Prosecutor Fired After Trying to Convince Witnesses to Change Testimony
Posted in Legal Ethics on January 12, 2015
As a State College criminal defense lawyer since 2004, I have heard many stories of lawyers, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and judges behaving badly and violating ethical rules, but the recent actions of a prosecutor surprised even me. A prosecutor wanted to ensure a victory in a murder case that he was handling, and the prosecutor attempted to stack the cards in his favor by trying to convince two defense witnesses to change their stories. The witnesses, two females, stated that the defendant was with them when the murder occurred, so they provided the defendant with an alibi.
Fake ID on Facebook
If the prosecutor contacted the two witnesses directly, it is highly likely that they would not have talked to him. To avoid this issue, the prosecutor went to Facebook, created a fake ID as a woman, claimed to be a former girlfriend of the criminal defendant, and via this fake ID contacted the defense witnesses. It is not clear how the actions of the prosecutor came to light, but, after the chief prosecutor was informed of the deceptive actions, the lawyer was fired.
After being fired, the former prosecutor justified his actions and said that he wanted to keep a murderer off the streets. The former prosecutor clearly lost sight of his role in the criminal system, which is to present evidence to a jury and allow the jury to determine guilt and innocence. In too many situations, prosecutors become too focused on convictions as opposed to presenting evidence and engage in prosecutorial misconduct.
Witness Tampering and Ethical Rules
With the former prosecutor openly attempting to justify his actions, he clearly does not believe that he did anything wrong. In my opinion, the prosecutor should face both disciplinary and criminal charges. The actions of the prosecutor were clearly intended to convince witnesses to change their testimony. Pennsylvania does not actually have a charge of Witness Tampering, but I believe that the prosecutor could be charged with Obstructing Administration of Law, which prohibits a person from intentionally obstructing, impairing or perverting the administration of law or other governmental function by force, violence, physical interference or obstacle, breach of official duty, or any other unlawful act. Here, the prosecutor breached his official duty or committed an unlawful act by trying to alter testimony. The charge is a second degree misdemeanor, so a conviction would carry a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $5,000.00 fine.
Aside from a criminal sentence, the former prosecutor could also face sanctions from the lawyer disciplinary board for violating ethical rules. Here, the criminal conduct was directly related to the lawyer’s job and was intended to influence the criminal court process. The disciplinary board is likely to take an allegation of witness tampering very seriously. Now, the prosecutor will become the prosecuted, and the criminal defense attorneys that he once battled will now become his attorneys. Hopefully, the prosecutor in his case does not engage in similar prosecutorial misconduct.