Nicholas Proctor returned home to a crowd of people in the house, a cadre of police officers who were executing a search warrant during a crack cocaine investigation.
At one point, according to police, Proctor blurted out that the stuff was his and that his mother had nothing to do with it. Police claim Proctor, who has a prior drug conviction, took ownership of crack found in the residence. He was indicted on a charge of possession with intent to distribute.
In the context of a constructive possession case, the statement was important to the prosecution. But Proctor’s alleged statement wasn’t documented in police papers and none of the officers on scene that night wrote in down in their notes, according to trial testimony.
Proctor was convicted in November 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and sentenced to 33 months in prison. But then, on May 24, a federal judge immediately ordered Proctor’s release from custody after a revelation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office about Proctor’s alleged statement.
Federal prosecutors want the prison sentence vacated and the indictment dismissed based on what government lawyers call an “inadvertent nondisclosure” of potentially impeaching material about Proctor’s statement to police. The government’s three-page motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is vague. And it is rare. (Click here for a copy of the motion.)
Prosecutors in Washington declined to talk about the Proctor case, saying that it is still an active matter. No hearing date is set in the trial court. The indictment has not been dismissed. It remains unknown whether the trial judge, Henry Kennedy Jr., will seek any explanation for the government’s insistence that the indictment be dismissed.
More after the jump.
In the D.C. Circuit, where Proctor was challenging the drug conviction, Assistant U.S. Attorney SuzAnne Nyland said in the May 24 filing that government lawyers learned—during a review of the trial record—that “there may have been inadvertent nondisclosure” of certain information.
Nyland doesn’t get into any detail about what information was not provided to Proctor’s lawyer, Jonathan Jeffress, an assistant federal public defender in Washington.
At trial in November 2008, Jeffress made a big deal about Proctor’s alleged spontaneous statement, which Judge Kennedy had earlier refused to dismiss. The trial attorneys for the government were Neil Floyd and Opher Shweiki, both of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Jeffress questioned why police, including a supervisory officer, Lt. Brian Murphy, failed to write down and include the statement in any paperwork of the arrest.
“This is a classic case of the police twisting the truth, coming up with facts far after the day of the event, and telling you something that never happened,” Jeffress said in court in November 2008. “How can a police officer in charge of the investigation, who was Lieutenant Brian Murphy, tell you that he heard a statement, and then it doesn't appear in any of the paperwork with respect to this?
Floyd, the prosecutor, said Proctor was faced with the fact his mother was about to be arrested when Proctor manned up and took ownership of drugs found in the house in the 1800 block of Frederick Douglas Place in Southeast Washington.
The prosecutor insisted Proctor knew what he was saying and knew what he was doing.
“He did the right thing and said, 'Y'all don't got to arrest my mom. The stuff is mine. Leave her alone,'” Floyd said in court. “And he didn't say it once. He said it over and over. He said it as many times as he could to try and keep them from arresting his mom.”
During trial, prosecutors focused on the fact that Proctor had a key to a dead-bolt lock on a closet door in his bedroom. Police found crack in a can in the closet.
“Why is there a lock, a dead-bolt lock on a basement closet? To protect soap? To keep burglars from coming in in the middle of the night and stealing candles?” Floyd said in court. “The only reason for a dead-bolt lock for which the defendant has a key is to protect something from other people in the house, from intruders, from the police—it's to protect the drugs.”
Beyond questions about the legitimacy of Proctor’s statement, Jeffress criticized the scope of the Metropolitan Police Department investigation.
Jeffress and a colleague, Dani Jahn, said in court the police rushed to judgment. Faced with a roomful of people at the time police executed the search warrant, Proctor was singled out. Police did not find out, for instance, whether anyone else in the house had a key to the lock.
“The police did absolutely nothing to narrow the universe,” Jeffress told jurors. “Their universe started at the bottom with Nick Proctor.”