I have previously stated that I believe that Zimmerman prosecutor Angela Corey over charged the case as second degree murder and in my view contributed heavily to the defeat in the case. What many people described as the evidence for conviction is actually evidence of manslaughter. Had the case been framed as manslaughter or negligent homicide, it might have turned out differently. However, that was in my view an error in prosecutorial discretion. More serious questions have arisen over Corey’s ethics and that of her office. These allegations include her conduct following the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
Corey’s office stands accused of serious allegations of withholding evidence from the defense. I have previously said that I view those allegations as highly credible and worthy of sanctions. She is also facing a whistleblower lawsuit after she fired an IT specialist who revealed that her office was withholding evidence in the Zimmerman case.
However, Corey herself is facing allegations of unethical and unprofessional conduct. Prosecutors are supposed to be highly circumspect in their public comments. They are not supposed to attack acquitted defendants. Most refuse to do so and leave such matters to the public debate rather than join the public outcry. Corey surprised many by going on television and calling Zimmerman a “murderer” after his acquittal. Her trial counsel was slightly more circumspect and called him “lucky.” She also referred to Martin as Zimmerman’s “prey.” Clearly there are many who share these views, but it is a different matter when spoken by a prosecutor following an acquittal.
The model ABA rules state that prosecutors should:
except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor’s action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused and exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, law enforcement personnel, employees or other persons assisting or associated with the prosecutor in a criminal case from making an extrajudicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making under Rule 3.6 or this Rule.
These rules are designed primarily to protect a fair trial but prosecutors continue to be bound by ethical rules following a conviction. I view such comments after an acquittal to be highly unprofessional and inimical to the legal system. It tells the public that the government considers a person to be guilty regardless of an acquittal. As an out of court statement, Corey could be sued by Zimmerman for per se defamation since she said he is a murderer. While he would likely be viewed as a public figure, the statement could be viewed as violating even the New York Times v. Sullivan standard of actual malice. It is her opinion but she is speaking as the lead prosecutor.
She is also accused of threatening legal action against one of her critics. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has gone public with an extraordinary account that Corey personally called the Harvard Dean’s office to complain about his criticism of her work in the case. He says that she ended up being transferred to an employee of the Office of Communications and threatened to sue Harvard, seek Dershowitz’s disbarment, and sue him for defamation — all frivolous claims. I have not seen any denial or explanation from Corey about her call to Dershowitz.
At a minimum, Corey’s actions and comments strike me as highly unprofessional. If prosecutors lose cases and then take to the air to demonize defendants, it would allow for tremendous abuse. Nothing protects Zimmerman from criticism of course for his actions. However, prosecutors are given the unique power to seek imprisonment of defendants. They have an obligation to reinforce the legal system by publicly accepted verdict. Most prosecutors state they have believed in their case and disagreed with the decision. They refrain from calling acquitted individuals “murderers.” That type of pandering to the public can be dangerous in highly divisive case like Zimmerman’s or other controversial cases. It reminds some of us uncomfortably of the approach of disbarred former District Attorney Mike Nifong. After being widely criticized by experts for over-charging the case, it was a particularly unwise decision of Corey to take to the press and call Zimmerman a murderer. It was also unnecessary with a chorus of such comments already being made across the media front.
Do you feel prosecutors should participate in this type of public condemnation after a verdict?