Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict, and Its Impact on the Innocent

By Daniel S. Medwed | Go to book overview

6
Closing the Door on Innocence
Improper Summations by Prosecutors

Suppose that both the prosecution and the defense have rested in the Smith case. The evidence is in, the witnesses long gone. Only closing arguments remain. The prosecutor goes first. Rising slowly, he dons an air of solemnity befitting the occasion.

“Ladies and gentleman of the jury, the state has presented evidence proving beyond all reasonable doubt that, on the night in question, someone drank too much alcohol, got behind the wheel of a car, and killed an innocent bystander. There is no question about the identity of that person: the man sitting right there.”

The prosecutor pauses, and then points at the defendant.

“First, Ms. Johnson, whom I found to be a completely unbiased and credible witness, saw this tragedy with her own two eyes. She watched the defendant dash off into the night, leaving his victim to die on a cold sidewalk.

Second, the vehicle that rammed into the bystander belonged to Mr. Smith.

Third, a breathalyzer test performed on the defendant right after the incident confirmed the presence of alcohol in his system, a fact corroborated by his neighbor, Mr. Wiley, who told us about the defendant’s drunkenness that fatal night.

Fourth, we heard from a forensic scientist who compared boot prints left at the crime scene with those obtained from Mr. Smith’s footwear and concluded they were a match.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I implore you: if the boot fits, you cannot acquit. The streets would be far safer with this menace behind bars.”

Now it is the defense attorney’s chance. She emphasizes the weakness of the boot print evidence and the uncertainty of Johnson’s identification. Over and over, defense counsel proclaims: “Reasonable doubt, reasonable doubt. If you have a doubt about my client’s guilt that you can give a reason for, then

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