Kyle Reeves

PROSECUTOR

Kyle Reeves – NY State Bar #2343911

BOROUGH

Brooklyn & Staten Island

Who: Law professors filed a grievance regarding Kyle Reeves’s misconduct while prosecuting Jabbar Washington on behalf of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (KCDAO) and Asim Martinez on behalf of the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office (RCDAO). The grievance calls for an investigation into Reeves’s conduct in a third case, the prosecution of Travis Ragsdale on behalf of the KCDAO. Despite Reeves’s misconduct, at the time of the complaint, Reeves had no record of public discipline in the New York Attorney Detail Report.

Despite the fact that the KCDAO itself found Reeves to have committed misconduct in cross-examination, at the time of the complaint, the Kings County Criminal Bar Association still offered Reeves’s Effective Cross-examination Techniques online in its Continuing Legal Education (CLE) library. At the time, Reeves’s website claimed that he had conducted hundreds of legal training courses for other lawyers and is a co-author of “Winning Trial Strategies,” which the site claimed is “considered by many to be the preeminent guidebook for New York state prosecutors.”

What they did: Reeves prosecuted Jabbar Washington on robbery and murder charges, ultimately obtaining a conviction at trial in 1997. Washington was imprisoned until his release in 2017, when the KCDAO itself agreed to reverse Washington’s conviction. At the hearing, the KCDAO said that Reeves intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence to put “the defense at a disadvantage,” as well as “intentionally and improperly” questioning witnesses. Kings County prosecutors again addressed the case in its 426 Years Report regarding wrongful convictions in Brooklyn. For reasons unknown to the grievance authors, the KCDAO’s 2020 report stated that it could not determine whether Reeves had withheld the exculpatory information. But the report maintained that Reeves was “deceptive” when he elicited “intentionally misleading testimony.” 

Additionally, the Appellate Division found that Reeves committed misconduct in People v. Martinez. The court vacated the conviction because of what it called Reeves’s “prosecutorial misconduct.” The court found that Reeves had improperly stated that the defense expert had repeatedly lied to the judges in other cases and during the current testimony. The court also found that Reeves acted as an unsworn witness at trial and improperly suggested he had been present in a different trial where the expert had lied. 

In People v. Ragsdale, both the Appellate Division and federal District Court opinions seem to indicate, without addressing it squarely, that Reeves violated the trial court’s evidentiary orders. The trial court apparently struck Reeves’s question and issued a curative instruction to the jury. On appeal, the conviction was affirmed. The grievance calls for a thorough investigation of the conduct in that case.

Why it’s wrong: Prosecutors may not mislead the court or jury, and multiple prohibitions on prosecutorial conduct relate to dishonesty. Because they are representatives of the state, not lawyers for an individual, prosecutors possess a “special duty” not to mislead a judge, jury, or defense counsel. In choosing to suspend former prosecutor Claude Stuart for making misleading statements to the court, the Appellate Division noted that such conduct “strikes at the heart of his credibility as a prosecutor and an officer of the court.” 

One of the most damaging forms of prosecutorial misconduct is the Brady violation—when law enforcement suppresses exculpatory or impeachment evidence. It is unsurprising that the National Registry of Exonerations found that suppression of Brady evidence played a role in over 44 percent of known wrongful convictions and 61 percent of known wrongful convictions for murder.

As far back as 1899, the New York Court of Appeals cautioned prosecutors against appealing to “prejudice” or seeking conviction “through the aid of passion, sympathy or resentment.” The Court of Appeals has explained that a prosecutor must not vouch for the strength of her own case because of the “possible danger that the jury, impressed by the prestige of the office of the District Attorney, will accord great weight to the beliefs and opinions of the prosecutor.” 

Prosecutors wield immense power, the power to seek punishment on behalf of the state, and should be held to the highest ethical standards.  The grievance identifies the following then-applicable ethical rules Reeves’s conduct likely violated:

  • Rule DR 7-103(b)  (from the Code of Professional Responsibility, later replaced by the Rules of Professional Conduct) required a prosecutor to make timely disclosure of the existence of evidence known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused, mitigate the degree of the offense or reduce the punishment.
  • Rule DR 7-102(a)(3) and DR 7-109(a) also required disclosure and prohibited knowing concealment of evidence.
  • Rule 7-102 prohibited attorneys from knowingly making a false statement to the court or using evidence they knew to be false.
  • Rule DR 1-102 prohibited attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
  • Rule DR 1-102 prohibited attorneys from engaging in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice, or engaging in any other conduct that adversely reflected on their fitness to practice law.
  • Rules 8.4(d) and 8.4(h) of the Rules of Professional Conduct state attorneys cannot engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice or engage in any other conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness as a lawyer. 

What can be done about it: The grievance calls for the committee to investigate and issue public discipline, including disbarment (revoking Reeves’s law license). It also calls for a broader investigation into other cases prosecuted by the same prosecutor, and to determine whether the KCDAO and RCDAO supervising and managing attorneys complied with their duties under Rule 5.1 of Professional Conduct.

Note: This is a summary based on the grievance, see the grievance for more detail and context. The grievance authors do not have personal knowledge of any of the facts or circumstances of the attorney or the cases mentioned; the grievance is based entirely on court opinions, briefs and/or other documents cited therein.