Johnny Baca was convicted of two counts of murder. Baca was tried under a “murder for hire” theory wherein a third party allegedly hired Baca to kill two people, but the person who allegedly hired Baca was never charged. The only evidence concerning Baca’s culpability came from a jailhouse informant who received a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. Baca appealed his convictions, and on appeal, the appellate court found that the informant had lied on the stand, and that the prosecutor had also lied on the stand regarding whether or not the informant received any benefit for his testimony. Even though the appellate court found that the prosecutor and informant had lied, and that the prosecutor’s lying bolstered the informant’s credibility, Baca’s convictions were not overturned and no new trial was ordered because the appellate court decided that Baca had not been prejudiced by the lying. Keep in mind that this was a jury trial. I don’t know about you, but I know that if I was on that jury, and I learned that the prosecutor and the prosecution’s informant had lied, it would certainly impact my assessment of the informant’s credibility.
Baca subsequently filed a Habeas Corpus Petition with the court, which was denied. Baca appealed the denial of his petition, and that gets us to the video below. In the video below, we learn that although the appellate court previously found that the prosecutor had lied, no perjury charges were brought against the prosecutor, there was no prosecution for the lying, and the prosecutor was not disciplined, or even investigated. Nothing happened. The appellate judges in the video appear to frown on the lying prosecutor, and threaten to write a scary opinion naming the attorneys from the attorney general’s office who were involved in this lying misconduct. Then the justices gave the prosecutor’s office a free pass by giving them a week to take some internal action to resolve the misconduct by setting aside the conviction.
I cannot help but notice the gross disparity in treatment by the courts between state actors, like police or prosecutors, and private individuals, like defense attorneys and defendants. I would bet my first born child that if I lied in a murder case to further my client’s case, I would be prosecuted for perjury, investigated by the state bar, and either suspended or disbarred. When a prosecutor lies, judges get a little upset, but that’s it. Why is it that state actors get special treatment? Could it have to do with the fact that prosecutors and judges are paid from the same source? Or the fact that judges and prosecutors often share the same office space? Or the fact that a disproportionate number of judges were plucked from their jobs as prosecutors to be judges? Regardless of the reason, this double standard is a blight on the credibility of the legal system.