Remember Gemma Graham? She’s the Hennepin County prosecutor who got into hot water last year when it was discovered that she had not reported CLE credits for 20 years.
It was bound to happen — a defendant challenged his conviction on the grounds that he was prosecuted by an assistant county attorney whose license to practice law was on restricted status. Earlier this week, the Court of Appeals issued a decision in the case, ultimately ruling that the defendant was not entitled to a new trial.
The facts in State v. Ali were grisly, involving a man who’d been found guilty of first-degree assault after biting off the tip of someone’s finger. The Court of Appeals based its decision not to allow a new trial primarily on the grounds that the defendant failed to show he was prejudiced by Graham’s restricted license status.
The court discussed the competing considerations of the integrity of the criminal justice system and the reluctance to set aside a conviction when guilt was fairly established. Clearly wanting to avoid imposition of a per se rule, the court stressed the need to take a “flexible” approach in this situation. Also relevant to its decision was the practical effect of an alternate ruling — that every defendant Graham prosecuted in 20 years would be entitled to a reversal of his conviction.
I agree that is a frightening thought. But still, this is a difficult issue that raises some legitimate questions. Wasn’t Graham technically practicing law without a valid law license? And don’t we take that offense seriously in Minnesota? How does the public feel about the fact that a prosecutor can violate the profession’s own rules and there are few, if any, consequences?
I can’t help but wonder how this decision will be viewed by the general public and the legal profession.