Prosecutorial Misconduct – Not Just For The Feds

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about recent findings where the FBI and/or Federal Prosecutors have come under fire for their failure to turn over evidence to the defense.  Last month a routine state court appeal to the Ninth Circuit turned into anything but routine once the Deputy Attorney General tried to begin his argument.

The case involved two 1995 murder convictions against Johnny Baca in Riverside County.  Lower courts had previously ruled prosecutors presented false evidence in Baca’s trial but found the errors harmless and upheld the convictions.  The judges on the Ninth Circuit ‘pummeled’ the lawyers for the state of California.  The LA Times wrote:

In a series of searing questions, the three judges expressed frustration and anger that California state judges were not cracking down on prosecutorial misconduct. By law, federal judges are supposed to defer to the decisions of state court judges.

Prosecutors “got caught this time but they are going to keep doing it because they have state court judges who are willing to look the other way,” [Judge] Kozinski said.

According to a 2010 report by the Northern California Innocence Project in an eleven year period there were at least 707 cases in which state courts found instances of prosecutorial misconduct.  6 prosecutors were disciplined.  Eighty percent of those tainted convictions were upheld on appeal.

What went wrong in Baca’s trial?  An informant falsely testified he had asked for and received no favors.  The prosecutor in this case, former Deputy District Attorney Robert Spira, perjured himself on the witness stand corroborating the informant’s testimony.  Spira has been neither disciplined for his conduct nor prosecuted.

Check out the full story in the LA Times at