Minnesota prosecutors are on the receiving end of recent state Supreme Court decisions that targeted improper closing arguments and other out-of-bounds trial behavior, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Prosecutors are bristling but many defense lawyers believe the stiff medicine is overdue. The court reversed a gang member’s first-degree murder conviction because of what it called “pervasive” misconduct by the prosecutor, even though the state’s evidence was strong. In another case the court changed a longstanding legal rule, putting the burden on prosecutors to prove that their misconduct didn’t substantially harm defendants’ rights in some cases. “We continue to see cases in which prosecutors persist in clearly proscribed conduct,” Justice Helen Meyer wrote for a 4-3 majority in State vs. Ramey.
In Minnesota, prosecutors’ misconduct generally involves improper questioning of witnesses and closing arguments. Examples are when prosecutors voice their own opinion on the truthfulness of witnesses, appeal to the base emotions of jurors, or use facts not introduced in evidence. The Minnesota Supreme Court isn’t the only court expressing frustration with the issue. In 2003, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two men for their roles in the murder of a Chicago police officer, citing improper prosecutor trial tactics and arguments.