The Nevada Supreme Court threw out a White Pine County conviction for driving under the influence and warned the prosecutor they would seek sanctions if he continued to break the rules.
Arnold Dean Anderson was convicted of felony DUI at a trial before White Pine County District Judge Dan Papez. The Public Defender's Office appealed, charging at least four violations of the rules by District Attorney Richard W. Sears, and the high court in an opinion by Justice Bill Maupin agreed.
The violations include statements to the jury that Anderson and his son had years to "cook up a story and they did." Trial rules clearly state that a prosecutor can't vouch for the credibility of witnesses or accuse them of lying.
The opinion states that Sears improperly referred to Anderson's refusal to talk to police after his arrest. It is a violation of a defendant's rights to suggest to jurors they are hiding something or may be guilty because they refused to cooperate with arresting officers and investigators.
The court strongly objected that he told jurors it was their duty to find Anderson guilty.
"To advise a jury that it has a duty to convict is to distort the entire criminal justice process," the opinion states.
The court pointed out the case hung on the credibility of conflicting testimony whether Anderson or his son - who was not intoxicated - was driving the vehicle.
So, rather than being insubstantial in viewing the case as a whole, the opinion says those arguments "composed the heart of the state's views of the case and the defendant."
The high court panel of Maupin, Mark Douglas and Ron Parraguirre reversed Anderson's conviction and sent the case back for a new trial.
But they didn't stop there.
"If this prosecutor continues to repeat this type of adversarial rhetoric, this court will not hesitate to refer him to the state bar for discipline," the opinion states. "A prosecutor's duty is to fairly present cases, not just to obtain convictions."