A Look at Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct in Indiana

What if I think the police or prosecutor engaged in misconduct in my criminal case?

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Many people call our office with complaints about how either the police or prosecutor handled or are handling their criminal cases.  While sometimes certain actions or inactions by police or prosecutors may not seem “right” to criminal defendants or their attorneys, there is often nothing improper occurring, constitutionally or otherwise.  However, on occasion, the police or prosecutor can make a mistake that completely undermines the faith in the outcome of a case and deprives a defendant of a fair adjudication of guilt.  In these circumstances there may be relief available to one who is charged with or has been convicted of a crime.  The term “misconduct” may have a negative connotation in this context, but that phrase is used in its legal sense – something about an act is not proper. In this blog the Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower take a closer look.
While for the most part police and prosecutors do their jobs properly, as in any profession there will be a few who make the news for the wrong reasons.  But what constitutes legally significant misconduct for purposes of your criminal case is a small category of actions that have an impact on your most important rights.  It is in these instances where police misconduct or prosecutorial misconduct can play a large role in the outcome of your case.
As for police, the most common violations of your rights involve search and seizure.  When engaging in a search, for example, the police must have a warrant or be able to prove the existence of an exception to the warrant requirement.  If the police search without a warrant and cannot prove an exception exists, the fruits of that search may be suppressed on the basis that they were obtained unlawfully.  This is not necessarily a given, however, as circumstances may exist that negate the unlawful character of the search or seizure.
Additionally, an illegal seizure may be the basis for suppression of evidence.  Police may make a seizure of a person if reasonable suspicion exists, and the ability to make such a stop can be traced back to the Supreme Court’s Decision in Terry v. Ohio, hence the “Terry stop” name.  Such a stop allows the police to make a brief detention to alleviate any suspicion of criminal activity, but the scope of such a stop is limited.  A Terry stop that exceeds permissible bounds can sometimes also result in the suppression of any evidence obtained as a result because it was unlawfully obtained.
While these are typical examples of errors police make before charges are brought, once charges are filed a prosecutor becomes involved.  Prosecutors are also bound by certain conduct standards, and errors involving these standards can have consequences on a criminal case as well.
In another important Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland, it was held that prosecutors (and the police that work with them) must turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense.  Exculpatory evidence includes anything that is material to either guilt or punishment.  Failure to disclose such “Brady material” can constitute a due process violation, and such a violation can in some circumstances hinder the prosecutor’s ability to prove the case.  The difficulty in these situations is discovering that a violation has occurred because, by its nature, the violation is one of which the defendant and his attorney are unaware.
Misconduct in the legal sense can also occur during trial.  For example, prosecutors may improperly elicit testimony or introduce evidence in violation of a court order or ruling, whether intentional or not.  Additionally, improper arguments may be made during opening statements or closing arguments that have the effect of prejudicing the jury against you.  These are issues that should be immediately addressed during trial because of the potential impact they can have on the outcome.  Given the unexpected happenings that can occur during a trial, it is important to have an experienced attorney who can anticipate, prepare for, and, to the extent it is possible, prevent such possible harmful errors from occurring.  If you are facing charges, you should be sure your rights are being protected
However, if the errors are not addressed or the relief given is insufficient to cure the harm, a direct appeal or post-conviction relief petition may provide an avenue to seek relief.  If you have already been convicted and believe that errors occurring either before trial or after trial had an impact on the outcome of the case, we may be able to help.  While misconduct by the police and/or prosecutor is not always present and, if it is, does not always rise to a level that significantly impacts your case, it is important to have an attorney review any possible issues.
If you or someone you know believes that police or prosecutorial misconduct has had an effect on a criminal case, call the experienced Indianapolis Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower.  We can evaluate your specific issues and assist you with any action that may be warranted in your situation.  We are available 24/7 at 317-870-0019 and info@banksbrower.com.