Did You Know Prosecutors Can Lie To Defendants?
By: Mark Diaz
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Did You Know Prosecutors Can Lie To Defendants?
The Galveston County prosecutor must be honest and transparent when negotiating a plea deal with you and your attorney. But that does not always happen. When it comes to prosecutors making plea bargains, they can lie to you and misrepresent evidence to get you to throw in the towel and plead guilty.
If prosecutors being able to lie to defendants concerns you, please continue reading the stunning story below. Then, speak to our Galveston County criminal defense lawyers at Mark Diaz & Associates if you have legal questions about your case.
What Are The Types Of Prosecutorial Misconduct?
This article mainly concerns failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, but other types of prosecutorial misconduct unfairly tilt the field against the defense:
- Introducing false evidence, such as hearsay, untrue character evidence, and false testimony
- Using improper legal arguments, such as asserting facts that are not in evidence and commenting on the defendant not testifying
- Being discriminatory in jury selection, such as religion, sex, or ethnicity
If the judge finds there is prosecutorial misconduct, there are several options. The judge can dismiss the charges, tell the jury to disregard comments or evidence or grant a motion for mistrial.
Mansfield v. Williamson County Shows How Prosecutors Can Distort The Truth
A recent case called Mansfield v. Williamson County by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane states there is not a case holding that state prosecutors violate your due process rights if they lie or misrepresent evidence during plea bargain negotiations. Furthermore, no case says the prosecutors cannot tell lies or misrepresent evidence during a plea bargain session.
Also, the US Supreme Court recognized 10 years ago in the case Missouri v. Frye that 94% of state convictions and 97% of federal convictions come from guilty pleas. This means that at least 90% of criminal convictions in the country come from the defendant pleading guilty.
The US Sentencing Commission states that federal judges sentenced approximately 57,300 people in 2021 alone. When you consider state court convictions, there are hundreds of thousands of criminal convictions annually. In almost all of those cases, the court, as stated in the case above, essentially authorizes prosecutors to lie or misrepresent evidence during plea negotiations.
How Prosecutors Lied In Mansfield v. Williamson County To Get A Guilty Plea
The slam-dunk example of how prosecutors can lie and misrepresent evidence is the Troy Mansfield case from the early 1990s in Williamson County, Texas. Mansfield was indicted in August 1992 by a state grand jury on three counts of sexual misconduct involving a minor. Two months after the indictment, his defense attorneys filed a motion requesting the court to order the county prosecutor to disclose its exculpatory evidence. This would have been consistent with the Brady v. Maryland case decision by the US Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court stated in Brady that suppressing evidence favorable to the defendant violates due process if the evidence is relevant to deciding guilt or the punishment. It does not matter if the prosecutor did so in good or bad faith. Thus, Mansfield’s attorney requested that the court make the prosecutor disclose evidence in Mansfield’s favor. The court granted the request in May 1993.
The Williamson County prosecutors were ordered to disclose evidence that favored the defendant. So, they had a choice of disclosing the evidence or lying about and misrepresenting the evidence so Mansfield would take a plea deal. The prosecutors chose to lie. They offered the defendant 120 days in the Williamson County jail if he would plead guilty to a lesser crime. Mansfield faced a maximum sentence of 99 years to life, so he took the deal.
What Prosecutors Failed To Tell Mansfield
Mansfield always maintained that he was innocent. But when he had the decision to face four months in jail or decades, he made the obvious choice. The benefit of pleading guilty and facing a few months in jail and probation versus a near-life sentence made the deal tantalizing.
But there were important details that Mansfield did not know. The alleged sex crime victim backtracked on the lurid accusations. The day after the county court ordered prosecutors to disclose the evidence, the prosecutors spoke to the alleged victim and the mother.
A prosecutor noted that month that it would be difficult to proceed with the case because the alleged victim did not remember what happened. This prosecutor stated that the alleged victim said that no crime had occurred. Then, the minor said that Mansfield’s son may have committed the act.
So, the county prosecutors failed to disclose this critical exculpatory evidence despite the Brady case and the court order. They lied instead. They told Mansfield and his criminal defense lawyer that the alleged victim would be a powerful witness in a trial. The prosecutors also said they had a physician’s statement and strong physical evidence that pointed to Mansfield as the perpetrator. This was not true, but the lie worked.
Mansfield pleaded guilty just a few days before the trial to get the plea deal that prosecutors termed ‘unusually light.’ But we now understand why prosecutors made such a ‘reasonable’ offer. First, they knew that the alleged victim had recanted and said nothing had happened. Also, the girl said that someone else may have done it.
The Mansfield Conviction Was Later Overturned, However….
Mansfield later learned about how prosecutors twisted the truth to get him to plead guilty. In 2016, a Texas state court vacated the conviction, stating that county prosecutors violated the man’s due process rights by hiding exculpatory evidence from Mansfield.
Next, Mansfield sued Williamson County, stating that the county had violated his due process rights by withholding exculpatory evidence. The Fifth Circuit stated that county prosecutors were compelled to produce all exculpatory evidence of the Brady order, but they lied to the man and his attorney. This shows prosecutors have the green light to lie and misrepresent critical evidence to get defendants to plead guilty.
Things Could Be Changing
Things could be about to change. The US Supreme Court is reviewing the Mansfield case. Mansfield is asking the Supreme Court to settle a critical issue: Does the right to due process recognized in Brady mean that exculpatory evidence must be disclosed during plea negotiations?
If the Supreme Court says that Brady does mean that this evidence should be disclosed during plea negotiations, then the law will be settled that what happened in the Mansfield case should not happen again.
Many in the legal field hope that the Supreme Court will affirm due process rights in the Brady case. Unfortunately, because of the way things are today, even victims are not winning. If Mansfield had sexually assaulted the alleged victim, he got only 120 days in jail and that sentence isn’t even on his record.
Also, the public did not win. Someone who allegedly sexually assaulted a minor was only in jail for four months. A light sentence for a sex crime is not good for public safety.
One might argue that the prosecutors won. They did get a temporary conviction. But the district attorney, the lead prosecutor in Williamson County at the time, eventually went to jail and lost his license to practice law.
Prosecutorial Misconduct Is Common
Unfortunately, prosecutorial misconduct is all too common. One study states that 85% of all death-row exonerations involve misconduct by prosecutors. In those cases, state and county prosecutors actively tried to get innocent defendants executed. The prosecutors usually do not pay any price for this, and few show remorse. Many believe that prosecutors can do almost anything they want to the public, and there is little anyone can do about it.
One death row case involved five friends who were convicted of murder and rape in New Mexico in 1974. They were sent to death row. They were on death row for two years. One of the men was 10 days from being executed when the real murderer confessed.
The prosecutors’ corruption in the case was so bad that one assistant prosecutor was disbarred. Also, three detectives were fired after the men were exonerated. In addition, the prosecutor hid evidence, including the gun used in the crime and a crime lab report that confirmed it was the murder weapon. The gun also was connected to the killer.
In Texas, approximately 46 death sentences were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct. The same source noted there have been 566 nationwide. That means more than one in 20 death sentences has been overturned because of prosecutorial misdeeds.
Contact Our Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyer
As the information above shows, prosecutorial misconduct to secure a conviction is all too common. Some prosecutors hide evidence that could exonerate the defendant. If you suspect that something similar is happening in your case, you do not have to face this problem alone. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you. Contact our Galveston County criminal defense lawyer at Mark Diaz & Associates today at (409) 515-6170 for legal assistance.