New Mexico v. Torres: Prosecutorial Misconduct in DUI Cases

Posted by Steven Eversole | Jun 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

Prosecutorial misconduct in Birmingham DUI cases is fairly rare – but it's not unheard of.

Seatbelt

Having a sharp Birmingham DUI lawyer by your side who can immediately recognize it and call it out is important. This could also potentially save you the headache of a lengthy appeal.

In the case of New Mexico v. Torres, it emerged that a prosecutor did, in fact, lie. Unfortunately, the appeals court ruled that lie wasn't severe enough to toss the conviction in this case. But with such an egregious violation of ethics, a skilled defense attorney can find ways to have this issue cast doubt on the rest of the state's case.

As you've probably deduced by the title of the case, this wasn't an Alabama case, but we can apply many of the same general legal principles. A much more regular occurrence is an experienced defense attorney's ability to poke holes in the states case via the evidence — including challenging the conduct and experience of officer's on the scene and the results of breathalyzer and field-sobriety tests.

The defendant in this case, Laybe Torres, was arrested for a charge of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). It was his seventh offense.

Police in the area were conducting an operation to enforce state seat belt statutes. Torres was reportedly not wearing his seat belt, and was subsequently pulled over. The officer on the scene stated that it turned into a DWI investigation when he noted the smell of alcohol, and the defendant's slurred speech and glassy eyes.

During the trial, the prosecutor told the jury that the defense attorney had lied when he said there was no seat belt citation issued during that stop. He implied that a seat belt citation had in fact been issued by waving around a piece of paper in his hand. Such a ticket had never been entered into evidence, and in fact, didn't actually exist.

The defense attorney promptly requested a mistrial in the case. The jurors were excused from the courtroom, and the issue was discussed among the judge, defense and prosecutor. Ultimately, the judge decided that the jury would simply be instructed to disregard the prosecutor's statement that the defense attorney had lied, while chastising the prosecutor for violating “basic professionalism and ethics.”

Torres was convicted of DWI.

He appealed that conviction, and the appeals court upheld the conviction. He then took it up with the state supreme court.

There, justices still upheld the conviction, but addressed the issue of the prosecutor's unprofessional conduct. The justices pointed out that such conduct of ANY officer of the court would be frowned upon, but given that it was a prosecutor, the justices said it was especially troubling and “unnecessarily raises the risk of a mistrial.”

At the end of the day, however, justices decided that the prosecutor's actions didn't necessarily deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Part of that had to do with the fact that the allegation of dishonesty was directed at the defense attorney, and not the defendant. Still, one could argue that from a jury's perspective, they are often one in the same.

And this addresses another point that's important to consider when you're choosing a defense attorney: Hire someone who you feel will be the best reflection of you, someone who will convey confidence and experience and who will doggedly argue for the most favorable outcome for you.


If you have been arrested on a DUI charge in Alabama, contact Birmingham DUI defense Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:
New Mexico v. Torres, Justia Dockets

More Blog Entries:
Birmingham DUI Defense: Do Research Before Advocating Law Change, May 9, 2012, Birmingham DUI Lawyer Blog

About the Author

Steven Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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