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Are Tennessee's criminal prosecutors improperly aggressive?

Prosecutorial misconduct recently made a magazine's top 10 listing of civil liberties betrayals from 2015. The article described the misconduct in racial terms, citing examples of wrongful convictions obtained by police and prosecutors allegedly working together to game the jury or right the evidence.

Unfortunately, even Tennessee saw its share of tampering with the criminal justice system. Specifically, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned four criminal cases in a period of 35 days last summer. The convictions were either thrown out or a new case was ordered. 

Our law firm focuses on criminal defense. As a result, we understand the importance of a criminal defendant's right to a fair trial, and why an attorney is sometimes needed to protect that right. As we discuss in an article on prosecutorial misconduct on our website, a criminal defendant has a constitutional right not to testify at his or her own trial. 

The Tennessee Supreme Court has clarified that a prosecutor should not suggest to the jury during closing arguments that a defendant's exercise of that right to remain silent creates an inference of guilt. State case law also lists factors for evaluating whether a prosecutor's closing arguments rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct. Yet overzealous prosecutors continue to cross the line in this or other examples of misconduct. 

Unfortunately, an accused's rights may also be threatened long before he or she sees the inside of a courtroom. From the moment of arrest, an accused should assert his or her right to an attorney. An attorney can review the arrest record to see whether police were operating on probable cause or other lawful factors. If any evidence was improperly obtained, an attorney can work to exclude it from trial. An attorney can also hold prosecutors to their burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Source: Slate, "The Worst Civil Liberties Betrayals of 2015," Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, Dec. 28, 2015

Related article: "Prosecutorial Misconduct in Closing Arguments Leads to New Trial," copyright 2016, Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law

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