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Drug Defendant Gets New Trial Because of Prosecutor’s ‘Guilty’ Luggage Tag

Posted Feb 24, 2011 11:07 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Illinois judge has ordered a new trial for a drug defendant because the prosecutor in the case brought a file cart to trial with a “guilty” luggage tag attached.

The defendant, Ronald Wilkerson, raised the issue himself after he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for possessing crack cocaine with an intent to sell it, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports. Wilkerson wrote a letter to the judge offering reasons why the sentence was excessive, and mentioned the “guilty” tag, almost as an aside, the story says.

Judge Tom Difanis ruled Wednesday after the presiding judge in the case recused herself. The prosecutor, Assistant Champaign County State's Attorney Sarah Carlson, said she bought the luggage tag "as a joke for my own amusement" and she wasn’t even sure she had brought it into the courtroom. There was no intent for the jury to see it, she said.

Difanis said bringing the tag into the courtroom was “carelessness” and he ordered a new trial because of the “fairness issue.”

Hat tip to the Illinois State Bar Association Daily Legal News.

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