Defense Blamed For Prosecutorial Overkill

Prosecutorial overkill is a factor in the high cost of death penalty trials, a point made by retired Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller, commenting upon the upcoming death penalty trial of Brian Nichols, the defendant in the Atlanta courthouse killings.

Prosecutors presented a 54-count indictment, including four murders, for crimes that took place at 13 separate crime scenes, and they identified 487 witnesses, Fuller said.

As Fuller pointed out, prosecutors could prove their case with ten witnesses. So whose fault is it that defense attorneys needed to interview 474 unnecessary witnesses to defend their client? Fuller suspended the trial when defense funds were cut off, and was later removed from the case. Unsurprisingly, the State of Georgia learned exactly the wrong lesson from the $1.8 million bill submitted by the defense:

State lawmakers approved new measures this year to ban senior judges such as Fuller — who do not face re-election — from hearing death penalty cases. They also tightened the public defender system's budget.

< A Case Study In FBI Investigations | John Edwards' New Age Friends >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Brady v. Maryland (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by oculus on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 01:47:31 AM EST
    requires the prosecution to disclose all possibly exculpatory evidence,  List each and every possible witness and each and every possible piece of evidence.  

    Looks good to me: a judge (none / 0) (#2)
    by Xanthe on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 08:25:50 AM EST
    not seeking election.  The Supremes are removed - a balancing act but also a scattershot of power.

    'course, I don't know this particular judge's background - but one hopes for the best.

    Are there any countering cases, Occulus.

    "Silly Defense Attorneys (none / 0) (#3)
    by The Maven on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 11:43:00 AM EST
    -- don't they realize that the police only investigate, and prosecutors only indict, people who are guilty of their crimes?  If it wasn't for all those distracting attempts by the attorneys to get their clients off on a 'technicality', we wouldn't have to go overboard like this.  Since these defendants are guilty as charged, why should it matter whether we dot every 'i' and cross every 't'?  Sheesh, you's have to think these folks want our great nation to be taken over by the criminals!"

    Sadly, there are still far, far too many people out there who think like this.  If a good defense attorney forces the prosecutors (and the police) to do a better job on their end, then society as a whole benefits, being much more assured that those who are convicted truly are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Several points (none / 0) (#4)
    by jccamp on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 07:50:59 PM EST
    Even had the prosecution charged far fewer crimes arising out of the same incident(s), would they not have been obligated to list all evidence and witnesses? Brady refers to "the evidence [is] material either to guilt or to punishment." The government is under no obligation to simplify their case so as not to inconvenience the defense. The triers of fact are entitled to hear all of the evidence.

    Second, Nichols' lawyers have are pursuing an insanity defense. In their filings, they don't seem to dispute the alleged facts of the shootings, only the ability of Nichols to form a criminal intent. If they are not going to dispute the factual issues, why would they need to spend millions of dollars interviewing, say, forensic witnesses, or witnesses who had no contact with the defendant, and presumably, could not testify as to his state of mind or demeanor? This defense would also seem to render useless any examination of the physical evidence, since the defense is stipulating to the homicides.

    I agree that in common practice, it is unusual for prosecutors to charge so many counts arising out of one continuing transaction. They have made It potentially confusing for jurors to understand. They have unnecessarily complicated their presentation. I can only think that perhaps they wanted to charge Nichols for each homicide, so that each victim's family will feel some sense of justice served.

    I think that the trial is really about the defense preserving a record ripe for multiple appeals, when the defendant is convicted and receives the almost inevitable death sentence.

    This case does present arguments both pro and con CP. The defendant is arguably dangerous to his custodians if he were to receive, say a life sentence. His conduct, if proven, was shocking and seems to allow a genuine government interest in his execution. On the other hand, this prosecution seems to demonstrate what a terrific waste of time and money is being expended to obtain an death sentence, which may never be consummated. Why not just accept a life-with-no-parole pleas, which apparently has been offered and rejected?

    Ooops (none / 0) (#5)
    by jccamp on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 07:55:27 PM EST
    "...Nichols' lawyers [have} are pursuing an insanity defense..."

    Poor proofreading.