from the justice-lol dept
Here's the backstory [pdf link]:
Early in the morning of December 19, 2012, a person wearing a mask, two hooded sweatshirts, and gloves broke into a Dollar General store in Mishawaka and stole approximately $3,500 in cash. Video surveillance revealed that the burglar was a white female. On December 28, police investigating the burglary questioned [Nicole] Greenlee, a white female employee of the Dollar General store, who ultimately confessed to the burglary.So, the police had a suspect convicted for this burglary. And the corroborating video showed that Greenlee performed the criminal act on her own. But that wasn't enough. They brought charges against Smith "for committing the same December 19 burglary of the Dollar General store."
At one point during the investigation, Greenlee named [Antonio] Smith, her boyfriend at the time, and another woman as accomplices in the burglary, but police concluded that Greenlee had acted on her own. The State charged Greenlee with burglary, as a Class C felony. Greenlee pleaded guilty and, during her plea hearing on May 6, 2013, she testified under oath that she had broken and entered the Dollar General store with the intent to commit theft, she had opened the door to get inside, and she had disarmed the alarm system using the code. During that hearing, Greenlee did not testify that Smith or anyone else helped her commit the burglary.
This double-charging obviously presented an issue. The state prosecutor's case hinged on Greenlee's testimony, something that (a) contradicted her previous testimony during her guilty plea and (b) the surveillance recording of the incident. None of that deterred the state from attempting to achieve the impossible. The state prosecutor warned the jury that it was going to have to come to terms with the fact that the State was willing to use perjury to achieve its goal of putting two people in jail for the same criminal act. Of course, it worded it a bit differently.
During its opening statement at Smith’s trial, the State told the jury:TL; DR: We're going to lie to you. Good luck!
[y]ou’re also going to hear [Greenlee] give two different versions of what happened. When she first talked to the police, you’re going to hear that she took the blame for being the one inside the store saying she was the one that [sic] went in, that’s her on the tape, that [Smith] was outside in the bushes.
You’re probably also going to hear her sit right up here today and sit on the stand and tell you something different. What she’s probably going to tell you is that she was outside in the bushes and that [Smith] was inside, and you’re going to hear about the factors that may contribute to that change in story and that’s something you’re going to have to deal with at the end of this process.
Nicole Greenlee herself may have wondered how she was going to get away with testifying in direct contradiction of her previous admission. Fortunately, the prosecution promised her that she wouldn't get into any more trouble than she was already in. She was given immunity against perjury charges. So, she testified in direct contradiction of her previous statements. She claimed she confessed just to get the "whole process done and over with" and that she was waiting outside in the bushes while Smith performed the burglary. She also claimed that, while she was in jail, Smith offered to tell the cops that he did it. (The recording was played for the jury, and the State's counsel did not contest the defense's closing arguments that the "offer" was made in the context of "reassuring" the "crying" Greenlee, rather than as an admission that he had performed the burglary.)
The defense moved for a mistrial, pointing out that perjured testimony generally results in overturned convictions upon appeal. The trial court decided that Greenlee's contradictory statements were merely "inconsistent." It maintained this view even after hearing from a police detective whose statements indicated that Greenlee was alone when she burglarized the store.
Following Greenlee’s testimony, the State called South Bend Detective Timothy Wiley and offered into evidence the video surveillance recordings from the burglary. As noted above, Detective Wiley testified that the video evidence shows a white female acting as the only person inside the store during the burglary. Detective Wiley also testified that the cell phone records of Smith and Greenlee show that they were located near each other and were communicating with each other during the course of the burglary. But, on cross-examination, Detective Wiley admitted that he had no way to know the actual locations of each cell phone during the burglary.Even the detective lied, albeit briefly. And yet, the court (and the jury) still found this to be damning enough to sentence Smith for the burglary he obviously didn't commit.
The appeals court found that Greenlee had committed perjury, in particular, violating this definition from the state statutes:
Has knowingly made two (2) or more material statements, in a proceeding before a court or grand jury, which are inconsistent to the degree that one (1) of them is necessarily false;The State continued to maintain that Greenlee's contradictory statements were merely "inconsistent." Somehow, the prosecution found that Greenlee's claims of being the sole actor and not being the sole actor did not rise to the state's definition of perjury. The appeals court takes that assertion apart.
This is not a case where a witness changes her story during the course of an investigation or during her trial testimony and is merely impeached with her prior inconsistent statements and those inconsistencies are to be resolved by a fact-finder… Greenlee’s statements were not merely inconsistent but mutually exclusive.The State also argued that it did not "knowingly" proffer perjured testimony. The appeals court points out several facts that contradict this assertion, not the least of which is its offering of immunity to Greenlee against prosecution for perjury.
The State also claimed that no violation of Smith's due process rights occurred as a result of its perjury. In particular, it argued that Smith was probably guilty of something, and even if the perjured testimony removed the possibility that he was the principal actor, there was enough evidence that pointed to him being an accomplice. This assertion is dismissed as well.
Of course, if the jury convicted Smith as the principal, the perjury contributed directly to the jury’s verdict. If, however, the jury convicted Smith as an accomplice, the perjured testimony may have been irrelevant. But whether there was sufficient evidence to convict Smith as an accomplice does not resolve the question of whether Greenlee’s perjury constituted harmless error.This is the State being greedy. It had one person charged and convicted, but it wanted even more. It wanted an additional conviction for the same crime badly enough that it allowed the person who had admitted to the crime (and been convicted) to take the stand and claim the opposite. Worse, the trial court allowed this mockery of justice to result in a conviction that ultimately had to be overturned by a higher court -- temporarily creating the impossible situation where both Greenlee and Smith simultaneously robbed the same store while inhabiting the same (white, female) body. As we've noted before, the criminal justice system has a way of making the miraculous seem mundane. This is just one more example of its transformative powers.
The knowing use of perjured testimony violates due process, impeaches the verdict, and undermines the integrity of the judicial system. Greenlee’s testimony poisoned the well and denied Smith a fair trial.