Jamal Trulove -- a former contestant on VH1's "I Love New York" -- had his murder conviction overturned based on a prosecutor's poor decisions in closing arguments.
A California Court of Appeal overturned Trulove's conviction when it found that a prosecutor wrongfully suggested that the reality star's crew threatened to retaliate against a key witness, reports Bay City News.
Trulove may have lucked out because overturned criminal convictions are as rare as a reality star having a long term acting career.
Overturning Criminal Convictions
Getting a murder conviction overturned is very rare, so the "I Love New York" contestant's case is unique.
Although Trulove didn't win New York's heart, he certainly won his appeals case. In 2007, Trulove was originally convicted of first degree murder in connection with a man's shooting death in San Francisco, reports Bay City News. However, Trulove appealed his case to the California Court of Appeals by arguing that the prosecutor unfairly suggested that his friends and family threatened a key witness to the case.
The Court of Appeals initially changed the charge from first degree to second degree murder -- a lesser charge which typically results in a more lenient sentence.
In a surprising turn of events, the appeals panel reconsidered the case and overturned Trulove's conviction on the grounds of "highly prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct," according to the San Jose Mercury News. For the most part, guilty verdicts are only overturned if the trial court made a serious error that significantly influenced the trial's outcome. In this case, unfairly insinuating that Trulove's inner circle threatened retaliation was a huge "Oh hell no!" error for the prosecutor.
Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which all lawyers must abide by, prosecutors have special responsibilities. Because they represent the government, prosecutors must be extra mindful that they aren't infringing on anyone's civil rights. The prosecutor in Trulove's murder trial may have forgotten this obligation when he made unfair statements in his closing arguments. Prosecutorial misconduct like that can be used to sanction the prosecutor and used as evidence to overturn a wrongful conviction.
Trulove isn't out of the woods just yet. The state attorney general's office now has 40 days to decide whether to submit the "I Love New York" contestant's overturned conviction to the California Supreme Court for a final review.
Editor's Note, January 22, 2014: This post was updated to clarify details surrounding Trulove's conviction in 2007.