Our adversarial system of justice — under attack from within

The case of Marvin Haynes

We should all be proud to live in a country where people are considered innocent until proven guilty. 

Marvin Haynes was proven guilty of a 2004 first-degree murder, committed during the armed robbery of a flower shop in north Minneapolis.

  • Police developed probable cause that Haynes was the shooter and arrested him. Two eyewitnesses picked Haynes out of photo lineups (the victim’s sister, exclaiming “Oh my God, that’s him,” upon seeing Haynes’ photo) and both later identified Haynes in an in-person lineup and in court to varying degrees. Several of Haynes’ friends and relatives gave police statements indicating Haynes had become involved in armed robberies, that he was intent on committing a robbery the day of the murder, that he had been carrying a chrome revolver in the weeks leading up to the murder (the type of gun used in this murder), and that he made comments about “shooting an old white man” contemporaneously with the murder at the flower shop. 
  • The county attorney’s office reviewed the evidence and independently agreed that probable cause existed to charge Haynes with murder. 
  • A Hennepin County Grand Jury listened to the evidence against Haynes and agreed that probable cause existed to indict him with first degree murder. 
  • A respected Hennepin County District Court Judge presided over evidentiary hearings and the trial and made legal decisions to ensure Haynes received a fair trial.
  • Haynes made no pre-trial appeals regarding evidence presented against him.
  • Haynes was tried before a jury of his peers in 2005. The jury listened to testimony and reviewed evidence during the trial and determined Haynes was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
  • Haynes received an automatic appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2007. The supreme court heard arguments from Haynes’ attorney, none of which included the claim or argument that the eyewitness identifications of Haynes were problematic. The supreme court denied Haynes’ appeal, ruling the district court had properly ruled on issues of law during the trial, and that there was no prosecutorial misconduct in the case.
  • Haynes was sentenced to life in prison.

Enter Mary Moriarty

Fast forward to 2022. Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Hennepin County, announced her intention to completely turn the tables and run to become the county’s chief prosecutor. Many saw this as a disaster in the making and warned the electorate, to no avail, against putting Moriarty in this position. Read some of these warnings here and here.

During the endorsement process, the Star Tribune said of Moriarty:

“…we’re concerned that her approach doesn’t adequately emphasize public safety.  Moriarty also brings baggage after her stint as chief public defender ended in controversy related to social media posts, her managerial style, and tense relationship s with other leaders in the criminal justice system.”


“…the Editorial Board remains concerned about her ability to transition from defender to prosecutor and to provide effective leadership for the office.”

Despite these concerns, Moriarty took over as the county’s chief prosecutor in January 2023. Within months Moriarty made clear she would be undermining the adversarial system of justice in Hennepin County, by joining forces with advocacy groups, defense attorneys, and using “science” to bring about her vision of justice and public safety in Hennepin County.   

No fewer than a dozen families and victim advocacy groups have since gone public and spoken out against Moriarty and her decisions to either not prosecute, under prosecute, or seek to overturn convictions of violent criminals adjudicated decades earlier. Read more about this outrage here, here, and here.

Moriarty’s actions have in fact been outrageous and undermine Minnesota’s public safety and justice systems in 2023. Yet she asks the public to deny their eyes and believe that she is the righteous arbiter of justice.

The exoneration of Marvin Haynes

This summer, Haynes filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, despite being over 15 years past the cutoff to legally do so. Moriarty waived the statutory time bar and the procedural bar on Haynes’ petition. Given these concessions by Moriarty, the court scheduled a post-conviction evidentiary hearing this fall.

I’ve learned that to some in attendance at the hearing, it was apparent that Moriarty’s office did not act as an adversarial check and balance against Haynes’ arguments, and offered passive and limited cross examination of witnesses and evidence presented on behalf of Haynes.

Following the hearing Moriarty and the Innocence Project joined together to draft a 6-page order which claimed Haynes had been denied due process “because his conviction relied on constitutionally defective eyewitness identification evidence.” Moriarty agreed that “the interest of justice would be served by dismissing with prejudice all charges against Petitioner in this matter” and vacating his murder conviction.

This week Judge Willian Koch signed that order and Haynes was released to the street following a hearing held for that purpose in the Hennepin County Government Center.

This revisionist approach to evaluating decades old convictions that were properly tried and for which multiple appeals have been considered and rejected, has been particularly troubling. It’s a dangerous path that needs to be closed for all but the most persuasive and clear-cut cases involving, for example indisputable DNA evidence.

Attacking eyewitness identifications decades after the fact, especially when those identifications were not called into question contemporaneously with the trial, is just pure nonsense. Tragically it attacks and undermines the value of this critical evidence going forward. 

The importance of our adversarial system

Our justice system is built on a foundation of fairness and balance, using the well-conceived “adversarial” system where the parties are each tasked with representing their interests by presenting evidence and arguments before a neutral judge and a jury of peers.

“The adversarial system of justice serves to make sure that, not only in the specific case on trial, but in general proceedings, that prejudice and corruption do not result in wrongful convictions or mistreatment of others…”


The balanced approach provided by an adversarial model ensures our system of justice has historically been hailed as the gold standard. 

Unfortunately, our system is under attack — from within. The balance is being undermined, and justice is suffering as a result.

The emergence of progressive prosecutors across the country, many who were former defense attorneys has resulted in the inappropriate teaming of prosecutor and defense attorney in support of the defendant’s arguments. This is obviously problematic.

Can anyone envision a justice system in which the defense attorney teamed with the prosecution to help make the state’s arguments against the defendant?  There would be revolt, and rightly so. Why then would anyone believe it’s appropriate for the prosecutor to abdicate making arguments on behalf of the state, while in turn making arguments on behalf of the defendant?

Haynes and all criminal defendants deserve a competent and vigorous defense. Our system depends on it. But when prosecutors intentionally abdicate their adversarial role, balance is destroyed, and justice suffers.

We should expect more of the same as more progressive defense minded attorneys seek key prosecutorial positions.