Quinlivan v. State

Decision Date01 March 1991
Citation579 So.2d 1386
PartiesJoseph D. QUINLIVAN, Jr. v. STATE. CR 89-728.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

W. Lloyd Copeland and Barry Hess, Mobile, for appellant.

Don Siegelman, Atty. Gen., and J. Thomas Leverette, Asst. Atty. Gen., Mobile, for appellee.

TAYLOR, Judge.

The appellant, Joseph D. Quinlivan, Jr., was convicted of manslaughter, in violation of § 13A-6-3, Code of Alabama 1975. He was sentenced to 12 years in the state penitentiary.

The appellant was initially convicted of manslaughter on April 14, 1988, but that conviction was reversed and the case was remanded. Quinlivan v. State, 555 So.2d 802 (Ala.Cr.App.1989). In the present appeal, the appellant raises six issues. However, this court finds it necessary to address only one of those issues, because it is dispositive of this appeal.

During the prosecutor's rebuttal closing argument, the following occurred:

"(MR. DAVIS): Anytime I get to the end of a trial--and let me take a moment to tell you that I'm very proud to be here this week. And I'm very proud to represent this case. I'm not obliged to try any case that I don't want to try. I'm commanded by the law of Alabama as a District Attorney to prosecute the guilty and protect the innocent.

"MR. HESS: Now, if the Court please, I object to that argument.

"MR. COPELAND: That's highly improper.

"MR. HESS: That's patently improper.

"MR. DAVIS: Judge, they brought it up.

"MR. HESS: It's in effect, saying he has an opinion of the guilt or innocence of the accused, which he has--

"THE COURT: Of course, any opinion--

"MR. HESS: --been specifically in the pretrial told--

"THE COURT: --of the prosecutor, ladies and gentlemen, is not relevant. What you must determine is the guilt or innocence of the Defendant based on the evidence and the law.

"MR. HESS: Due to that deliberate misconduct, Judge, we move for a mistrial.

"THE COURT: Motion denied."

This, the appellant argues, was so prejudicial so as to deprive the appellant of a fair trial. We must agree.

Over a half century ago, the United States Supreme Court put special restraints on a prosecutor during closing arguments because of his unique role in the criminal justice system:

"The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor--indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one."

Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88, 55 S.Ct. 629, 633, 79 L.Ed. 1314 (1935).

However, "[t]he line separating acceptable from improper advocacy is not easily drawn; there is often a gray zone. Prosecutors sometimes breach their duty to refrain from overzealous conduct by commenting on the defendant's guilt...." United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 7, 105 S.Ct. 1038, 1042, 84 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985). Accordingly, the legal profession has set up guidelines in an attempt to police prosecutorial misconduct.

One example of this effort is the American Bar Association's (ABA) Standards for Criminal Justice, one of which states that

"[i]t is unprofessional conduct for the prosecutor to express his or her personal belief or opinion as to the truth or falsity of any testimony or evidence or the guilt of the defendant." ABA Standards for Criminal Justice 3-5.8(b) (2d ed. 1986 Supp.).

Another example is the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility, DR 7-106(C) (1989), which provides, in pertinent part:

"In appearing in his professional capacity before a tribunal, a lawyer shall not:


"(4) Assert his personal opinion as to the justness of a cause, as to the credibility of a witness, as to the culpability of a civil litigant, or as to the guilt or innocence of an accused; but he may argue, on his analysis of the evidence, for any position or conclusion with respect to matters stated herein."

See also ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.4(e) (1989).

The underlying reasons against allowing such argument by prosecutors are expressed most eloquently by Chief Justice Burger in Young, supra:

"The prosecutor's vouching for the credibility of witnesses and expressing his personal opinion concerning the guilt of the accused pose two dangers: such comments can convey the impression that evidence not presented to the jury, but known to the prosecutor, supports the charges against the defendant and can thus jeopardize the defendant's right to be tried solely on the basis of the evidence presented to the jury; and the prosecutor's opinion carries with it the imprimatur of the Government and may induce the jury to trust the Government's judgment rather than its own view of the evidence."

470 U.S. at 18-19, 105 S.Ct. at 1047-48. See also Annot., 88 A.L.R.3d 449 § 2[a] (1978).

The United States Court of Appeals has, on more than one occasion, addressed arguments of this exact nature. In United States v. Lamerson, 457 F.2d 371 (5th Cir.1972), the prosecutor made the following statement to the jury:

"The Government is prosecuting Clyde Lamerson in line with what Mr. Koerner [the defense attorney] says. And, Mr. Lamerson, had [he] not committed a crime, we would not be doing so. It's as simple as that."

After finding this to be reversible error, the court held:

"In effect, he stated that the Government prosecutes only the guilty. Even the lesser suggestion that the Government tries to prosecute only the guilty has been held reversible error by this Court. In Hall v. United States, 5 Cir.1969, 419 F.2d 582, 587, this Court held:

" 'The statement "we try to prosecute only the guilty" is not defensible. Expressions of individual opinion of guilt are dubious at best. * * * This statement takes guilt as a pre-determined fact. The remark is, at the least, an effort to lead the jury to believe that the whole governmental establishment had already determined appellant to be guilty on evidence not before them. * * * Or, arguably it may be construed to mean that as a pretrial administrative matter the defendant has been found guilty as charged else he would not have been prosecuted, and that the administrative level determination is either binding upon the jury or else highly persuasive to it. Appellant's trial was held and the jury impaneled to pass on his guilt or innocence, and he was clothed in the presumption of innocence. The prosecutor may neither dispense with the presumption of innocence nor denigrate the function of the trial nor sit as a thirteenth juror.' "

457 F.2d at 372.

Alabama courts have also had occasion to address the propriety of such arguments:

"In Adams v. State, 280 Ala. 678, 198 So.2d 255 (1967), our Supreme Court said:

" 'It is, of course, never proper for the prosecuting attorney or the defendant's attorney to state in argument to the jury their personal belief in the guilt or innocence of the accused. To do so is to place before the jury for consideration the lawyer's own character and credibility, which is no part of any judicial proceeding. The office of district attorney and counsel for the accused does not demand that the former's duty is to secure a conviction, and the latter's duty to obtain an acquittal; but rather, the primary duty is to see that justice is done. See Canons 5 and 15 of American Bar...

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  • Allen v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • May 27, 1994
    ...Services, Inc., 639 So.2d 513, 515 (Ala.1994). The cases relied upon by the appellant are distinguishable. In Quinlivan v. State, 579 So.2d 1386, 1387 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. quashed, 596 So.2d 658 (Ala.1991), the prosecutor, in rebuttal closing argument stated, "I'm not obliged to try any cas......
  • Mack v. State
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1994
    ...capital murder. about a defendant's guilt or innocence. Jones v. Butler, 864 F.2d 348, 359-60 (5th Cir.1988); accord, Quinlivan v. State, 579 So.2d 1386 (Ala.Cr.Appl.1991). A defendant's guilt or innocence is to be determined by a jury of his or her peers after the presentation of That said......
  • Smiley v. State
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • August 13, 1993
    ...instructions given the next day were sufficient to eradicate prejudice). We find the present case distinguishable from Quinlivan v. State, 579 So.2d 1386 (Ala.Cr.App.), cert. quashed, 596 So.2d 658 (Ala.1991). In Quinlivan, the prosecutor stated in his closing argument that he was "not obli......
  • Huff v. State
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    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • July 28, 1995
    ...jury box, you can't instruct the jury not to smell it.' " Dunn v. United States, 307 F.2d 883, 886 (5th Cir.1962).' " Quinlivan v. State, 579 So.2d 1386, 1389 (Ala.Cr.App.), writ quashed, 596 So.2d 658 (Ala.1991), quoting United States v. Garza, 608 F.2d 659, 666 (5th Cir.1979). We have a d......
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