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Name: U.S. v. Harrison
Case #: 08-10391
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/19/2009
Summary

The prosecutor committed misconduct by asking improper veracity-based questions during cross-examination and by vouching for witnesses in closing argument. At appellant’s trial for assaulting two military police officers, the prosecutor asked appellant whether the officers were lying and whether he thought even the prosecutor was part of the conspiracy against him. This was error because a prosecutor cannot ask the defendant to comment on the truthfulness of another witness. In closing argument, the prosecutor mentioned that there had been an internal investigation and the officers had been promoted “with no adverse actions whatsoever.” This comment not only suggested facts not in evidence, but also improperly placed the prestige of the government behind the witnesses. But, applying the plain error standard because there had been no defense objections at trial, the appellate court found the errors were not prejudicial. There was physical evidence of appellant’s guilt because there was an injury to one of his knuckles. Also, other witnesses had seriously undermined appellant’s credibility regarding his claim that he was not drunk. The dissent would have reversed because the misconduct was extensive – there were at least 26 are-they-lying questions – and such questions are particularly improper where credibility is paramount. Here, the questions had the effect of making appellant seem paranoid. Further, appellant’s explanation about the injury to his hand was plausible.