When The Shoe Shifts To The Other Foot

So the very high profile prosecution of Pittsford’s Charlie Tan comes to an end in Justice Piampiano’s courtroom, not by a jury’s decision but by the judge’s.

The prosecutors are upset:

“This is appalling. In my 24 years, I’ve never in my life experienced anything like that. This whole trial presented a unique set of facts, but this is definitely unprecedented,” said District Attorney Sandra Doorley, R-Monroe County.

Prosecutor Bill Gargan interrupted the judge at one point. Piampiano told him to stop talking or he would have him handcuffed and thrown in jail. The two yelled back and forth several times as Gargan accused Piampiano of having amnesia – of forgetting some of the evidence that had been presented. Piampiano told Gargan he was offensive.

We at LoS were most impressed, however, by this comment:

“The judge’s decision did not comply with the law based upon the evidence presented, and the judge took pains to recite certain facts, while leaving out others,” Gargan said.

Every criminal defense attorney, and every personal injury Plaintiff’s attorney, has had that exact same experience many, many times, though we are by no means conceding Mr. Gargan’s point in the case at hand because we haven’t read any transcripts or heard any arguments.

That aside, I’ll never understand why judges feel like partisans who have to massage the record to better conform to their determinations, rather than the other way around.

Nevertheless, the unfortunate reality is that Sandra Doorley is right:  it’s unprecedented – but only when it happens to the prosecution.  It happens to disfavored litigants all day, every day.

The “community”, as they say, is divided and of course the one side is “outraged”, seeing this as a “wrongful acquittal“.  And it may be, we have no idea, but even if it is there is no cause for outrage.  An acquittal is always a proper outcome in our system.  Only a conviction can be wrongful.

On one level we can sympathize a bit with the prosecution here, though:  we, too, have been known to say intemperate things when a judge has in our opinion subverted the jury process.  But then we have always had real clients, not abstractions like “the people”, and we are legitimately entitled to a little latitude on advocacy whereas prosecutors, being theoretically disinterested in outcomes, are not.

Indeed, this little episode demonstrates how very far practice is from that theory.




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7 responses to “When The Shoe Shifts To The Other Foot

  1. kent kroemer

    Great article….I always find it amazing when prosecution errs and then claim they were wronged in the rare instance when justice wins. District Attorney Doorley overcharged in this case and failed to indict on a lower charge of manslaughter in order to leave the jury an out; and when defense attorney Noble caught the prosecution with its pants down for failing to raise accomplice theory during it’s case in chief, the judge had every right to dismiss this case for lack of evidence on murder charge. No one knows what really happened inside the Tan house that fateful night, but I’ll bet there are a lot more people who knew the Tans that are happier that Charlie is free rather than the alternative (esp. since not one person ever said a kind word about Charlie’s father, who by all accounts from family and Mr. Tan’s employees was an egomaniacal, over-critical, and sometimes violent jerk)


    • Killing a man with multiple shotgun blasts is a fateful and terrible step, no matter what may have prompted it, if anything, and it was likely an indefensible act. But as you say, we really don’t know a lot of details. My own view is that this was a situation for the prosecution to wait, do some investigating and see if they can fill in a few blanks before they bring their case. I don’t know why they didn’t do that, and I think that hurt them more than anything else, including anything the defense did. And I think the judge was clearly within his prerogatives to do what he did, and the fact the jury hung, or at least had no verdict after 8 days, backs him up.

      The vitriol from the DA’s office is pretty revealing, anyway.


  2. GB

    Reblogged this on Trial by Media and commented:
    I think US prosecutors are far too keen to retry cases.

    If a jury cannot reach agreement, then unless significant new evidence comes to light, proof that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt seems unlikely.

    I don’t know the evidence in this case.


  3. When you write
    “An acquittal is always a proper outcome in our system. Only a conviction can be wrongful.”,
    are you being facetious?
    If not, please refer me to a post which addresses what you must see would be the obvious objections.


    • Well, the point is that an acquittal is not necessarily a verdict of factual innocence, but it’s still a proper verdict even so; whereas a verdict of guilty that doesn’t conform to factual guilt is wrongful.


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