Prosecutorial Misconduct Landmark California Cases
The applicable standards regarding prosecutorial misconduct are well recognized. In order to preserve an issue on appeal, trial counsel must make a timely objection. (People v. Samayoa (1997) 15 Cal.4th 795, 841.)
The California Supreme Court has noted that "as a general rule a defendant may not complain on appeal of prosecutorial misconduct unless in a timely fashion--and on the same ground--the defendant made an assignment of misconduct and requested that the jury be admonished to disregard the impropriety." (Ibid.)
Furthermore, when an appellant's claim focuses upon comments made by the prosecutor before the jury, the issue is whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury construed or applied any of the complained-of remarks in an objectionable fashion. (Ibid.)
Assuming that misconduct occurred and the issue was properly preserved on appeal, we look to the following standards; for prosecutorial misconduct to constitute a violation of the federal Constitution, the misconduct must so infect the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. (Darden v. Wainwright (1986) 477 U.S. 168, 181.)
"Conduct by a prosecutor that does not render a criminal trial fundamentally unfair is prosecutorial misconduct under state law only if it involves ' "the use of deceptive or reprehensible methods to attempt to persuade either the court or the jury." ' " (People v. Benavides (2005) 35 Cal.4th 69, 108.)
The ultimate question is this: Had the prosecutor refrained from the misconduct, is it reasonably probable that a defendant would have received a more favorable result? (People v. Haskett (1982) 30 Cal.3d 841, 866.)
"The standards under which we evaluate prosecutorial misconduct may be summarized as follows. A prosecutor's conduct violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution when it infects the trial with such unfairness as to make the conviction a denial of due process. Conduct by a prosecutor that does not render a criminal trial fundamentally unfair is prosecutorial misconduct under state law only if it involves the use of deceptive or reprehensible methods to attempt to persuade either the trial court or the jury. Furthermore, and particularly pertinent here, when the claim focuses upon comments made by the prosecutor before the jury, the question is whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury construed or applied any of the complained-of remarks in an objectionable fashion. ." (People v. Morales (2001) 25 Cal.4th 34, 44 (Morales).)
It is prosecutorial misconduct to misstate the applicable law during argument to the jury. (People v. Huggins (2006) 38 Cal.4th 175, 253, fn. 21; People v. Otero (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 865, 870.)
In considering whether a defendant was harmed by the misconduct, we examine the prosecutor's remarks in the context of the whole record, including arguments and instructions. (Morales, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 44.) "When argument runs counter to instructions given a jury, we will ordinarily conclude that the jury followed the latter and disregarded the former, for 'we presume that jurors treat the court's instructions as a statement of the law by a judge, and the prosecutor's comments as words spoken by an advocate in an attempt to persuade.' ." (People v. Osband (1996) 13 Cal.4th 622, 717; People v. Boyette (2002) 29 Cal.4th 381, 436 even if prosecutor misstated the law, "the trial court properly instructed the jury on the law, and we presume the jury followed those instructions".)
"'A prosecutor who uses deceptive or reprehensible methods to persuade the jury commits misconduct, and such actions require reversal under the federal Constitution when they infect the trial with such "'unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'"
Under state law, a prosecutor who uses such methods commits misconduct even when those actions do not result in a fundamentally unfair trial. '" (People v. Parson (2008) 44 Cal.4th 332, 359.)
"To prevail on a claim of prosecutorial misconduct based on remarks to the jury, the defendant must show a reasonable likelihood the jury understood or applied the complained-of comments in an improper or erroneous manner. In conducting this inquiry, we 'do not lightly infer' that the jury drew the most damaging rather than the least damaging meaning from the prosecutor's statements. " (People v. Frye (1998) 18 Cal.4th 894, 970, disapproved on other grounds in People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390, 421, fn. 22.)
It is misconduct for the prosecutor to misstate the law during argument (People v. Huggins (2006) 38 Cal.4th 175, 253, fn. 21; People v. Otero (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 865, 870; People v. Katzenberger (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 1260, 1266), especially when the misstatement of law attempts "to absolve the prosecution from its prima facie obligation to overcome reasonable doubt on all elements " (People v. Marshall (1996) 13 Cal.4th 799, 831).
"'When a claim of misconduct is based on the prosecutor's comments before the jury, "'the question is whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury construed or applied any of the complained-of remarks in an objectionable fashion.'" ' " (People v. Gonzales (2012) 54 Cal.4th 1234, 1275.)
Failure to object or request an admonition leads to forfeiture of a claim of prosecutorial misconduct unless an objection or request for admonition would have been futile. (People v. Young, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 1188.)