Prosecutorial Misconduct with Witnesses & Documents? MJEOL Bullet #124 In a legal victory April 9, Jacksons attorneys Mark Geragos, Steve Cochran, and Robert Sanger got a judgment that no longer allows prosecutors to prevent the witnesses from talking to the defense in the Jackson case. During the hearing, it was revealed that prosecutors were preventing witnesseseven the defense witnessesfrom talking to members of the defense team. Are these completely ridiculous and reprehensible actions by the prosecution tantamount to witness tampering? Further, Judge Melville had to order the prosecution, again, to hand over unedited versions of the search warrants to the defense during the hearing. Never mind that the judge in this case may be opening up the flood-gates which could have the effect of allowing other prosecutors to raid private investigators working on the defense for a client they are trying to prosecute. Illegal search and seizure of materials from a defense investigators office? Maybe. Never mind that Jackson has already been arrested, booked, and charged, and now the prosecution decides to convene a grand jury. A ridiculous set of events happening out of the normal order in which they should occur? Definitely. NBCs Mike Taibbi has reported that three of Jacksons lawyers went to court to discuss the unusual way in which their client is being prosecuted. Taibbi says it was revealed during that hearing:
prosecutors had been preventing grand jury witnesses from talking to Jacksons lawyers and investigators; even witnesses developed by the defense since the pop star was charged. The court ruled that now changes (see Video).
In a report by Dawn Hobbs (Santa Barbara News Press) April 10, she reports that Geragos compared the current order for witnesses being prevented from speaking to the defense as martial law. She reports that Geragos pointed out that only grand jurors are legally prohibited from speaking to anyone about the secret proceedingsnot the witnesses. As a matter of fact, Hobbs reports, co-counsel for Jackson, Robert Sanger, told the judge that:
Sheriff Sgt. Steve Robel contacted a defense investigator on his cell phone who happened to be sitting in Mr. Sangers downtown office and warned him against speaking to witnesses who have testified before the grand jury: I told him I found that to be quite unorthodoxwhich I felt was actually an understatement (see Judge May Loosen Jackson Gag Order).
It seems totally ludicrous that the prosecution even attempted to prevent witnesses from communicating with the defense. Is this California law? Many legal experts who have been asked about this issue agree that this sort of behavior is reprehensible. Criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman, appearing on the Abrams Report April 9 says that if thats what prosecutions did:
Thats reprehensible. And Ive got to tell you, theyve got some serious trouble if theyve done that. And you know youre talking about Jacksons people talking to their own witnesses, they [prosecutors] are not allowed to forbid their ownIm talking about the statewitnesses from talking to the Jackson people (see Video).
Even former prosecutor Dean Johnson, also appearing on the MSNBC show, says that he cannot defend the actions of these prosecutors if they are preventing all witnesses from cooperating with the defense. Johnson also has problems with the way prosecutors have pursued the case against Jackson:
Im a little troubled by the way that the case has been prosecuted and the way that the prosecutors have conducted themselves. And I think they are determined down there in Santa Barbara County to get an indictment and take Michael Jackson to trial (see Video).
Johnson is by far not the first legal expert or even the first former prosecutor to have trouble with the way Jackson is being prosecuted. On Dec 19 2003, former prosecutor Chris Darden spoke to Wolf Blitzer about the bothersome case. Darden had said the case kept him awake the night before he gave that interview. He continued:
Apparently the DA in Santa Barbara County expects us to believe that Michael Jackson not only molested this kid prior to the Childrens services investigation, but while the investigation was going on. And then continued to molest this child even after that investigation (see Some prosecutors have doubts ).
Darden also said:
I mean, there are problems here. And unless the prosecution has substantial corroborating evidence in this case, I have to wonder whether or not they could ever convict Michael Jackson, number one. And number two, whether or not they should have brought this case in the first place.
Darden still has problems with this case as evidenced by another interview he gave March 29 2004 to CNN. It is now known that as late as March of this year, prosecutors were still running around town ransacking locations–armed with search warrantsin search for some mythical evidence. Darden says:
I think its fairly obviousis that it clearly indicates that the prosecution really doesnt have its stuff together. I mean, weve seen a situation here where they obtain an arrest warrant, arrest Michael Jackson without filing charges, promised to file charges by a certain date, filed later than that date. Then, upon filing criminal charges, now they come back three months later and they want to indict Michael Jackson (see Transcript).
There is no doubt a number of people have questioned the moves made by the prosecution, as well as their motives, since that first highly unprofessional press conference current district attorney Tom Sneddon gave in Nov 2003. But what about claims that prosecutors are trying to drag this case out by being slow in turning over information to the defense? In a previous hearing, Judge Melville ordered that the unedited search warrants be turned over to the defense immediately, but by the April 2 hearing, the prosecution still had yet to do so. Sources inside the courtroom at that April 2nd hearing say Judge Melville, once again, ordered prosecutor Gerald Franklin to turn over those search warrants immediately. Brafman also reportedly said that prosecutors knew that the defense only had until April 7 to turn over all exonerating evidence to counter the search warrants and these sources added the longer Sneddon stalls, the less time they [defense] will have to thoroughly go through everything. An April 3 CNN report confirms what these sources have said. The report says Jacksons lawyers did in fact tell the judge that prosecutors have yet to turn over:
unedited copies of all 18 or more search warrants served in the case to date, and therefore may not have access to all the exculpatory evidence they want the grand jurors to see. The lawyers warned that further delay could be grounds to challenge any indictment the grand jury might return (see Jackson defense gets documents related to accuser).
Some say it is odd that police began to ransack locations as early as Nov 2003 and prosecutors have yet to turn over copies of all the search warrants to the defense. It is unclear if the prosecution is trying to hide information from the defense or if they are simply slow in wading through paperwork. Although, search warrants isnt simply paperwork that normally gets easily lost in the shuffle. Most think Jacksons lawyers should have long ago had copies of this material. Time will tell whether or not the prosecution is stalling for more time. Stay tuned. -MJEOL