Dear Texas prosecutors, this burning question of law was finally addressed: Don’t show the jury a YouTube video of a lioness trying to eat a baby through protective glass to argue a defendant deserves a lengthy sentence.
Otherwise, be prepared to kiss that sentence goodbye and enjoy further legal wrangling in said case.
This is a real story of something that happened in a criminal trial in Texas.
And it goes like this, according to an April 3 opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Milton v. Texas.
In that case, Damon Orlando MIlton was convicted in a 2015 nonviolent robbery of a CVS drug store. In the prosecutor’s closing argument in the punishment phase of MIlton’s trial, the state played a video of a lioness attempting to eat a baby through protective glass.
Now it’s proper for a prosecutor to ask the jury for a long sentence because of a defendant’s crime and criminal background. But the court found the 35-second lion video, which Milton had objected to as irrelevant and prejudicial, went too far.
After playing the video, the prosecutor told the jury, “That lion was cute, and it was laughable, and it was funny because he’s behind that piece of glass. That motive of that lion is never changing, never changing. It’s innate. Given the opportunity, remove that class, it’s no longer funny, it’s a tragedy. … That’s what is going on with this case.”
The prosecutor said if Milton were out of prison, it would not be funny. It would be tragic.
“Quit giving him chances,” said the prosecutor, according to the opinion. “Quit removing that glass. Keep that glass there … and send him to prison.”
The jury sentenced Milton to 50 years in prison.
Although Houston’s First Court of Appeals found it was acceptable to show the lion video, the high court disagreed, reversing and remanding the case back to the First Court to perform a harm analysis.
“It encouraged the jury to make its decision upon matters outside the record,” said the high court’s opinion. “The state’s use of the video to make the intended argument was highly prejudicial because the video nevertheless encouraged the jury to draw the very analogy the state claimed it was not trying to draw—that appellant was like a hungry lion trying to eat a small child.”
Go read the full opinion here.