Teaching “Justice”, Prosecutor-Style

Mike at Crime & Federalism has posted a video that was the subject of an appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Cook, per this law.com story.  At issue was whether Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon struck black jurors from the panel in this 1988 death penalty case based upon prejudice.  Would Jack do that?

The four-member majority in Commonwealth v. Cook, including Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justices J. Michael Eakin, Seamus P. McCaffery and Debra Todd, found in its July 24 opinion that Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Carolyn E. Temin correctly determined that defendant Robin Cook didn’t meet his burden to prove that Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon had exercised his peremptory challenges during Cook’s 1988 trial in a discriminatory manner.

“Appellant was required to establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in certain peremptory challenges made by the Commonwealth before the Commonwealth was required to provide race-neutral reasons for those challenges,” Castille wrote for the majority.

While this wouldn’t be a particularly unusual issue normally, there was one interesting bit of evidence impugning McMahon’s motives, an old, graining videotape of McMahon training young prosecutors in the art of selecting a jury.  Apparently, this video was made public when McMahon ran for Philadelphia District Attorney in 1997.  Bet he didn’t see that coming.

Saylor quoted an excerpt of the training videotape in which McMahon said: “‘If you go in there and any one of you think you’re going to be some noble civil libertarian and try to get jurors, ‘Well, he says he can be fair; I’ll go with him,’ that’s ridiculous. You’ll lose and you’ll be out of the office; you’ll be doing corporate law. Because that’s what will happen. You’re there to win.'”

This quote was hardly the worst in the video, in my opinion.  Whether the Supreme Court’s decision was right or wrong is one issue, and of course the video, while providing fascinating insight into McMahon’s view of jurors and blacks, doesn’t prove that he violated Batson during Cook’s murder trial.  But for those of you who wonder why W.C. Fields preferred death to Philadelphia, watch this video. 

And for those of you who want to believe that all prosecutors feel a deep desire to fulfill their ethical and legal obligations to seek justice rather than just get a conviction, this is a wake-up call.

This is not to say that McMahon reflects the attitude and approach of all prosecutors.  But then, it’s not to say that he’s a lone wolf either.