Despite Obvious Prosecutorial Misconduct, The California Supreme Court Upholds Woman’s Death Sentence
The California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence yesterday for a woman convicted of torturing and killing her 4-year-old niece. The circumstances surrounding the death were absolutely horrific. The defendant held the child in bath water that was so hot, it gave her third-degree burns that ultimately killed her. Prior to the child’s death, she also locked the girl in a closet…attached to a steel hook…beat her and burned her with a hair dryer and curling iron. However, this does not excuse the prosecutor’s inflammatory closing arguments that were clearly improper and a perfect example of prosecutorial misconduct.
When the prosecutor engages in prosecutorial misconduct, that misconduct may serve as the basis to overturn the conviction and grant the defendant a new trial. However, prosecutorial misconduct in and of itself isn’t enough…the ultimate question is if the prosecutor had refrained from the misconduct, it is reasonably probable that the defendant would have received a more favorable result?
In this case, the court held that the answer was no. It believed that despite the prosecutor’s emotional plea asking the jury to “go beyond their roles as arbiters of punishment prescribed by law” and inviting them “to join him in assuming the role of a nuclear family for Genny”…the four-year-old victim…the facts were so heinous that the jury still would have likely voted for death.
Yet the one judge who disagreed with the ruling stated that it “establishes a new low bar” for prosecutorial errors and gives incentives for overly zealous prosecutors to “push the limits without serious fear of reversal”.