Prosecutor Sanctioned For Altering Transcript Of Police Interview With Child Molestation Suspect

from the roflmao-life-liberty-etc. dept

The California State Bar has finally handed down sanctions [PDF] in a case of prosecutorial misconduct that could have landed a defendant with a life sentence.

Last year, a court tossed child molestation charges against a defendant after it came to light prosecutor Robert Murray had altered the transcript of a police interview with the suspect. Murray claimed it was all just a joke. But the “levity” he inserted into the transcript drastically altered the prison sentence the defendant was facing (from 16 years to a possible life sentence), prompting his defense lawyer to push him toward a plea bargain.

All it took was two sentences:

(Detective): “You’re so guilty you child molester.”

(Defendant): “I know. I’m just glad she’s not pregnant like her mother.”

Even if it was just a joke, Murray made no effort to inform the defense lawyer of these additions, despite claiming it was supposed to be something enjoyed equally by the defendant’s legal representation. In fact, Murray didn’t admit anything until he was forced to, a full nine days later and only after the actual interview transcripts were made available to the defense.

The District Attorney’s office didn’t like seeing its prosecution vanish. It argued that dismissing charges was too much of a deterrent — something that should be used only in the most egregious cases of “abject physical brutality.” “Oh my, no,” said the court.

Indeed, there is simply no support for the People’s contention that an act must involve some form of physical brutality in order to support a sanction of dismissal. Meanwhile, there is ample support for defendant’s contention that egregious violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights are sufficient to establish outrageous government misconduct.

Now it’s time for Murray to face sanctions from the bar association for his “joke.” Murray, to his credit, was open and cooperative after being forced to confront his own misdeed. (Indeed, some credit is granted for his cooperation, but it’s nowhere near as expansive as Murray hoped it would be. The bar court doesn’t have much sympathy for the “Well, I’m really sorry now” argument.) Nearly railroading someone into a life sentence was considered to be only worth about 30 days of professional discomfort to the prosecutor, according to the judge who first handled Murray’s case.

Fortunately, the bar itself disagreed. And the state bar court agrees with its harsher assessment. It’s not a straight-up trade of life-for-possible-life, but it’s far more than was originally recommended.

After independently reviewing the record (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 9.12), we agree with the courts of record in this matter. We find that Murray deliberately created and inserted a fraudulent document into a criminal prosecution while he was actively negotiating a resolution by plea agreement. This altered evidence bore no indicia of being a “prank,” and Murray made no prompt effort thereafter to control the consequences. Murray’s behavior is wholly inappropriate and unbecoming of an experienced prosecutor, who is expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to act as a gatekeeper to the fair administration of justice. We therefore recommend a one-year actual suspension to protect the public and to maintain integrity and confidence in the legal profession.

Murray sought the 30-day suspension, feeling that his actions were only “gross negligence,” as the previous judge had ruled. But the state bar court sees it differently. This wasn’t just negligence. It was a purposeful distortion of the justice system — something that cannot possibly described as merely a “joke gone bad.” It was something no one on the prosecution side found even remotely funny, nor could they recall anything like this happening before.

Hinman’s supervisor, Chief Deputy Kang, said he had never seen a prosecutor play a joke like this on a public defender in his office. When asked whether he thought Murray was joking, he testified: “Maybe, in some measure, in Mr. Murray’s mind, this was funny. I don’t see it as a joke.”

Similarly, when Officer Martinez was asked his opinion of Murray’s actions, he testified: “I didn’t think it was funny.” He further testified that in his experience as a law enforcement officer, he had never before seen or heard of a prosecutor doing something like this.

Not only did Murray harm his own case and the reputation of the DA’s office, but he also hurt the very people he’s supposed to be protecting. The dismissal of charges means the 10-year-old victim’s allegations will never be fully addressed. Murray’s “joke” cost her a chance at justice. He doesn’t just have to look the defense in the eye and admit he screwed everything up. He also has to look a child in the eye and try to explain why he single-handedly destroyed her case.

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Comments on “Prosecutor Sanctioned For Altering Transcript Of Police Interview With Child Molestation Suspect”

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32 Comments
Varsil (profile) says:

WTF?

Now, I’m not American, but I am a lawyer, and this seems absolutely insane to me.

A one year suspension? I can’t see how behaviour like that calls for anything less than disbarment. He attempted to perpetrate a fraud on the court process. It baffles the mind to think that after a year they’re going to let this guy slide back in.

As much as people claim lawyers are all lying unethical weasels, the opposite really has to be true. The system functions on the basis of lawyers not deceiving each other or the court. There are certainly times when you can (and may be required to) not say anything, but there is never an excuse for lying to opposing parties or the courts.

If I pulled something like this the bar association in my area would have me suspended the instant they caught wind of it, and I can’t imagine any other outcome other than disbarment. The fact that this guy is a prosecutor shouldn’t spare him, either–it makes it all the more egregious that he is subverting the fairness of the trial process.

At this point how can the public be convinced that the other matters he may have touched aren’t equally tainted in some fashion or another? Surely a full and complete review of every file he’s been on now becomes necessary.

Unbelievable.

David says:

Re: WTF?

Yes. He’s supposed to be part of ensuring justice is done. This runs completely contrary to both job description and job ethics.

It’s like a kindergardener daring a child to run across a street with traffic.

Letting him try again after he is free to choose whatever other job he likes doing for a year seems hopelessly optimistic. The least one would need to do is make sure that this year is actually spent in a manner connecting him with the ethics he should have had in the first place.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: There's one small consolation.

He won’t work as a prosecutor again, and as a mere lawyer,
will find it pretty difficult to find work in any large firm.
He’ll be stuck with whatever work he can drum up on his own,
perhaps as a personal injury lawyer with a postage-stamp ad
in the Yellow Pages and no other advertising.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: WTF?

Obviously he will be a State AG before the end of the month now that he has made it clear he is fine with screwing over those hard core 10 year old girls who may want justice out there.

His next law suit will be a black Justice robe, since he is obviously capable of determining guilt without an adversarial hearing or analysis of the evidence. He just KNOWS when someone is guilty and isn’t afraid to do whatever is necessary to ensure that they see justice.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Just wow.
Of course no one wants to go back and see how many other ‘pranks’ were played with peoples lives by this idiot.

This case is the exception not the rule. Far to often we see the cogs who violate the rights of others given a pat on the back or protection from actual punishment.

What are the odds his contract provides for a nice cushy exit.
Perhaps they should take the year of pay he would have earned and use it to get the 10 yr old help, since this moron destroyed her chance at justice.

‘to protect the public and to maintain integrity and confidence in the legal profession’
I’ve got a list when the wheels of justice decide to move.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Sanctionned? Couldn't a better, clearer word be used?

sanc·tion
noun: sanction; plural noun: sanctions

  1. a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule.
    "a range of sanctions aimed at deterring insider abuse"

  2. official permission or approval for an action.
    "he appealed to the bishop for his sanction"

Can a sanctioned sanction be used as a sanction to convince people that a sanction is a good idea?

/ Yes, I know, the NSA probably has a completely different sanctioned meaning for the word.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's California

It was already clear they are every bit as fucking corrupt as those they accuse others of.

I wonder if the Bastion of Liberal land has more integrity in its legal system? Based on this story, apparently not! But hey don’t feel bad lefties, the righties are right beside you in lock step.

The left and the right are surprisingly agreeable when it comes to corruption. Neither side seems to be able to get enough of it!

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: It's California

This is not a partisan issue so knock it off. This false left/right dichotomy of yours doesn’t address the post.

This is a non-partisan authoritarian issue: the prosecutor believed that he was above the law and that his little joke wouldn’t matter. I presume he was planning to run for office down the line citing this case as an example of how valiantly he defends the innocent, etc. I’ll just have to keep on saying this, won’t I?

Due process is not an impediment to justice.

That epically stupid prosecutor ought to have those words tattooed on the inside of his eyelids and painted on every flat surface of his home, inside and out, till he flippin’ well gets it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s interesting seeing someone so effectively and fully destroy their own career in an instant. What do you do when you go from a stable, well-paying job to effectively being unemployable in your field? Take a burger flipper job?

Do you really think a kitchen would hire him? He’s the kind of guy who would spit on people’s burgers as a joke….

Charlie says:

safer to catch

criminals must be caught if society to live well or die among ruins of city in any case he made almost caught to applaud his action to molest is big thing need to make sure not again now free to kill again spirit of child for prank is nothing to disbar instead of medal why not see greater good and warning to other who want to molest child that caught for life is punish.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Quite the knee slapper indeed

But the "levity" he inserted into the transcript drastically altered the prison sentence the defendant was facing (from 16 years to a possible life sentence)

He not only torpedoes the case by fraudulently adding something to the transcript, leaving the victim high and dry, he does so in a way that stood to result in a life sentence and he gets…

We therefore recommend a one-year actual suspension to protect the public and to maintain integrity and confidence in the legal profession.

His ‘joke’ was disgusting, but their decision almost makes it look downright hilarious in comparison. For what he did they hand out a one-year suspension, demonstrating the feather light treatment those in the profession get from their own, no matter how bad their actions are… and they think there’s any ‘integrity and confidence in the legal system’ left to protect.

DebbyS (profile) says:

Was transcriptionist asked about it?

As someone who has transcribed court hearings as well as conversations between police officers and witnesses and potential, um, accused folks, I wonder if whoever transcribed the original police interview was questioned by the Bar. In my business we give the customer (be it a lawyer for a plaintiff, a prosecutor or whoever pays for the transcript) a print out or we email a PDF, and append a certificate that says “this is what we heard” and we sign off on it. Murray may have scanned and changed the document or had someone do it for him, and submitted the results to the court, keeping the signed certificate. Thus I wonder if the Bar asked the transcriptionist (or her/his company) for the original to do a comparison. I also wonder if the transcriptionist or her/his company might sue Murray for making them look incompetent with his prank. He might not feel sorry for the child he hurt, but a lawsuit could sting and add more bad publicity for him to deal with.

The Bear In Boulder (profile) says:

It might be a de facto disbarment

Popehat(?) discussed the ongoing shit storm the Pranda lawyers are facing and something like this came up. Basically the guy accepted a 4-year suspension (iirc) instead of a disbarment. It sounded like a win for him… except that the suspension didn’t come with an automatic restoration of the right to practice law and the odds of somebody who was suspended for that long successfully arguing that he should get his license back is basically nil. In essence it’s a bargain – if he doesn’t force them to go through the entire disbarment process he gets to call himself a “suspended” lawyer instead of a “disbarred” one. I guess the difference is that he can still work as an assistant in a law firm vs. not being able to step through the doors of a law firm.

I don’t know if the unstated rules in California are the same but we shouldn’t rush to judgement that this is just a slap on the wrist. As others have pointed out he’ll have very few job opportunities in a year since anyone on the other side of the table can reasonably ask if anything was fabricated.

Giles Byles (profile) says:

Adding onto commenter #24 here.  Was this an interrogation-room audiotape that was transcribed?  Or was a viddycam mounted on a little tripod on the table, pointed at the defendant?  Was the real-time clock down in the bottom-right corner of the video camera’s screen ticking away as they spoke?  That would be the damning-est evidence that counsel fiddled with the transcript.  Anyone reviewing it can confirm that the electronic record does not agree with the prosecutor’s version.

Attempting to revise a transcript that has been filed with a court after the fact is a big no-no & counsel damn well knew it.  Disbarment can be the only remedy in this scenario.

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