When you’re charged with a crime, you’re in a tough spot. As soon as charges are filed, you’re faced with the necessity of either (1) negotiating a plea bargain, which means you’ll plead guilty to something or other; or (2) going to trial, where you risk a much more serious conviction if the jury doesn’t believe you. Facts are often confused. The prosecution has access to law enforcement for its investigations. You’ll have to pay for yours.
It’s a big enough challenge when everybody plays things straight. But what about when you’ve got a prosecutor willing to lie? Then things are worse. And given that prosecutors often face no consequences for misconduct, it’s not surprising that some are willing to lie about it.
That’s what happened in the California case of The People v. Efrain Velasco-Palacios. In the course of negotiating a plea bargain with the defendant, a Kern County prosecutor committed what the California appeals court called “outrageous government misconduct.”
What prosecuting attorney Robert Murray did was produce a translated transcript of the defendant’s interrogation to which he had added a fraudulent confession. The defense attorney got a copy of the audio tape of the interrogation, but it “ended abruptly.” Eventually, Murray admitted to falsifying the transcript, presumably in the hopes of either coercing a plea deal, or ensuring a victory at trial.
When the trial judge found out, charges against the defendant were dismissed. Incredibly, the State of California, via Attorney General Kamala Harris, decided to appeal the case. The state’s key argument: That putting a fake confession in the transcript wasn’t “outrageous” because it didn’t involve physical brutality, like chaining someone to a radiator and beating him with a hose.
Well, no. It just involved an officer of the court knowingly producing a fraudulent document in order to secure an illicit advantage. If Harris really thinks that knowingly producing a fraudulent document to secure an illicit advantage isn’t “outrageous,” then perhaps she slept through her legal ethics courses.
The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District didn’t buy Harris’s argument, and upheld the dismissal of charges. That means the defendant went free.