Monday, June 27, 2011

Court vacates conviction, death penalty, and remands for new proceedings

Prosecutorial misconduct remains a viable basis for overturning a conviction.  In today's opinion in Matthews v. Parker, the Court vacated a judgment and the death penalty based upon a defendant's claim that the State had committed misconduct during its closing arguments. 11a0163p.06   The Court found that "The prosecutor’s comments during closing arguments regarding Petitioner’s supposed exaggeration of his EED, and collusion with his attorney and doctor, were both improper and flagrant. “[T]he Commonwealth’s misconduct was sufficiently egregious to render the entire trial fundamentally unfair.” Gall II, 231 F.3d at 315. Accordingly, the prosecution’s statements suggesting that Petitioner and his defense team colluded to manufacture his EED claim, and exaggerated the extent of his EED, rendered Petitioner’s trial unfair, and denied him of his constitutionally protected due process rights."

The Court also found that, at the time of the defendant's conviction, the State had a burden to disprove an extreme emotional disturbance defense.  The Court found that "Convicting Petitioner of murder when the prosecution failed to prove the EED element beyond a reasonable doubt, contravened the Supreme Court’s established precedent requiring the state to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt", and therefore vacated on this basis as well.

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