Published on: Friday, June 24, 2022

Improper comments made by the prosecutor in a drug conspiracy case required granting the defendants a new trial because they were prejudicial and there wasn’t enough other evidence of guilt, the First Circuit said.

During her opening statement, at closing, and during rebuttal, the prosecutor appealed to the jurors’ emotions as the conscience of the community, argued that the defendants should go to jail because their other co-conspirators were already there, vouched for witnesses, and made statements unsupported by the evidence.

The Maine federal district court ruled that although the prosecutor’s errors were clear and prejudiced the defendants’ rights, they didn’t seriously impair the integrity of the proceedings because the other evidence against the defendants was overwhelming.

The district court’s findings that the defendants were prejudiced by the improper comments but that the comments didn’t affect the outcome of the trial are inconsistent and a plain error of law, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said Thursday.

Because the evidence of conspiracy in this case isn’t overwhelming, the prosecutor’s improper arguments so poisoned the well that the trial’s outcome was likely affected and a new trial is warranted, the court said.

The cases are United States v. Canty, No. 20-2187 (1st Cir. June 23, 2022) and United States v. Jordan, No. 21-1327 (1st Cir. June 23, 2022).