparently was doing nothing to expose the lie. It appears the prosecutor wanted to win the case above any other interest - such as truth, justice, ethical obligations, court rules, the Constitution, etc.
The jailhouse informant had, in fact, cut a deal with the prosecution in exchange for his testimony. The perjury was ultimately uncovered years after the conviction - years during which the defendant was sitting behind bars. On appeal, the government (the State) initially opposed setting aside the conviction despite the perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct. When an appellate judge voiced his concerns, the State finally saw the error of their ways (or the political fallout that was coming) and set aside the conviction.
An article about this case appears here:
What does this have to do with the military justice system? The military justice system is under attack by lawmakers, advocacy groups, and others who seek to limit the ability of military defendants to investigate the allegations against them and to present their defense at trial. Cautionary tales like the Baca case show why it is so important that there be checks and balances to ensure the State (the government, the prosecution) does not have unfair advantage and free reign to convict and jail American citizens. Is anyone in Congress (most of whom are attorneys) tracking on this issue?
As I have argued in previous blog posts:
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, P.C.