Prosecutor Did Not Deny Defendant Fair Trial
Case: People v. Vlaz-St. Andre
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Prosecutorial error; Whether the prosecutor’s rebuttal argument suggested that defense counsel was intentionally trying to mislead the jury; People v. Bennett; People v. Watson; People v. Fyda; People v. Dobek; Curative instruction; People v. Unger; People v. Ericksen; Right to counsel; Whether the trial court was deficient in failing to engage in further inquiry as to the reasons for counsel’s request to withdraw & the extent of the attorney-client breakdown; People v. Akins; People v. Traylor; People v. Young; Substitute counsel; Good cause; People v. Krist
The court held that the prosecutor’s rebuttal suggested that defense counsel was distracting the jury from the relevant evidence, but did not imply that counsel was intentionally trying to mislead the jury. Also, considering the jury instruction and the nature of the prosecutor’s statement, the prosecutor did not engage in conduct that amounted to misconduct that denied defendant a fair trial. As such, defendant could not show that counsel’s failure to object to the prosecutor’s statements amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. Finally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying counsel’s motion to withdraw. Defendant was convicted of conducting or participating in a criminal enterprise, conspiracy to engage in a criminal enterprise, failure to file an income tax return with the intent to defraud, and receiving and concealing stolen property valued at $20,000 or more. She contended the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during rebuttal argument by suggesting that defense counsel was purposefully lying or attempting to mislead the jury. She argued that the prosecutor’s rebuttal argument amounted to misconduct that denied her a fair trial. The prosecutor’s rebuttal suggested that defense counsel was distracting the jury from the relevant evidence, but did not imply that counsel was intentionally trying to mislead the jury. The prosecutor did not accuse counsel of lying or fabricating evidence and instead tended to focus the jury on the incriminating evidence that was presented at trial. Further, the prosecutor’s comments were made in rebuttal to counsel’s closing argument, which emphasized the absence of testimony from certain individuals, implying the missing testimony would lessen or contradict the evidence presented. Moreover, the court has previously held that a “prosecutor’s designation of defense counsel’s arguments as ‘red herrings’ did not generate the type of accusatory prejudice [typically] decried[.]” Similarly, in this case, the prosecutor’s remarks were brief and the crux of the rebuttal argument was an attempt to convince the jury to focus on the evidence that the prosecutor deemed most relevant. Affirmed.