J. Miller Leavy


The obituary for J. Miller Leavy, former deputy district attorney in Los Angeles (Jan. 5), while correctly recognizing his legal talent, ignores some of the more questionable aspects of his career.

The “confession” of Barbara Graham referred to in the quote from Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Kay was, in fact, obtained by use of a police informant planted in the county jail with Graham, who convinced her to confess with the promise that she could help her with her defense. The use of the informant in that manner was a violation of Graham’s constitutional rights under the Fifth and Sixth amendments as the U.S. Supreme Court has since held.

It is particularly disturbing to see Leavy lauded for “ridiculing defendants who elected not to testify.” Again, this is a grossly unconstitutional practice that has been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Any convictions obtained by Leavy by use of this tactic were miscarriages of justice, not the work of a brilliant lawyer.


Nor does the obituary mention the infamous Caryl Chessman case. Chessman was prosecuted by Leavy and sentenced to death for various felonies, not including murder. No complete transcript of his trial was ever available because the court reporter who reported the trial died before completely transcribing his shorthand notes. Large portions of the notes could not be read by a new reporter. Rather than granting Chessman a new trial, the court accepted a patchwork transcript, based in part on Leavy’s version of events at trial where the notes could not be read. Chessman’s appeals were decided based upon this supposedly accurate transcript of the trial. He was executed in 1960 after spending 12 years on Death Row fighting for a new trial.


Los Angeles