Analysis: Judges can't order attorney general to take cases

Attorney General Lynn Fitch | Source: Mississippi Office of the Attorney General

The Mississippi attorney general can take over a case when a local prosecutor steps away, but the takeover must be voluntary and a judge cannot set deadlines for the work.

Posted: Oct 25, 2021 9:09 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi attorney general can take over a case when a local prosecutor steps away, but the takeover must be voluntary and a judge cannot set deadlines for the work.

In a unanimous ruling Tuesday, Mississippi Supreme Court justices said a circuit court “acted outside its authority” this year when it ordered Attorney General Lynn Fitch's office to investigate a death after a district attorney recused herself.

Kassie Coleman became Lauderdale County district attorney in November 2018. According to the Meridian Star, Coleman released a statement in August 2019 saying her office was “ready to receive and review any new evidence" about the 2014 shooting death of a 21-year-old man, Christian Andreacchio.

Police said Andreacchio’s death was a suicide, but his parents have said they believe he was killed.

Coleman later recused herself from the case and asked a judge to appoint another prosecutor, according to court documents. Coleman cited several reasons, including an election complaint the Andreacchio family filed against her, Justice Robert Chamberlin wrote for the Supreme Court.

“Coleman insisted her self-disqualification was necessary to ‘avoid any appearance of impropriety,'" Chamberlin wrote.

Bilbo Mitchell, the Lauderdale County district attorney before Coleman, recused himself from the case in 2017 and handed it to then-Attorney General Jim Hood. A grand jury declined to indict two people that year in Andreacchio’s death.

Andreacchio's family wants a new grand jury to examine some police reports they say were not shown to the previous one.

On March 31, Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Charles Wright ordered Fitch to undertake an investigation and report on the status of the work by Sept. 1. Fitch appealed, arguing the judge had overstepped the separation of power between branches of government. She also said the attorney general's office had conflicts of interest in the case.

Chamberlin wrote that Wright acted properly in allowing the district attorney to recuse herself, but the judge “improperly usurped the executive power of the Attorney General by directing her to conduct a criminal investigation and by requiring the Attorney General report to the trial court the status of her criminal investigation by a date certain.”

Chamberlin wrote that the attorney general has the power to appoint and employ outside attorneys and special investigators to work on prosecutions, if she chooses.

“Finally, any decision to investigate a case and present said case to a grand jury as well as a decision to decline prosecution as unwarranted is within the sole and sound discretion of the Attorney General or her designee,” Chamberlin wrote.

Fitch, a Republican, was inaugurated in January 2020. She has made decisions about two high-profile cases transferred from district attorneys to the attorney general's office — one involving a man tried multiple times and the other involving a white police officer charged with shooting a Black man.

Soon after taking office, Fitch was handed the case of Curtis Flowers after Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans recused himself.

Evans tried Flowers six times in the July 1996 killings of four people at a Winona furniture store. Flowers was convicted four times: twice for individual slayings and twice for all four killings. Two trials on all four deaths ended in mistrials.

Each of Flowers’ convictions was overturned. In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed the conviction and death sentence from Flowers’ sixth trial, which was in 2010. Flowers is Black, and justices said prosecutors unconstitutionally excluded African American jurors.

The Supreme Court ruling came after American Public Media’s “In the Dark” investigated the case and interviewed a key witness who said he lied about Flowers. In December 2019, Flowers was released from prison but remained under indictment. In September 2020, Fitch announced she would not pursue a seventh trial of Flowers because there were no longer any credible witnesses.

In May 2020, Fitch announced she was dropping a manslaughter charge against Canyon Boykin, a white former police officer in Columbus who pleaded not guilty in 2016 after being indicted in the shooting death of a Black man, Ricky Ball. Lowndes County District Attorney Scott Colom transferred the case to the attorney general in 2016. It was still pending when Hood, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2019.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844951

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161002006
Mobile741871379
Madison53279732
Shelby38325368
Baldwin38068589
Tuscaloosa36009641
Montgomery34482781
Lee25550263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22451406
Etowah20013517
Marshall18777316
Houston17727425
St. Clair16875358
Limestone16135218
Cullman16044303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14968306
Talladega14189299
DeKalb12967269
Walker12020380
Blount10714192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10157194
Coffee9414192
Colbert9334208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7254201
Russell707765
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6932195
Franklin6340108
Chambers5783142
Marion5401130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318189
Cherokee317563
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254460
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184947
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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