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Improper conduct: How the harmless error doctrine lets prosecutors’ mistakes slide

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December 2023, WVXU News/NPR

The testimony came nine days into the murder trial that would send Deonte Baber to prison for much of his life—testimony that was improperly introduced by the state’s key witness. The Cincinnati man was accused of shooting a motorist who had accidentally hit a child. Hamilton County prosecutors built much of their case against him on grainy security-camera footage of the crime scene.

During Baber’s trial in May 2019, as prosecutors questioned a city homicide detective about that video, the detective testified that he had zoomed in on the footage, and saved screenshots showing the flare of gunfire. “You could actually see the muzzle flash come out of the gun,” the detective told the jurors, implying that Baber was the blurry silhouette approaching the victim’s car. In reality, there was no flashon the video.

Appellate judges later found this testimony, which unfairly implicated Baber, was inadmissible and false. But, relying on a controversial legal doctrine known as “harmless error,” they ruled that this and other improper conduct at trial was not egregious enough to warrant a new one.

Continue reading at WVXU News/NPR.

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