Ledbetter v. State

CRIMINAL LAW

Madeleine Ayer

In Ledbetter v. State, 482 P.3d 1033 (Alaska Ct. App. 2021), the court of appeals held that a prosecutor’s repeated erroneous characterizations of the law of self-defense during closing argument, combined with other inflammatory and prejudicial remarks, amounted to plain error, requiring reversal of the defendant’s conviction. (Id. at 1037). Ledbetter was charged and convicted of second-degree assault after stabbing a man during a bar fight. (Id. at 1034). Ledbetter claimed he acted in self-defense. (Id.). On appeal, he argued that the prosecutor’s improper remarks during closing argument deprived him of a fair trial. (Id.). The court of appeals agreed, holding that the prosecutor erroneously told the jury on multiple occasions that a conclusion that Ledbetter was authorized to use deadly force was equivalent to a conclusion that Ledbetter had the right to kill the victim. (Id.). However, the question for the fact-finder is whether the amount of force used by the defendant was reasonable under the circumstances, not whether the same circumstances theoretically might have justified an even greater use of force. (Id. at 1036). The prosecutor made a series of other highly inflammatory and prejudicial remarks to the jury. (Id. at 1035). First, the prosecutor stated that if Ledbetter had legitimately acted in self-defense, the State would not have charged him with a crime in the first place. (Id. at 1036). Second, the prosecutor analogized the case to the polarizing and dissimilar shooting of Trayvon Martin. (Id. at 1035–36). Finally, the prosecutor’s exhortation for the jury to “do the right thing” was indistinguishable from an exhortation for the jury to “do its job,” which the Supreme Court has condemned as an exertion of undue pressure on the jury’s verdict. (Id. at 1036). The court held that the trial court’s failure to intervene during the prosecutor’s closing argument amounted to plain error, requiring Ledbetter’s conviction be reversed and his case remanded for retrial. (Id. at 1037).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ledbetter v. State

CRIMINAL LAW

Madeleine Ayer

In Ledbetter v. State, 482 P.3d 1033 (Alaska Ct. App. 2021), the court of appeals held that a prosecutor’s repeated erroneous characterizations of the law of self-defense during closing argument, combined with other inflammatory and prejudicial remarks, amounted to plain error, requiring reversal of the defendant’s conviction. (Id. at 1037). Ledbetter was charged and convicted of second-degree assault after stabbing a man during a bar fight. (Id. at 1034). Ledbetter claimed he acted in self-defense. (Id.). On appeal, he argued that the prosecutor’s improper remarks during closing argument deprived him of a fair trial. (Id.). The court of appeals agreed, holding that the prosecutor erroneously told the jury on multiple occasions that a conclusion that Ledbetter was authorized to use deadly force was equivalent to a conclusion that Ledbetter had the right to kill the victim. (Id.). However, the question for the fact-finder is whether the amount of force used by the defendant was reasonable under the circumstances, not whether the same circumstances theoretically might have justified an even greater use of force. (Id. at 1036). The prosecutor made a series of other highly inflammatory and prejudicial remarks to the jury. (Id. at 1035). First, the prosecutor stated that if Ledbetter had legitimately acted in self-defense, the State would not have charged him with a crime in the first place. (Id. at 1036). Second, the prosecutor analogized the case to the polarizing and dissimilar shooting of Trayvon Martin. (Id. at 1035–36). Finally, the prosecutor’s exhortation for the jury to “do the right thing” was indistinguishable from an exhortation for the jury to “do its job,” which the Supreme Court has condemned as an exertion of undue pressure on the jury’s verdict. (Id. at 1036). The court held that the trial court’s failure to intervene during the prosecutor’s closing argument amounted to plain error, requiring Ledbetter’s conviction be reversed and his case remanded for retrial. (Id. at 1037).