Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prosecutorial Misconduct Leads To Reversal Of Death Sentence By Florida Supreme Court

In Johnson v. State of Florida (SC08-1213), the Florida Supreme Court reversed the death sentence imposed on Paul Beasley Johnson because "the record here is so rife with evidence of previously undisclosed prosecutorial misconduct that we have no choice but to grant relief."  Interestingly, it was a 4-1 decision of the court.  Chief Justice Quince and Justice Canady were recused and Justice Polston wrote a dissent. Justice Perry wrote the majorities decision and was joined by Justice Pariente, Justice Lewis and Justice Labarga.  Oral argument took place on October 28, 2009 and can be viewed HERE.

The court had previously stayed Mr. Johnson's execution which was discussed HERE,  the application for stay was discussed HERE, and a prior post HERE discusses the Governor's execution of a death warrant a few months ago.  The court stated:
Specifically, we conclude that newly disclosed evidence shows the following. First, after Johnson was arrested and counsel was appointed, the State intentionally induced Johnson to make incriminating statements to a jailhouse informant in violation of Johnson‘s right to counsel. Because Johnson‘s statements were impermissibly elicited, the informant‘s testimony concerning those statements was inadmissible under United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264 (1980). Second, although the prosecutor at Johnson‘s first trial knew that Johnson‘s statements were impermissibly elicited and that the informant‘s testimony was inadmissible, he knowingly used false testimony and misleading argument to convince the court to admit the testimony. And third, because the informant‘s testimony was admitted and then later used at Johnson‘s 1988 trial, and because the State has failed to show that this error did not contribute to the jury‘s advisory sentences of death, we must vacate the death sentences under Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972), and remand for a new penalty phase proceeding before a new jury.
This result is compelled by the applicable case law of both the United States Supreme Court and this Court. This case law is based on the principle that society‘s search for the truth is the polestar that guides all judicial inquiry, and when the State knowingly presents false testimony or misleading argument to the court, the State casts an impenetrable cloud over that polestar.....In other words, whenever the State seeks to obfuscate the truth-seeking function of a court by knowingly using false testimony or misleading argument, the integrity of the judicial proceeding is placed in jeopardy.
The reversal of the death sentences in this case is directly attributable to the misconduct of the original prosecutor. He knowingly presented false testimony and misleading argument to the court in an effort to convince the court that a jailhouse informant was not acting on instructions from the State when he gathered information from Johnson. In fact, however, the informant was acting on instructions from the State, and this rendered his testimony inadmissible. The prosecutor knew this. Yet, the prosecutor sought, successfully, to gain the admission of the informant‘s testimony through legal legerdemain, and the informant subsequently testified at trial and revealed his impermissible testimony to the jury.
This is not a case of overzealous advocacy, but rather a case of deliberately misleading the court.
(emphasis added).  The dissent stated:
In this case, even assuming that the testimony at issue was false and that the prosecutor knew it was false, a reversible Giglio violation did not occur because the testimony was immaterial. When viewed in context, there is no reasonable possibility that Smith‘s testimony affected Johnson‘s death sentences....In light of the fact that Smith‘s testimony was brief, effectively impeached, cumulative, and included statements supporting Johnson‘s proposed drug use mitigators, there is no reasonable possibility that it affected Johnson‘s sentences. Therefore, no reversible Giglio violation occurred.
As previously posted--You can view the docket for Mr. Johnson's 13 appeals to the Florida Supreme Court here.  The docket for the appeal just determined and discussed above can be seen here.  The Florida Supreme Court's opinion in case number No. SC01-2182 can be found here.  Other prior opinions are referenced below:

Johnson v. State, 438 So. 2D 774 (Fla. 1983): Affirming death sentence.

Johnson v. Wainright, 498 So. 2D 938 (Fla. 1986): Granting petition for habeas corpus and ordering new trial.

Johnson v. State, 608 So. 2d 4 (Fla. 1992): Affirming death sentence.

Johnson v. State, 769 So. 2d 990 (Fla. 2000): Affirming denial of postconviction relief filed pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850.

Johnson v. Moore (Fla. 2002): Denying habeas corpus petition.


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