In mid-December, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the murder indictment against George Martin because of extensive prosecutorial misconduct. We have featured Mr. Martin’s case a couple of times before, once when the lower court issued its powerful and extraordinary dismissal order in 2016, and once in 2013 when a court overturned his underlying conviction due to Brady violations (and we also mentioned the case in a post that explored the wide-ranging misconduct perpetrated by one of his prosecutors). The appellate court’s 3-to-2 decision is the latest in a long line of judicial rebukes of the Attorney General’s office throughout the course of this dishonest prosecution.
Put simply, the court slammed the State’s gripes about the lower court’s ruling, revealing the claims to be as empty as the prosecutors’ commitment to ethics. The State’s first complaint was that the dismissal of the indictment effectively punished it two times for the same misconduct because Mr. Martin had already been granted a new trial. The court called this a “mischaracterization,” pointing out that the “circuit court’s granting of Martin’s Rule 32 petition and its ordering a new trial was not a ‘sanction’ imposed on the State. Instead, the court’s judgment merely provided Martin the relief to which he was entitled.” The court rejected the State’s novel suggestion. In a befitting footnote, the court clarified what is obvious to most: “Double-jeopardy protections, however, exist to protect the accused—not the State.”
The court similarly swatted the State’s “collateral estoppel” claim, based on the idea that the relevant issue had already been litigated when Mr. Martin prevailed on his Brady claims before he sought to dismiss the indictment. It found that the two issues were not identical; the Brady claims vindicated Mr. Martin’s right to a fair trial the first time he was tried; the dismissal of the indictment recognized the extreme prejudice he suffered in the face of a potential trial some 20 years after the crime—when witnesses had died or lost their memories.
One important observation the appellate court made came with respect to the State’s challenge to the lower court’s finding that the prosecution had engaged in willful misconduct. The CCA explained that the lower court’s decision was bolstered by the fact that it “noted that Assistant Attorneys General Valeska and Dill, who were prosecutors in Martin’s case, also prosecuted the capital case against Moore and were found to have committed Brady violations in that case.” Daniel Wade Moore was ultimately acquitted after he had first been convicted and sentenced to death at the hands of some of the same prosecutors who did Mr. Martin wrong. The notion that prosecutorial credibility cuts across cases is critical, but too many courts look at misconduct in isolation. Instead, they should treat prosecutors who engage in unethical behavior the same way they instruct jurors to treat witnesses whom they learn have lied: they can disregard all of their testimony or give it no weight at all.
It is not yet clear whether the injustice of Mr. Martin’s case will help produce the accountability and reforms that Alabama’s criminal justice system so desperately needs. Nevertheless, the words of the court that dismissed the indictment continue to ring true. “If the Martin case is not one which is appropriate for dismissal, there may never be one.”