Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Prosecutorial Misconduct in Casey Anthony trial

I didn't watch the coverage of the Casey Anthony trial. At all. I just wasn't interested, so I really have no opinion about whether the jury did the right thing, or whether she actually killed her baby, or anything like that.

What I am interested in, though, is prosecutorial misconduct. In a criminal trial the cards are already stacked against the defendant, with all the investigatory and prosecutorial resources of the state lined up to throw one person in jail.

What we have learned now, though, is that the prosecution's tactics went beyond its permissible advantage against the defendant and withheld potentially crucial evidence it had.

The murder case against the defendant was based in part on a finding that she had done on-line searches for chloroform, and that demonstrated her intent to kill her baby and her knowledge of the means of doing it.

Only it turns out that the computer analysis was wrong. The expert who did the analysis realized that he had made a mistake, and that when he thought he had identified 84 times that the defendant had searched for "choloroform", it turned out that it was only one time. He did the responsible thing. He redid his analysis, presented it in spreadsheet form to the prosecution, and even offered to fly down at his own expense to explain his error to the jury.

Concerned that the analysis using CacheBack could be wrong and that a woman’s life might be at stake, Mr. Bradley went back to the drawing board and redesigned a portion of his software to get a more accurate picture.

He found both reports were inaccurate (although NetAnalysis came up with the correct result), in part because it appears both types of software had failed to fully decode the entire file, due to its complexity. His more thorough analysis showed that the Web site sci-spot.com was visited only once — not 84 times.

Mr. Bradley, fearing that jurors were being given false information based on his data, contacted the police and the prosecution the weekend of June 25. He asked Sergeant Stenger about the discrepancy, and the sergeant said he was aware of it, Mr. Bradley said. He waited to see if prosecutors would correct the record. They did not.

If you're a regular viewer of any of the myriad of Law and Order shows on TV you know about the Brady rule. Based on the Supreme Court decision of Brady v. Maryland, it requires prosecutors to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense. Among other things, evidence that evidence being presented against the defendant may not be credible is specifically covered by case law applying the Supreme Court’s Brady decision.

This body of law was addressed by the Supreme Court this spring, when they allowed a conspiracy by New Orleans prosecutors to conceal evidence to go unpunished.

So now we have a well-established example of the prosecution sitting on substantial exculpatory evidence in a high-profile case.

What's the response from the prosecution?

The State Attorney’s Office in Orlando did not return messages seeking comment.

Capt. Angelo Nieves, media relations commander for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, said Mr. Bradley had a vested interest in coming forward since his software was used in the investigation.

“We’re not going to relive the trial again,” Captain Nieves said. “We are not prepared to do that nor are we going to participate in that.”

I hope there is followup to see that justice is done.

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