OPINION OF THE COURT
WEIS, Circuit Judge.
Protesting that the prosecutor's remarks in summation were improper and that a purported apology merely added insult to constitutional injury, the petitioner convinced the district court to grant a writ of habeas corpus. After a review of the record, we conclude that the state courts which affirmed petitioner's conviction for attempted extortion properly applied appropriate constitutional standards. Accordingly, we vacate the order of the district court.
Petitioner Perry, a police officer in Newark, New Jersey, arrested one Willie Lee Jones for possession of narcotics, a charge for which he was eventually convicted in the state court. Officer Perry testified at both a suppression hearing and Jones' trial. After the verdict but before completion of the presentence report, Jones met with Perry. Both the purpose of the encounter and the responsibility for arranging it were sharply disputed. Jones contended that for $1,000 Perry offered to submit favorable comments to the presentence investigator. The officer's version was that Jones asked for his help in preparation of the report, and, sensing an opportunity to secure information on other narcotics offenders, Perry arranged for a subsequent meeting.
Jones reported the alleged bribe solicitation to the county prosecutor and agreed to attend the planned meeting at a neighborhood bar. In preparation for the rendezvous, the prosecutor supplied Jones with $300 in marked money, concealed a tape recorder on his person, and stationed detectives inside the bar. Shortly after the hour set, Perry entered the bar and began a conversation with Jones. The detectives observed Perry display his completed presentence report form to Jones. Only one of them was able to overhear any part of the conversation and that was limited to Jones saying, ". . . $300 . . .," and Perry replying, "ah ah." Perry and Jones then went to the men's room, but, before anything further transpired, a detective rushed in and arrested Perry. Jones still had all the marked money in his possession.
The body recorder failed to produce an audible tape, and Perry's trial for attempted extortion evolved essentially into a credibility contest between the police officer and the convicted drug dealer.
The first witness called by the prosecution was Richard J. Pavia, one of the investigators who participated in the surveillance at the neighborhood tavern. During the course of his direct testimony, he denied having any conversations with Perry after the arrest, and attempts by the prosecutor to have the witness refresh his recollection by reading the investigative report were thwarted by defense objections. Cross-examination began after a short recess and, in the course of answering defense counsel's questions, Pavia changed his original testimony by admitting that he spoke with the defendant after the arrest. The witness explained that he had talked to the prosecutor during the recess and realized he had misunderstood the questions on direct examination.
Neither party inquired at that time about the content of the conversation. However, at a later stage of the trial, the defense recalled Pavia, who, after admitting that he had summarized the defendant's conversation in the investigative report, read that portion to the jurors. It was a denial of any wrongdoing, and, in essence, an assertion by the defendant that he had been "set up" by Jones.
Defense counsel thus left a strong implication that witness Pavia had been "coached" by the prosecutor during the recess before cross-examination began.
In his summation, the prosecutor alluded to the defense comments and began a rather lengthy discussion of the incident by saying, "But Mr. Maurer in the course of his summation tells you that when Inspector Pavia came back he spit out the words that I told him to and that he and I corrected everything." The prosecutor admitted that he had spoken to the witness during the recess. He commented on the sequestration of the state's witnesses and said:
At this point defense counsel protested, and the court said, "Yes, I find that objectionable and I ask that it be stricken." The prosecutor then went on to say:
At another point in his summation, the prosecutor stated:
Defense counsel did not object to this comment.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and, on appeal, both the Superior Court and the Supreme Court of New Jersey (with one justice dissenting) affirmed the conviction, holding that when "[a]ppraised against the background of the trial, the whole summation and the judge's charge, the passages complained of did not vitiate the fairness of the trial."
The district court granted the writ of habeas corpus, concluding that, taken together,
In cases of this nature, our review of the state court proceedings is narrow for "not every trial error or infirmity which might call for application of supervisory powers correspondingly constitutes a `failure to observe that fundamental fairness essential to the very concept of justice.'" Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642, 94 S.Ct. 1868, 1871, 40 L.Ed.2d 431 (1974). If it is contended that the prosecutor's remarks so prejudiced a specific right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights as to amount to a denial of that right, then the court takes special care to assure that no impermissible infringement has taken place. However, in other situations, the test is whether the prosecutor's remarks so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. at 643, 94 S.Ct. at 1868. It is essential to distinguish between ordinary trial error and that sort of egregious misconduct which amounts to a denial of constitutional due process.
Thus, we must first determine whether petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated by the prosecutorial comment. If so, we must then decide if it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, we must determine whether the prosecutor's "Willie Lee Joneses" remarks "so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process." Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. at 643, 94 S.Ct. at 1871.
Improper influence on the testimony of a witness by counsel was an issue first injected into the case by the defendant, and it was in reaction to this implication of wrongdoing that the prosecutor made his unfortunate response. The district court thought that the remarks of the prosecutor following the defense objection and the trial court's ruling, although ostensibly an apology, constituted an artful and successful maneuver to restate the objectionable comments.
In our view the challenged remarks are not such a reflection on the conduct of counsel as to amount to an attempt to penalize the defendant for exercising his right to retain a lawyer. Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609, 85 S.Ct. 1229, 14 L.Ed.2d 106 (1965). The prosecutor's statements were directed more to excuse his own alleged dereliction on the ground that the defendant's lawyer did the same thing, i. e., there was nothing more improper in the prosecutor speaking to witness Pavia than was the action of defense counsel in consulting with his client. There is an obvious difference between the tenor of such a remark and that in United States ex rel. Macon v. Yeager, 476 F.2d 613 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 855, 94 S.Ct. 154, 38 L.Ed.2d 104 (1973), where it was implied that the act of retaining counsel was evidence of guilt.
In United States v. Lawson, 337 F.2d 800, 810 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 380 U.S. 919, 85 S.Ct. 913, 13 L.Ed.2d 804 (1965), we were confronted with a remark somewhat akin to the one at issue. In that case, we said:
Moreover, in his summation, defense counsel intimated that the defendant's act in not retaining a lawyer immediately was proof of innocence. He said:
We find it highly unlikely that the jury understood the prosecutor to be saying that a defendant who retained a lawyer could not be found to be credible. If such an implication indeed was present, we find it so attenuated and delitescent as to be imperceptible to the average layman. Belief that a jury would accept such a connotation is simply divorced from reality. Moreover, as the Court said in Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. at 647, 94 S.Ct. at 1873:
We conclude that there was no impermissible infringement upon the defendant's right to counsel as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Even assuming, arguendo, and we emphasize only arguendo, that a Sixth Amendment violation occurred, we entertain no doubt that the error did not influence the jury's deliberation and it was therefore harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
The trial judge's ruling sustaining the defense objection in the midst of the prosecutor's summation constituted a rebuke from the bench which, to say the least, was not helpful to the county attorney. His apologetic remarks following thereafter were naturally intended to ameliorate the situation, not to exacerbate it. The cold record cannot convey to a reviewing court the atmosphere in the trial court at the time, and we must rely to a great extent on the expressions of court and counsel.
Moreover, it is generally accepted that in determining whether prosecutorial arguments constitute reversible error, provocation is a factor which must be considered. United States v. Somers, 496 F.2d 723 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 832, 95 S.Ct. 56, 42 L.Ed.2d 58 (1974); United States v. LaSorsa, 480 F.2d 522 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 855, 94 S.Ct. 157, 38 L.Ed.2d 105 (1973); United States v. Benter, 457 F.2d 1174 (2d Cir.1972). The proposition has been subjected to some criticism but still retains vitality and is applicable here.
Similarly, we hold that the prosecutor's extended comments that all the Willie Lee Joneses of the world should be given a "fair
In his summation defense counsel dismissed Willie Lee Jones' testimony as that of a "convicted narcotics dealer . . . he stood trial before a judge and jury and they didn't believe a word he said and found him guilty . . . . Nobody believed this man and I say, ladies and gentlemen, no not even the men in the prosecutor's office believed this man." It is understandable that the prosecutor tried to minimize this attack by seeking to enlist the jury's sense of justice in believing that Jones had been punished beyond that which the law requires. In this day and age, however, we are unable to accept the contention that the jury was so influenced by any feeling of compassion for the convicted narcotics dealer as to have based its verdict upon that factor rather than on the evidence.
The essence of an improper appeal to the jurors is that it is directed to passion or prejudice rather than to an understanding of the facts and of the law. Thus, repeated racial slurs, United States ex rel. Haynes v. McKendrick, 481 F.2d 152 (2d Cir.1973); raising the spectre of martial law in a time of racial violence, Brown v. United States, 125 U.S.App.D.C. 220, 370 F.2d 242 (1966); and an appeal to patriotism in time of war, Viereck v. United States, 318 U.S. 236, 63 S.Ct. 561, 87 L.Ed. 734 (1943), have been held to be remarks too likely to influence the jury in its deliberations. However, in Tenorio v. United States, 390 F.2d 96, 99 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 874, 89 S.Ct. 169, 21 L.Ed.2d 145 (1968), the court noted:
In our opinion, the remarks of the prosecutor in the case at bar did not have the effect of arousing the prejudice of the jury, particularly since the harm which is caused by police corruption is a matter of common knowledge. As Judge Goodrich said in United States v. Kravitz, 281 F.2d 581, 586 (3d Cir.1960):
We note also that defense counsel made no objection to these remarks nor did he request any corrective instruction from the trial court. In Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501, 96 S.Ct. 1691, 48 L.Ed.2d 126 (1976), the Supreme Court again emphasized the necessity of entering an objection upon the record so that the trial judge would have an opportunity to remedy the error.
We have reviewed the trial transcript in this case and agree with the evaluation of the Supreme Court of New Jersey that "the alleged error must be regarded as inconsequential and clearly incapable of producing an unjust result."
Having found no error which would constitute a lack of due process or a denial of
It is unfortunate that even now, when the technology is available, courts are not using video tape recordings to any substantial degree. Thus, instances of alleged prejudicial remarks of counsel, similar to those which occurred here, or of improper statements during the charge of the jury as in United States ex rel. Harding v. Marks, 541 F.2d 402 (3d Cir., 1976), which occur in a courtroom today must be decided in the future only by reference to an expressionless printed transcript.