A Florida man who shares his name with the deceased pop singer had his murder conviction overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the trial court improperly allowed portions of the detectives’ interview with Michael Renard Jackson to be played to the jury. The offending portion of the interview included several statements of opinion by the detectives, their firm belief in the defendant’s guilt, several statements regarding the victim’s character, and other statements.
To break it down simply, anything a defendant says may be used against him at trial. However, anything the police say to him as they try to elicit a confession should not be used against him. Their statements are not admissions. It’s a different story if they ask him a question, and he adopts their statement, but not when he denies the allegation as Mr. Jackson did. There are exceptions. For instance, when Mr. Jackson took the stand and testified that he had a relationship with the victim, he opened the door to his statements where he denied knowing her.
The Supreme Court decided the error to allow the interview to be played calls into question the validity of the jury verdict. The Court found that there were several statements of opinion that were improper and/or inflammatory, and that there is a concern the jury may have given weight to the recorded statements of the officers. The error falls not only on the judge, but on the prosecutors as well, who fought to introduce the improper evidence over the defense objection. The lead prosecutor was the elected State Attorney for that judicial circuit, Angela Corey. She is currently the appointed prosecutor prosecuting George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin killing.
Corey has a reputation for being an exceptionally aggressive prosecutor. In her comments, she defends the right of the officers to be aggressive in their questioning, which is correct. However, the fault for the conviction being overturned falls not on the detectives or their aggressive interview technique. The fault lies in the introduction of the inflammatory statements to the jury, and that falls right on her lap. Officers are allowed to ask a lot of questions, but many of these comments should not be entered into evidence in court. Due in large part to her aggressiveness, the case will be reopened and set for a retrial.
Also, Corey indicated she was frustrated because the defense agreed to the segment of the interview played in court, according to her. This does not sound accurate, for in order for the defense to have standing to appeal, the issue must have ben objected to at trial. If the defense had agreed to the playing, the right to appeal that decision would have been waived. Since the Court granted the appeal, the objection must have been lodged, contrary to Ms. Corey’s claim in the article. I do not doubt her claim she will continue to prosecute the case with the same vigor.
It’s important to remember, this decision does not reflect on Mr. Jackson’s innocence. It only means that his case must be tried again (without the offending statements). There is still a great deal of evidence suggesting that he is guilty of this brutal rape and murder of Ms. Andrea Boyer. It’s a shame for everyone involved that the case will have to be revisited, but to maintain our faith in the system, it is paramount to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial.