Appellate Court Reverses Conviction for Prosecutor’s Misstatements to the Jury

May 11, 2015

Last week the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District reversed and remanded a case for retrial after a prosecutor prejudicially misstated the evidentiary standard of “reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial. Christopher James Lloyd was found guilty by a jury for assault with a deadly weapon in violation of P.C. § 245(a)(1) and sentenced to 11 years in California state prison. The court concluded that Lloyd is entitled to an automatic reversal after the prosecutor “repeatedly argued the diminished reasonable doubt standard.” Over the defense’s objections, the trial court claimed that any error was corrected based on the court’s instructions admonishing the jury of the correct standard of proof in finding guilt – i.e., the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime(s).”

The “reasonable doubt” standard is not interpreted to mean “You are innocent of the crime” or that you “did not commit the crime.” Instead the standard is “Did the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime?” Implying a defendant has any duty to prove innocence unconstitutionally shifts the burden. A criminal defendant need not present any evidence or question a single witness. Therefore, a defense to any charge may be that “the prosecutor did not prove their case” versus “my client is absolutely innocent.”

In this case, during closing arguments the prosecutor admonished the jury on multiple occasions over the defense’s objection that “Well, what does not guilty mean? It means he did not commit the crime.” The court concluded that the prosecutor’s misstatement of the evidentiary standard prejudiced Lloyd’s right to a fair trial stating that “Had the prosecutor not misstated the law, there is a reasonable probability the jury would have returned a more favorable verdict for defendant.”

For more information click here to read the court’s opinion for yourself.


John D. Rogers
Law Offices of John D. Rogers
Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
4000 MacArthur Blvd. East Tower Suite 615
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Office: (949) 625-4487

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