CA. Bar Charges Prosecutor Withheld Evidence of Rape Defendant’s Innocence

Santa Clara, CA–From Misconduct charges for 3 prosecutors (California Bar Journal, July 2008):

Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Benjamin T. Field currently is on trial, facing 22 counts of misconduct in four matters…Half the charges against Field resulted from his actions in an appeal filed by Damon Auguste, one of two men Field prosecuted in 1998 for sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl. Auguste was sentenced to prison for eight years, eight months but later filed a habeas petition based on a claim that Field did not disclose exculpatory evidence.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Emerson overturned the conviction in 2004 based on prosecutorial misconduct; he said Field did not disclose DNA lab notes and new evidence indicated false testimony affected the outcome of the case. Auguste was freed and the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor.

With his petition, Auguste filed a declaration by Stephen Smith, a boyfriend of the victim, whom Smith claimed had fabricated the rape because she stayed out past curfew and feared she”d be caught by her parents.

Although prosecutors are prohibited from obtaining search warrants to defend against habeas proceedings, Field — in an effort to locate Smith — obtained six search warrants and had three sealed. Emerson testified in the bar court that he had ordered Field, during a meeting in his chambers, not to obtain any search warrants without his permission. Field did not apply to Emerson for any of the warrants.

He located and interviewed Smith, who confirmed that the victim had fabricated her allegations of sexual assault. Despite Field”s obligation to disclose that information, the bar charges that he committed acts of moral turpitude by withholding the information from Auguste. He also gave the court the impression that he had not located Smith, the bar charges.

Also testifying early in the trial was Sandra Coke, an investigator for the defense, who said that she lost touch with Smith after initially interviewing him in 2002. She said she spent months in a fruitless search for Smith in 2003 and was surprised to learn Field had already interviewed him. Field”s attorney, Allen Ruby, suggested that Coke and Auguste”s attorney knew Smith”s whereabouts at the time of a key hearing.

I wonder how many other men are sitting in prison in similar situations but didn’t have the money or friends or luck to get the help they needed.

The full article can be seen here. Thanks to Michael Robinson for sending it.

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