People v. Bahoda

Decision Date19 October 1993
Docket NumberDocket No. 139303
Citation202 Mich.App. 214,508 N.W.2d 170
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Saad BAHODA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., Richard Thompson, Pros. Atty., and Robert C. Williams, Asst. Pros. Atty., for the People.

Fried, Saperstein, De Vine & Kohn, P.C. by Steven R. Sonenberg, Southfield, for defendant.

Before HOOD, P.J., and MARK J. CAVANAGH and TAYLOR, * JJ.

PER CURIAM.

Defendant was convicted by a jury, as charged, of conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver and to deliver more than 650 grams of cocaine, M.C.L. § 333.7401(2)(a)(i); M.S.A. § 14.15(7401)(2)(a)(i). He was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment without parole, and appeals as of right. We reverse.

The charge arose from an alleged conspiracy to import and sell drugs in the metropolitan Detroit area. Many of the alleged participants in the conspiracy were Chaldean Iraqis. Defendant's trial took place in 1991, during the third and fourth weeks of the Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

Defendant first argues that he was denied a fair trial by the prosecutor's misconduct. Specifically, defendant complains that the prosecutor made numerous references to his nationality, that he vouched for the credibility of the people's informants and for the strength of the people's case, and that he appealed to the jury's fear of drug trafficking in their community. We agree that defendant was denied a fair trial, even if he did not object to every single instance of misconduct now complained of, because the cumulative prejudicial effect of the prosecutor's comments could not have been cured by an instruction. People v. Gonzalez, 178 Mich.App. 526, 534-535, 444 N.W.2d 228 (1989); People v. Rosales, 160 Mich.App. 304, 307, 408 N.W.2d 140 (1987).

During opening argument, the prosecutor noted defendant's nationality and mentioned that many people in the courtroom audience were also Chaldean. Later, the prosecutor followed the lead of one of his witnesses who, despite defense counsel's successful objections, repeatedly referred to defendant as being part of the "Arab connection." The prosecutor even told the witness, after being told to rephrase a question, that the witness could "[t]alk about the Columbians [sic] and everybody all you want, but we can't mention that 'A' word, do you understand?" The prosecutor also elicited the Arabic nationality of several witnesses who allegedly conspired with defendant to sell drugs and asked them about the large Chaldean population in the Detroit area. He even referred to the "Arabs" during closing argument.

"A defendant's opportunity for a fair trial may be jeopardized when the prosecution interjects issues broader than the guilt or innocence of the accused." People v. Rohn, 98 Mich.App. 593, 596, 296 N.W.2d 315 (1980). Even in civil trials, "[i]t is reversible error to deny the opposing party a fair trial by making irrelevant and inflammatory ethnic allusions." George v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 81 Mich.App. 106, 114, 265 N.W.2d 59 (1978) (involving "protracted inquiry into the plaintiffs' Chaldean ethnic affiliation"). Whenever "racial, ethnic, or religious matters" are mentioned "there is always the risk of incidentally arousing prejudice--and this Court abhors injecting the poison of prejudice into any legal proceeding." Id. "Any effort to arouse the prejudice of the jury 'cannot be overlooked, nor can it ever, in the final analysis, prove other than detrimental to the interests of the litigant whose counsel resorts to such a course.' " Id. (quoting Solomon v. Stewart, 184 Mich. 506, 511, 151 N.W. 716 [1915]. The prosecutor's ethnic allusions were clearly improper, especially because they were made in the context of the Persian Gulf War.

Similarly, it is a prejudicial error to introduce evidence of a witness' agreement to testify truthfully "if used by the prosecutor to suggest that the government has some special knowledge that the witness is testifying truthfully." People v. Enos, 168 Mich.App. 490, 492, 425 N.W.2d 104 (1988). Such testimony should be admitted only with great caution. Rosales, supra, 160 Mich.App. at 311, 408 N.W.2d 140. For example, in Enos, the defendant's conviction was reversed where the prosecutor not only discussed the plea agreements and the promise to testify truthfully, but also told the witnesses that the deal would be voided if they lied and then recalled a particular witness, forced him to admit he had lied, threatened to charge him with perjury, asked him if he had lied about anything else--which he denied--and then reemphasized these events during the closing argument. Enos, supra, 168 Mich.App. at 492-495, 425 N.W.2d 104.

Here, the prosecutor elicited testimony from two accomplices-turned-informants that the prosecutor had personally promised to send them to prison for life without parole if they lied. He forced one of them to admit that, although he "could" lie and embellish his story, he would not do so because he had been promised life in prison if he lied. The prosecutor referred to this promise again during closing argument. Further, the prosecutor impermissibly elicited testimony from law enforcement officers regarding the steps they had taken to ensure that the informants were telling the truth. See Rosales, supra, 160 Mich.App. at 311, 408 N.W.2d 140; see also People v. Smith, 158 Mich.App. 220, 230-231, 405 N.W.2d 156 (1987). The prosecutor's comments were improper in light of these cases.

Also, a prosecutor is not permitted to inflame the jury's emotions regarding "the drug problem." People v. Williams, 65 Mich.App. 753, 756, 238 N.W.2d 186 (1975). Further, he may not express a personal belief in the defendant's guilt. People v. McCoy, 392 Mich. 231, 240, 220 N.W.2d 456 (1974). " 'The prosecutor may not attempt to place the prestige of his office, or that of the police, behind a contention that the defendant is guilty, but he may argue that the evidence shows that the defendant is guilty.' " People v. Erb, 48 Mich.App. 622, 632, 211 N.W.2d 51 (1973) (quoting People v. Cowell, 44 Mich.App. 623, 628, 205 N.W.2d 600 [1973].

During closing argument, the prosecutor stated that the street value of the cocaine involved was enough "to retire the debt of half the Third World countries" and was more "than all...

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4 cases
  • Harris v. People
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • January 17, 1995
    ...a person as a loyal supporter of Saddam Hussein renders fair verdict very difficult if not impossible). See also People v. Bahoda, 202 Mich.App. 214, 508 N.W.2d 170, 172 (1993) (prosecutor's suggestions that defendant's ethnicity made him part of the "Arab Connection" and therefore more lik......
  • People v. Bahoda
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • March 22, 1995
    ...of, because the cumulative prejudicial effect of the prosecutor's comments could not have been cured by an instruction." 202 Mich.App. 214, 216, 508 N.W.2d 170 (1993). 2 The Court also found error requiring reversal in the admission of evidence regarding defendant's participation in the bea......
  • People v. Kulick
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • March 7, 1995
    ...may not suggest that the government has some special knowledge that the witness is testifying truthfully. People v. Bahoda, 202 Mich.App. 214, 217, 508 N.W.2d 170 (1993), lv. gtd. 445 Mich. 880 (1994). A prosecutor may not ask the jury to convict a defendant on the basis of the prosecutor's......
  • People v. Bahoda, 139303
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1994
    ...887 445 Mich. 881 People v. Bahoda (Saad) NO. 98041. COA No. 139303. Supreme Court of Michigan May 06, 1994 Prior Report: 202 Mich.App. 214, 508 N.W.2d 170. Disposition: Leave to appeal Motion for bond pending appeal is DENIED. ...

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