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Monday, February 09, 2015

Conviction Set Aside due to Prosecutorial Misconduct

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:

No one knows when this crusade to “fix” the military justice system will end, but the goal of the crusaders certainly is not justice, nor is it fairness, nor is it supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States.  The goal of the crusaders is prosecution victory.  Period.  That is a very dangerous perspective, and it is one often espoused by enemies of the United States in totalitarian regimes.  It also appears to have been the position of the prosecutor(s) in the Baca case.    

For more information about the military justice system, particularly cases alleging rape and/or sexual assault in violation of UCMJ Article 120, type “rape” or “sexual assault” into the search bar above the blog posts.  Also, see:

We offer free consultations for a case you may be involved in.  Just call us.

Thank you.    

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, P.C.

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank J. Spinner and I (attorney Richard V. Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law and military justice. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens and The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation. These military defense law offices are located in Northern Florida (Pensacola, Ft Walton, Destin, Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, Duke Field, Panama City, Tyndall AFB areas) and Colorado Springs, Colorado (FT Carson, Peterson AFB, Air Force Academy, Schriever AFB, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Buckley AFB areas), but our military defense law practices are worldwide – we travel to wherever our clients are stationed or serving and need us.

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