Fellow PRACDL member Linda Backiel just won a new trial for her client in US v. Vega Molina, No. 03-1625 (1st Cir. May 19, 2005). We'll develop this a bit more later, but just wanted you all to have a bite at it first. I recall the trial of that case before Judge Domínguez, which was widely covered in the press and was hotly fought.
Update (May 20, 2005): Appellate Law and Practice has coverage of the opinion here and elaborates some more here. They point out that the new trial granted in this case (as to one of the appellants only) "may be some indication that the First is paying some attention to professional responsibility issues" with the link leading to an earlier post of ours in which we had commented on a Ninth Circuit case and added:
To the criminal defense bar practicing in the district of Puerto Rico an opinion such as Weatherspoon offers little solace. After all, we practice in a district where the U.S. Attorney's Office has been repeatedly warned and slapped on the hand by the First Circuit Court of Appeals for improper comments and misconduct, only to be warned and slapped on the hand again, with no reversals. If any Judges from the First Circuit read this blog, let me state loud and clear that your method of dealing with this has not been helpful at all. Make them really pay a price, such as a few convictions being reversed, and then --and only then-- will the prosecutors who are prone to misconduct start to get their act together.
I hope that the fellows at Appellate Law and Practice are right in their observation as to shifting sands at the First Circuit, but still insist that there have to be a few more reversals on such grounds before prosecutorial attitudes are changed, rather than rationalized. This was no small case for the government, and it is good that it happened in just such a case, since it will have a greater positive effect. And once the First Circuit starts to send out hard messages such as this one, rather than soft ones as in so many prior opinions in cases from this District, then the logical thing is that District Judges will also be less tolerant of prosecutorial excesses. My hat off to the Judges on the First, even if Judge Selya made me reach for the dictionary again.