In criminal trials, prosecutors have to play by specific rules during their quest to earn a conviction of a defendant. One of those rules involves refraining from doing anything that unjustly prejudices the jury.
That's what this month's Washington Supreme Court case State v. Walker examined. The case revolved around the conviction of Odies Walker, who was found guilty on assault, robbery, and conspiracy charges as well as another of being an accomplice to a first-degree murder. The state alleged that Walker was the getaway driver in a June 2009 armored truck robbery at a Lakewood Walmart that resulted in a shootout which killed the driver of the truck.
During Walker's trial, prosecutors displayed a PowerPoint presentation as a visual aid during closing arguments. The slide presentation consisted of some 250 slides. But on more than 40% of those slides, the heading displayed was DEFENDANT WALKER GUILTY OF PREMEDITATED MURDER.
Another slide showed Walker's mug shot that was altered to display the phrase GUILTY BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. Many other slides were arranged to portray inflammatory messages and images.
No one objected to these slides during the trial, and Walker was ultimately found guilty on all charges. His convictions were upheld by an appeals court, but the state Supreme Court saw things a different way. The court said that since the disputed language on the slides served no legitimate purpose, the phrases were prejudicial to the jury; and the justices vacated all of Walker's convictions and remanded him for retrial.
In their decision, they wrote:
"Their prejudicial effect could not have been cured by a timely objection, and we cannot conclude with any confidence that Walker's convictions were the result of a fair trial."
Did prosecutors really think they could get away with such overtly prejudicial rhetoric?
Thankfully, the Supreme Court felt otherwise.