Zoo comparison did not violate a defendant’s rights

Prosecutors have a wide latitude in making closing arguments.

Although name calling is not an admirable or officially condoned style of argument, appellate courts in Utah have been reluctant to find a prosecutor’s name calling to be a ground for reversing a criminal conviction.

One Utah defendant recently attempted to have his conviction overturned on the basis of a prosecutor’s unflattering analogy comparing him to a predator in a zoo. The case involves an inmate named Nathan Redcap who was charged with aggravated assault by a prisoner and the possession of items prohibited in a correctional facility.

The charges arise out of a 2005 stabbing attack that Redcap made on a fellow prisoner. Redcap appealed his conviction on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, Redcap claimed that a prosecutor committed misconduct by comparing prisoners to zoo animals who lived in cages and were governed by zoo rules.

“They have rules out there, just like a zoo,” the prosecutor said. “The zoo has rules, they keep certain predators and prey away from each other for that reason. It’s just like the zoo in a lot of ways. You don’t put the wolves by the lambs, you don’t put the foxes and the chickens together. You keep them apart because they don’t get along. It will not work. Just like … rival gangs, you keep them apart.”

An appeals court found that notwithstanding the negative implications of the analogy, the direct application of the analogy was that Redcap and the victim should not have been allowed out of their cells at the same time.

Redcap, who was armed and armored at the time of the attack, was compared to a predator and the victim was compared to prey. This analogy accurate described the prosecutor’s theory that Redcap was the aggressor during the attack and not acting in self-defense. The appeals court also found that the comment was not so objectionable that it was plain error for the court not to intervene.

The Salt Lake City criminal defense team at Greg Smith & Associates handles criminal law cases throughout Utah. If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a crime, call us at 801-651-1512 or contact us online.

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