Justice? Michigan Prosecutors Say Davontae Sanford Can’t Get There From Here

Davontae Sanford is 18 and in prison. He was 14  when he confessed to shooting and killing four people in a drug house, but now Davontae says he confessed in order to please police.

Vincent Smothers is a professional hit man already convicted of eight murders. He now says that he killed the four victims Sanford took the rap for. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for Smothers to lie about it: the hit man  is not known for his compassion toward others. Smothers even waived his attorney-client privilege with former attorney Gabi Silver so  Silver could testify on Davontae Sanford’s behalf, and say under penalty of perjury that Smothers told her he was responsible for  the killings, and that Sanford didn’t help him.

Prosecutors, however, are trying to block Silver’s testimony, which could free a wrongly imprisoned teen, arguing that it would be hearsay. While Sanford’s attorney, Kim McGinnis, says she has done everything in her power to convince Smothers to testify himself, he refuses, leaving it up to her.

Hearsay is testimony where the witness is asserting facts not within his or her own experience, that have been relayed to the witness by another party. It is considered inherently suspect for evidentiary purposes, since the witness can’t be cross-examined about the facts themselves, but only on what was said to her. There are exceptions to the non-admissibility of hearsay, but each state has its own versions of the rules, and the Michigan prosecutors  say Michigan’s exceptions don’t permit Silver to testify.  Maybe they are right, though the test—that the proposed statement must have circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness to be admissible—sure seems to be met by Smothers’ statement. Why would he lie?

It isn’t as if the evidence against Sanford is overwhelming. He confessed, something 14-year-olds have been known to do when they are really innocent, and a witness testified in his original trail that she recognized his voice. I suspect that prosecutors will be successful in keeping Smothers’ confession out—but why would they want to? A prosecutor’s duty isn’t to win, or keep prisoner’s locked up, but to see that justice is done. It is a victory for a prosecutor every time the system gets it right, and an abject failure every time a guilty defendant goes free…or an innocent defendant goes to jail.

If the judge is inclined to let Silver testify regarding the hit man’s confession, the prosecution should not object. It serves justice for her to speak, and to let a jury weigh the statement’s reliability and Sanford’s guilt based on Silver’s testimony. For a prosecutor to argue that the rules of evidence technically prohibit a possible route to justice when a teenager’s future is in the balance is a perversion of legal ethics.

And if the prosecutors believe Silver, who believes Smothers, they shouldn’t even require a trial. They should petition for Davontae Sanford’s release themselves. From the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.8, “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor”:


(g) When a prosecutor knows of new, credible and material evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a convicted defendant did not commit an offense of which the defendant was convicted, the prosecutor shall:

(1) promptly disclose that evidence to an appropriate court or authority, and

(2) if the conviction was obtained in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction,

(i) promptly disclose that evidence to the defendant unless a court authorizes delay, and

(ii) undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.

(h) When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.

It is true that Michigan’s Rules don’t include these provisions, but that only means that the prosecutors don’t have a black and white  rule requiring them to make sure innocent prisoners are released.  All the ABA rule does is articulate what prosecutors are supposed to know anyway: their job , and their ethical duty, is to see that just results are reached by the criminal justice system, and not to argue that you can’t get there from here.

7 thoughts on “Justice? Michigan Prosecutors Say Davontae Sanford Can’t Get There From Here

  1. As government grows in power, much of that growth is because the people aren’t paying attention, or they’re trading freedoms for perceived protection. The only place where normal people can completely ignore government, indeed have the duty to do so if it’s just, is in the jury box. Unfortunately, the framers of our constitution, who recognized this, didn’t foresee the government short-circuiting the ability to get in front of a jury.

  2. It is a victory for a prosecutor every time the system gets it right, and an abject failure every time a defendant goes free…or an innocent defendant goes to jail.

    The omission of a word I know you intended to include makes this sentence more than a little ironic. It is, alas, for too many prosecutors, “an abject failure every time a defendant goes free.” I know you meant to include “guilty.” I’m not so sure about them.

  3. For more than three years now the prosecutors and police have known who committed the Runyon Street murders, and they’ve known they put an innocent Davontae Sanford in prison for the crime. Court records show that Vincent Smothers and Ernest Davis carried out the murders on orders from an individual who goes by the name “Lano.” Prosecutors and police have tried to suppress this information and are still attempting to bury the case. Please connect with the “Free Davontae Sanford” facebook page, keep informed, and help get the truth out regarding this troubling case.

  4. I’ve been to, through, in Detroit on business many, many times. It’s a dirty vile place, but I speak not of the cleanliness but of the ethics of officials. If you’re in government and ‘not involved’ in the dirtiness, you’re a knowing bystander treading water just trying to earn a living and make ends meet. Otherwise, you’re one of the dirty evil doers. The only way this will ever be resolved is for one of the dirty gets a conscience. :eyeroll:

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