Prosecutor Facing Discipline for 'Our White World' Closing Statements
Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati has been the court's top prosecutor since 1984. That reign, however, may soon come to an end. The popularly-elected prosecutor could soon be disciplined by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, after the commission last month issued a complaint regarding Garnati's conduct in a 2011 murder trial.
During closing statements in the trial of black defendant Marcus Marshall, Garnati, who is white, repeatedly referred to race and mentioned "our white world" in his closing arguments to an all-white jury. Though Garnati has defended his statements as taken out of context, he agreed that the defendant should receive a new trial, which a state appellate court granted earlier this year.
According to the prosecution's theory, the defendant, Marcus Marshall, shot the victim, LaQuinn Hudson, at a house party in 2010. In addition to other evidence and witnesses, two shaky witnesses came forward and implicated Marshall, then recanted to his attorney, and then re-implicated him by testifying at trial. Needless to say, their credibility needed bolstering.
We'd hate to take any statements out of context, but the relevant parts of his statements, which are available in the court opinion, are a bit long. Here are some of the most important statements.
In his opening, he painted a picture of witness intimidation:
"And you will see, ladies and gentlemen, that there are some, not all -- there are many good people in the black community, but basically you will see that there are a few in the black community who refuse to cooperate with the police even when a murder happens right under their nose ..."
In his closing argument, the prosecutor discusses the anti-snitching attitude of the community:
Please, you have to keep in the back of your mind how many people in that community feel about law enforcement. You have to understand and keep in mind how they react to the police and to the prosecutors. Sometimes for people like us, that's hard to understand. People were brought up to believe that the police were their friends; that when something happens, when we are in trouble, that the police are our friends ...
But in the black community here in Marion, it's just the opposite. Most-for whatever reasons, most of these people were raised to believe that the police and prosecutors are the enemy ... In their mindset, the biggest sin that you could-that you can commit is to be a snitch in the community.
Now, in our white world, ladies and gentlemen, our automatic reaction in that type of situation, if somebody gives a statement to the police and then later on changes their story, the automatic response would be that that person is not truthful and that there is a problem with their credibility.
But again, please look at their testimony and what they did and what they didn't do through the eyes of the people who are raised, again, to feel that the police are always against them and that they cannot trust the police."
Appeals Court: Us Against Them Argument
In addition to entering supposed "facts" into his closing that were not in evidence, the appeals court took issue with his "us versus them" arguments:
"Finally, the prosecutor improperly aligned himself with the jury when he contrasted the "black community" with "our white world." Ignoring, for a moment, the extremely racially prejudicial comparison that the prosecutor introduced when he said that statement, the prosecutor cannot create an "us versus them" argument during closing argument and effectively make himself a thirteenth member of the jury"
In the end, due to the repeated references to race throughout the trial, the court held that Marshall was denied the right to a fair trial and reversed his conviction.
In a complaint now being made public, an administrator from the Illinois ARDC requested that a hearing board take the case, and accused Garnati of multiple instances of misconduct, including:
- seeking to convict, rather than seeking justice;
- failure to competently represent a client;
- alluding, in trial, to evidence not in the record;
- engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice;
- engaging in conduct which tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute.
Of course, this is just a hearing, but the statements speak for themselves, don't they? Even if the anti-snitch attitude is prevalent in Marion, Garnati's statements painted the issue as white versus black, or us versus them. As the court noted, it was plain error, and plain prejudice (in the legal and racial sense). it seems likely that, based on those on-the-record statements, that some discipline will be forthcoming.
Did he cross the line? By how much? Tweet your thoughts to @FindLawLP.
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