After a string of acquittals in homicide cases, Washington, D.C., prosecutors are conducting reviews after every murder trial to identify strengths and weaknesses in the way the cases are investigated and presented to juries, the Washington Post reports. Some jurors criticized prosecutors for weak cases, saying the scarcity of evidence and credible witnesses left them little choice.
Since July 1, eight murder trials ended in acquittals. Two others ended in hung juries. Six trials during that time ended with convictions. The latest acquittal was Sept. 29, when jurors took less than an hour to clear a man of first-degree murder. The defense convinced the jury that two people who were with the victim were mistaken or lying in their identification of the defendant.
“We take hard cases,” said U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard. “We prosecute those, and an awful lot of them we win.” That, the Post says, is what has made the recent run of losses striking. Last year, prosecutors tried 38 murder cases and won convictions in 28. “We’re not Major League pitchers,” Howard said. “We don’t do won-lost records.”
Cary Clennon, a defense lawyer who won an acquittal in a recent multi-defendant homicide case, said prosecutors sometimes allow their sense of obligation to carry too much weight. “They have a family that wants to see a trial,” Clennon said. “I can respect that, and in a murder case that’s probably a legitimate concern. But those are emotional factors that have to be tempered by practical factors. If you know you have a weak case, you don’t just keep a stone front and go forward. Plead it out, and get what you can.”