1993 murder convictions vacated because the prosecuction let its witness give misleading answers

In People v. Colon and People v. Ortiz, New York’s highest court vacated the defendants convictions because the prosecution at the initial trial failed to correct misleading testimony by one of its witnesses

In doing so, the Court of Appeals noted that prosecutors “must deal fairly with the accused and be candid with the courts” People v Steadman, 82 NY2d 1, 7 (1993). This duty requires prosecutors not only to disclose exculpatory or impeaching evidence but also to correct the knowingly false or mistaken material testimony of a prosecution witness. Where a prosecutor elicits or fails to correct such inaccurate testimony, reversal and a new trial are necessary unless there is no “reasonable possibility” that the error contributed to the conviction. People v Pressley, 91 NY2d 825, 827 (1997); see also Steadman, 82 NY2d at 8-9.

During the trial, the prosecution questioned its witness about any benefits he received in exchange for his testimony. However, the witness’s answer did not recount all of the favorable treatment he had gotten. Rather than correct the testimony, the prosecutor let the answer stand and repeatedly referred to it throughout the case.

This case once again emphasizes that the role of a prosecutor is not simply to win. Rather, the prosecution is tasked with making sure that the proceedings are fair.