It seems trite but necessary to observe that our criminal system is accusatorial, not inquisitional, where the Rules of Evidence, not prosecutorial fury, are to prevail, and the prosecutor is not permitted to assume the role of Torquemada.
Though the appellant failed to properly preserve many errors resulting from the prosecutor's misconduct, the facts of the present case, in which impermissible prejudice permeates the entire record, indicate that even frequent instructions to disregard would not have sufficed to remove the prejudice.
This is from the case of Donald D. Rogers, written by the Texas Court of Appeals when they overturned his trial. Sometime in the ‘80s he was found guilty of ‘Indecency with a Child’, sentenced to serve six years and fined $6,000.
I found it through the blog of John T. Floyd, which I highly recommend if you’re interested in reading successfully appealed cases; obviously we’re talking about the appeal here, not the guilt or innocence of the defendant; I don’t know what ultimately happened to this guy, and I’m not particularly interested.
What interests me is the court’s finding that “the prosecutor's conduct during the trial, particularly her sidebar remarks, assumption of inflammatory facts not in evidence, prejudicial remarks stating her personal opinion, and improper bolstering, was manifestly improper and indicated a willful and calculated effort to deny the appellant a fair trial, thereby resulting in fundamental error.”
Apparently it is possible for a prosecutor to act so outrageously that her behavior alone is enough to overturn a conviction. However, this is not what I’m comparing to Carlos Coy’s case; we’ve only seen a small part of the 6,000 page transcript, so we don’t know how the prosecutors behaved throughout the whole trial.
What I find interesting here is that the TCA admitted that enough little, prejudicial shit happened that, while not technically illegal, it would be impossible to deny that the jury could ignore it. Coy said about his appeal “nothing was significant enough, out of the eight, or so, mistakes that my appeals lawyer brought up, to win my appeal. It’s like I was killed by thousands of ant bites.”
In at least one trial in Texas that, in and of itself, was enough to get a man back into court.
Although I imagine all the judges sitting on that court have long since retired or moved on, the precedent should still stand. A ‘willful and calculated effort’ to deny someone a fair trial should be enough to get that trial re-done.
So now the question becomes, is there evidence that the prosecutors denied Coy a fair shake? Well, we saw how Judge Ellis allowed the prosecutors to craft a story they liked, then change it suddenly when the little girl wouldn’t keep up her end of it.
He allowed the prosecutors to use the unverifiable testimony of Heidi Ruiz that the first, unrecorded interview she had with Jane Doe was EXACTLY the same as the second one. In Coy’s words: “Ruiz typed the statement herself. She watched the child’s interview, then got with her mother to type a statement that was consistent with what the child said.”
Mary Doe was allowed to testify that her father had died of a heart attack because he was told that Carlos Coy assaulted her daughter.
The prosecutors were allowed to hide the truth behind the symptoms that Jane Doe was experiencing: “The problem in my criminal trial was that the judge didn’t allow Chip to talk about anything having to do with the child’s home environment. He said it wasn’t relevant. So the jury heard nothing revealing about this family. They probably believed they were church-going Christians like Mary Doe had told them.
Without Chip being able to show the home conditions causing Jane Doe’s disorder, his point was missing important pieces.”
It’s a lot, but is it enough? The only way we’ll ever know is to keep looking into this; keep pushing for the truth, keep asking the D.A. to look into it, keep spreading the word about what went on.