There is some conduct by prosecutors, even when trying a suspected child molester, that simply go too far and this was one of those cases. For Dariel Shazier, California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal has twice overturned his involuntary commitment as a sexually violent predator based on misconduct by the prosecutor in Santa Clara County.
In the most recent case, the prosecutor told jurors during closing argument that they should consider the reaction of friends and family if they did not lock up Shazier; that they could be subject to the “ignominy” of their neighbors.
Jurors also heard that it was likely Shazier, who the prosecutor described as a “prolific child molester” had other victims who had not reported his crimes. But there was no evidence presented at trial that Shazier had committed uncharged additional crimes.
The prosecution denigrated the defense expert witness as testifying only for the defense in these cases and even attacked the honesty of defense counsel as “deceptive” for leaving information off a particular instruction.
But even the prosecution’s expert acknowledged that Shazier’s diagnosis of hebephilia, which is considered a need to prey on victims aged 14-17, does not exist as an official mental disorder in the psychiatric manual.
“This is not a case in which the prosecutor engaged in a few minor incidents of improper conduct,” wrote Justice Conrad Rushing. “Rather, the prosecutor engaged in a pervasive pattern of inappropriate questions, comments and argument, throughout the entire trial, each one building on the next, to such a degree as to undermine the fairness of the proceedings,” Rushing wrote.
“The cumulative effect of all of the prosecutor’s misconduct requires reversal,” he said.
This was Shazier’s third trial seeking commitment as a sexually violent predator. Following a 1994 guilty plea to three sex charges, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The county sought his civil commitment as an SVP in 2003. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second ended in a conviction that was overturned in 2006 after the appeals court found prosecutor misconduct.
Now the third trial conviction has been overturned.
The defense presented evidence that Shazier spent 15 years in prison and sought every voluntary treatment available. While in prison has had many opportunities to re-offend with vulnerable teenage boys housed with him, but has not, according to the court.
Hospital employees testified that he has followed the rules and was a leader and a friend to other residents, according to Rushing.
Justices Eugene Premo and Franklin Elia joined Rushing.
Santa Clara’s Record
This isn’t the first time the Santa Clara County prosecutor’s office has come under fire for misconduct.
In 2012, the California State Bar charged deputy district attorney Troy Benson with five counts of misconduct, including suppressing evidence and then allegedly lying to cover it up. He was accused of failure to turn over a videotape that cast doubt on a claim of child molestation in a 2006 case, according to an independent review of misconduct allegations by Santa Clara Law School.
In 2010, another county prosecutor, Ben Field, was suspended over misconduct allegations.
Case: People v. Shazier, No. H035423