Posts Tagged ‘prosecutorial misconduct’


Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Justin Hirsche — September 09, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Compensation,Constitution,exoneration,judicial,justice,legislation,post-conviction,prison,Prosecutorial misconduct,Science, , , , , , , , , , ,


DNA Evidence Clears Two men in 1983 North Carolina Murder Case

Justin Hirsche — September 03, 2014 @ 4:03 PM — Comments (0)

After spending 30 long years in prison, two brothers in North Carolina were exonerated Tuesday by a North Carolina Judge. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were both released from prison today They had been found guilty of the heinous rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. The two African American men were 15 and 19 at the time of the murder are both considered intellectually disabled. After long hours of unethical interrogation with no lawyer present each separately confessed to the crime, by signing statements written for them by police officers. But when they were sent to trial they recanted all of their statements confessing to the crime. Key evidence was left unaccounted for at the time of the trial. A similar murder had been committed in the same town within a month of the brother’s arrest, and a local man, Roscoe Artis, had confessed to the rape and murder of an 18-year old. Artis lived just a block from where the victim’s body had been found yet he was not seen as a suspect. A cigarette butt found near the vicitim’s body was tested  to see whose DNA would show up on it — there was not a match for either of the exonerees — but their was a match for Roscoe Artis’s DNA. Artis is currently serving a life sentence for his other rape and murder.

Leon Brown was sent away for life and Henry Lee McCollum received the death penalty with no evidence connecting them to the crime, but because they confessed to it under duress they had a huge chunk of their lives stolen. This just furthers the evidence that just because someone confesses to a crime when they are under immense pressure, that does not mean they are guilty of said crime. Roughly 25 percent of those wrongly convicted of crimes have admitted guilt during their initial interrogation, the only way we can stop this cruel treatment is to change the way we interrogate suspects and make sure all interrogations are videotaped. Over the past 23 years there have been over 2,000 exonerations in the United States and with the great news of today we can add two more to that ever growing list.

McCollum and Brown were defended in their search for the truth by Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

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Hayne and West: Mississippi’s Corrupt Duo

Henry Thompson — February 10, 2014 @ 9:28 AM — Comments (3)

Medical examiners often play an integral role in criminal cases when they are called as an expert witnesses to testify on the behalf of the prosecution. In most cases, these medical examiners’ opinions are trusted and their testimony often heavily influences whether someone is found guilty or acquitted.

The infamous Dr. Steven Hayne of Mississippi has been regarded as an incompetent and unreliable medical examiner by the medical and legal communities for years now. Even though Hayne has not been a medical examiner since 2008, his legacy continues to wreak havoc on the lives of those whom he testified against.

Hayne began working with dentist Michael West, his frequent collaborator, in 1987 when he began performing autopsies in Mississippi. Despite lacking sufficient credentials, Hayne monopolized the autopsies performed in Mississippi, claiming he was completing 1200 to 1500 autopsies a year; working 365 days per year, that’s more than 3 autopsies per day. The National Association of Medical Examiners recommends about 250 autopsies per medical examiner per year.

With Hayne backing up West’s testimonies, and vice versa, the two frequently worked together, resulting in several men being sentenced to life in prison. One of these men was Levon Brooks in 1990. Brooks was convicted of raping and murdering 3-year old Courtney Smith in Brooksville, Miss. This occurred after Hayne found bite marks on the girl during the autopsy and called Michael West to take dental molds of several suspects and compare them to the marks found. Just ten days after the murder, Levon Brooks was identified as the abductor by Courtney Smith’s sister and was found to be the perpetrator through a dental mold test performed by West. Brooks was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1992.

Again the two collaborated in a strikingly similar case in Mississippi. In this case, a young girl was abducted, raped, and killed. The police focused their search on a friend of the girl’s sister. This man, Kennedy Brewer, was then tried and convicted thanks to another bite mark examination performed by Hayne and West. Brewer was sentenced to death.

One of the first instances in which Michael West used this dental mark examination was in 1989 with the case of Henry Lee Harrison. West used blue ultraviolet light to reveal bite marks on the body which were previously unseen. Just like Steven Hayne, Michael West’s methods have been criticized by many in the past. West and Hayne found that when the two collaborated using the bite mark examination they were very successful.

“He is clearly a sore on the body of forensic science,” says James Starrs, a professor of law and forensic science at George Washington University and publisher of Scientific Sleuthing Review, an industry newsletter. “He is forever going beyond what other scientists are willing or able to say.” - ABA Journal 

In 2001, The Innocence Project was investigating the case of Kennedy Brewer and found DNA evidence that proved he was not the perpetrator. However, authorities initially didn’t find the true criminal and Brewer remained in prison until Albert Johnson, another suspect in both cases, was re-interviewed by law enforcement officials. Johnson admitted to committing the crimes that Brewer and Brooks had been convicted of and the two men were freed in 2008.

Upon this news, Stephen Hayne and Michael West underwent intense scrutiny regarding their practices and methods. Hayne was found to be incompetent and overbearing by his peers and those who he worked with.

 For nearly 20 years, Hayne performed as much as 90 percent of the criminal autopsies in Mississippi, which by his own account could approach 1,800 autopsies per year. Over the last two years, The Huffington Post has reported on several other cases in which Hayne and his frequent collaborator Michael West have given questionable testimony or issued forensics reports that led to a wrongful arrest — most recently in January, with an investigation into the 1997 murder of 39-year-old Kathy Mabry.- The Huffington Post

Although the media and the general public contended that Stephen Hayne and his partner were incompetent, Hayne still maintained a large following of supporters in his home state. This is only evident through the fact that he was allowed to continue practicing.

In 2002, Jeffery Havard was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant child. Hayne was an expert witness during the case of Mr. Havard, despite his own recent credibility issues. Hayne contended that Havard had sexually abused the child and then subsequently killed the child through violent shaking. Mr. Havard was sentenced to death even though he argued that the child had just slipped from his hands and hit her head.

 “Once Havard was convicted, his case was kicked up to the Mississippi Capital Post Conviction Office, a well-funded state legal defense agency that was started after several federal court decisions pretty much demanded it. That office hired former Alabama State Medical Examiner Jim Lauridson to review Hayne’s autopsy in the Havard case. Lauridson found it lacking.” -The Huffington Post

Hayne’s autopsies were often lacking even though they were not reviewed consistently by his medical peers. Hayne’s work as an expert witness did not simply send one man to death row in Mississippi: Jeffery Havard is on death row as well as Devin Bennett, Eddie Lee Howard, and Jimmie Duncan thanks to Hayne and West.

Hayne does not continue to practice as a medical examiner, nor is it likely he will continue to act as an expert witness. He still is called to the stand to review and comment on postconviction cases in which he originally performed autopsies.  Hayne, and those who abuse their power within the justice system for their own gain, must be rooted out and expelled if we are to have a justice system that can be trusted to produce reliable outcomes.

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Newly Established Prosecutorial Misconduct Database Online

Henry Thompson — January 14, 2014 @ 1:01 PM — Comments (2)

Prosecutorial misconduct has been a contributing factor in 42% of wrongful conviction cases. Recently it has seen many outspoken critics.  In a recent article by The New York Times the issue was raised by its editors wherein they make mention of the fact that prosecutors are obliged to bring to the court any exculpatory evidence that could change the verdict pursuant to the 1963 Supreme Court ruling on Brady v. Maryland. This obligation is counter-intuitive for prosecutors, because they are primarily striving to bring justice to the community through convictions.

The Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote “The lack of professional consequences for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence only makes the breach of duty more likely. As Judge Kozinski wrote, “Some prosecutors don’t care about Brady because courts don’t make them care.”  Others have also recently bemoaned the acceptable nature of frequent prosecutorial misconduct and have shamed judges for not upholding the obligations of Brady v. Maryland.

Registry-Logo-300x300In response to this outcry, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity began tracking and monitoring prosecutorial integrity around the country and they have created a registry of cases of prosecutorial misconduct.  “The CPI Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct enables policymakers, researchers, and others to identify common types of misconduct, assess trends, and compare jurisdictions.” This new registry was opened to the public during the first week of January 2014. It is searchable by a number of identifying details like crime, state, type of trial (federal or not), prosecutor name, case name, as well as finding.

The Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct defines prosecutorial misconduct “as a violation of a code of professional ethics or pertinent law, or other conduct that prejudices the administration of justice, whether intentional or inadvertent. Inclusion of a case in the Registry is based on a finding of prosecutorial misconduct by a trial court, appellate court, supreme court, or legal disciplinary body.”

Not only did the Center for Prosecutor Integrity create a highly usable and friendly database for the public to use but they have also created a graph to accompany the newly founded database. The graph denotes that 84 of the cases found in the database of 200 were a result of pretrial Brady violations on behalf of the prosecutors. It can be found here. This database is one of the first steps in determining the larger picture of prosecutorial misconduct and holding those responsible accountable for abusing the public trust. The CPI database can be found here.

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The Deep Roots of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Anna Fitzpatrick — May 24, 2013 @ 2:17 PM — Comments (0)

Fifty years ago, in the landmark Brady v. Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court established a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors – to seek justice fairly, not merely win convictions by any means. This meant that due process required prosecutors to disclose any exculpatory evidence that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence. Known as the Brady Rule, the case was meant to lead to more transparency and equity in criminal proceedings; however, its power has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who skirt around the rule.

It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. The National Registry of Exonerations has compiled detailed data for about 1,100 exonerations for the period 1989-2012. Of those cases, a whopping 42% were caused by what has been deemed “official misconduct.” Allowing for a 50-50 split between police and prosecutorial misconduct, the number still hovers around 21%, and when one considers that prosecutors are meant to seek justice rather than convictions, that is a rather alarming rate. The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals; unfortunately, that allows for almost complete unaccountability for wrong-doings in judicial proceedings.

Recently the “Michael Morton Act” was passed in Texas, a law meant to decrease the amount of wrongful convictions within the state. The bill’s namesake spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA evidence finally exonerated him in 2011. The prosecutor in his case has been accused of deliberately withholding a substantial amount of evidence that would have led to an acquittal, including an account from the defendants three-year-old son who witnessed the murder and explained that “Daddy wasn’t home” at the time, neighbor testimonials who saw a man park a green van outside the house the morning of the murder, and a police officer in San Antonio who stated he could identify a woman who had used the victim’s stolen Visa card in a jewelry store – all of which were withheld from the defense.

The case of John Thompson represents another example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated following the discovery that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept more than a dozen pieces of evidence secret, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights.

One root of the epidemic of misconduct may stem from prosecutors positions as pseudo-politicians. The position of “prosecutor” is imbedded with an incredible level of power, and as Lord Acton wrote 126 years ago, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Not only do prosecutors have power, but they are essentially free from accountability. The outrageous breaches of due process discussed here are merely illustrative of a deep-rooted indifference towards the assurance of justice.

But what can be done? One example of a better approach that has been adopted in North Carolina and now Ohio is to adopt an open-files reform to make criminal cases more efficient and fair. The state statute require prosecutors in felony cases, before trial, to make available to the defense “the complete files of all law enforcement agencies, investigatory agencies and prosecutors’ offices involved in the investigation of the crimes committed or the prosecution of the defendant.” The Justice Department insists that is has solved the problem by tightening requirements for disclosure, but numerous misconduct scandals show that is not sufficient. The best way to fulfill the promise of Brady is with open-files reform, which addresses the need for full disclosure of evidence that could show a defendant’s innocence.

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Judge Ken Anderson Faces Criminal Charges

Jessica — April 26, 2013 @ 1:37 PM — Comments (1)

In February, Michael Morton submitted a court of inquiry to the State of Texas regarding the conduct of the leading prosecutor in his case.  On Friday, April 19, 2013, a Texas judge decided that Ken Anderson, former district attorney and now judge, would face criminal charges for his improper behavior in 1987.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of The Innocence Project, stated in The Innocence Project press release,

“We believe this is a landmark case. I know that good prosecutors, and that’s most of them, agree that it’s important Judge Anderson be held accountable for the willful misconduct that caused Michael Morton to lose 25 years of his life.”

“It’s extremely rare for prosecutors to be punished for deliberately hiding exculpatory evidence, much less face criminal charges. But this outcome will hopefully usher in a new era of oversight to ensure that prosecutors live up to their ethical obligations.”

The court as well as District Judge Louis Sterns, who was presiding over the case, decided Anderson should face charges for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense resulting in Morton’s wrongful conviction after determining the Anderson was aware of the Judge’s trial orders.

It is reassuring to know that prosecutors who engage in ethical and legal misconduct are being held accountable for their actions. The reformation of the criminal justice system is going to take time but steps in the right direction such as The Prosecutorial Oversight Campaign  are crucial in the change towards a better system. It is important every individual of the law continually upholds the law and those who do not are rightfully held accountable.

In the press release, Nina Morrison, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, stated,

“Hopefully this case will serve as a wake-up call to prosecutors across the nation that there are real consequences for ignoring the ethical rules that have been established to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial.”

Although criminal charges against prosecutors are rare, the success of Morton’s court of inquiry demonstrates the justice the system owes him for the miscarriage of justice that he received for 25 years.

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Anderson’s Accountability

Jessica — February 21, 2013 @ 4:33 PM — Comments (3)

In August 2011 post-conviction DNA testing proved Michael Morton an innocent man. After spending nearly 25 years behind bars for the wrongful conviction of the murder of his wife Christine, Morton was finally able to regain the life that he had left behind. Morton has since filed a court of inquiry against Ken Anderson, the district attorney whose prosecution led to Morton’s wrongful conviction. Ken Anderson now serves as a judge for the State of Texas and denies that any misconduct occurred during Morton’s trial in 1987.

The Huffington Post defined a court of inquiry as ” a rarely used proceeding held when officials or public servants are accused of wrongdoing.” In a system where the officials are highly protected, a court of inquiry call into question the actions of those in the prosecution.

Christine Morton was beaten to death with a wooden object in the morning in August 1986. The lead investigator of the crime collected evidence that included: a police report of neighbors claiming that a man owning a green van frequented the area around the Morton home around the time of the murder, a report of the couple’s young son, Eric, who was a witness to the horrific murder of his mother claiming that a “monster”, not his father, had killed his mother while his father was gone, unidentified fingerprints as well as an unidentified foot print in the backyard. There was a substantial amount of evidence indicating that Morton had not committed the murder. However, the defense was not made aware of any of this evidence; and hence the jury did not hear any of it. The jury convicted Morton on circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to a life in prison.

The Texas Tribune states, “Anderson insisted that there was no judge’s order requiring him to turn over that evidence. He also argued that although he was not required under law or by a judge’s order to give Morton’s lawyers the transcript or the green van report that he must have told them about it. He said he had no “independent recollection” of doing so, but faulted Morton’s lawyers for not following up on the information.”

Throughout the court of inquiry hearings, Anderson continually denied concealing exculpatory evidence and simply claims the justice system “screwed up.” If Morton was held accountable for a crime he did not commit, Anderson needs to face the same accountability. Anderson wrongfully stole 25 years from a man in which a multitude of evidence proved he was innocent. Rather than admit the system was prosecuting the wrong individual, Anderson chose to suppress the evidence and continue with legal proceedings.

Discussing Anderson and the case, Morton stated,  “I think we saw someone who is still struggling with denial and anger,” he said, “and possibly a man who has spent at least three decades in a position of power and for the first time has had to answer for his actions, and he’s very uncomfortable with that.”

As the proceeding came to a close Friday, February 8, the Judge presiding over the case is waiting on both the defense and the prosecution to file additional papers. His decision should be made within the next couple of months.

For now the public is left to question, was Morton’s conviction a result of prosecutorial misconduct or is Anderson just as innocent as he claims?

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When Does the Fight Stop? – The Role of the Prosecution

Jessica — February 14, 2013 @ 10:17 AM — Comments (1)

It wasn’t long after Douglas Prade was exonerated of murder that prosecutors for the State of Ohio made known their intentions to appeal the overturned conviction. Postconviction DNA testing proved Prade did not kill his ex-wife, Margo Prade, in November of 1997. However the prosecution continues to push hard the idea that Prade could in fact be Margo’s murderer.

In an Los Angeles Times article, Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, said, “Prosecutors have enormous power over all of our lives, . . . yet no other profession is shielded from the complete lack of accountability.” As representatives of the State, the prosecution must present a case that proves a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But doesn’t their responsibility also include making sure the wrong person is not convicted? And correcting the wrong if the wrong person is?

Innocence projects get involved after the trial, conviction and all of the appeals have been exhausted. There has to be a very compelling reason such as newly discovered evidence to open the door to re-visit a conviction. During this phase, the prosecution has the ability to agree to DNA testing–testing that innocence projects pay for, so there is no expense to the State–and  avoid needless litigation just to obtain this vital science. According to the Innocence Network, nationally 19% of prosecutors oppose DNA testing when it requested by an individual in prison. In Florida, the experience of the Innocence Project of Florida (“IPF”) far outpaces the national averages.  For example, in 2011-2012, IPF has requested DNA testing on behalf of clients potentially wrongfully convicted in 22 cases and prosecutors have only agreed to DNA testing once. They have opposed testing 21 out of 22 times or 95% of the time.  This kind of obstruction is an organized form of prosecutorial misconduct, akin to hiding evidence of innocence.

Not only does this misconduct include the effort of hiding evidence that leads to wrongful convictions or preventing a potentially innocent person from getting DNA testing that could prove their innocence, it also includes continuing to fight after the defense has presented sufficient evidence indicating innocence.  There are many reasons and opinions as to why a prosecutor would continue to fight, but it comes down to admitting that a mistake was made. It is a difficult task to admit a wrongdoing; however is the preservation of a wrongful conviction worth keeping an innocent person in prison? After a conviction has been overturned and innocence declared, isn’t the deliberative thoughtful, diligent decision by a judge that a conviction is wrongful enough to give the case up and let the innocent individual go home? Why is it so important that the prosecution appeals the judge’s ruling? The Plain Dealer, a newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, stated:

“Because the judge might be wrong,” said John Murphy, the executive director of the prosecuting attorney association. “That’s why we have appellate courts. If we believe there is a genuine issue, we have to take it to the appeals courts.”

Many will question whether prosecutors are out to seek justice, as they are sworn to do, or to win cases at all costs. These questions arise when solid DNA testing proves that the convicted person did not commit the crime and then prosecutors turn right around to fight vigorously against the exoneration and against any claim of innocence. The Center for the Global Study of Wrongful Convictions at the University of Cincinnati College of Law stated:

“tragically, when a prosecutor chooses to protect a verdict rather than fulfill his or her first responsibility to seek the truth and true justice, the real perpetrator—even if a violent murderer—can get a free pass.”

When does the focus shift from convicting an innocent man to identifying the real perpetrator?

In an Illinois double murder case, Daniel Taylor was convicted of committing a crime at 8:45 p.m on November 16, 1992. However police records show that Taylor was under arrest for disorderly conduct from 6:45 p.m. to 10 p.m that night, undermining the contentions of the prosecution that Taylor would have have the opportunity to commit the crime. The Chicago Sun-Times stated:

“seven 23rd District police personnel backed Taylor’s lockup alibi. Those records should have been turned over to the defense at the time of the trial, but Taylor’s trial lawyers say they were not.” … “An officer on guard that night claimed ” it’s just not possible that Taylor was freed or escaped earlier than 10 p.m., as prosecutors suggested at trial. Too many personnel from two different watches would have had to conspire to falsify the records, he says.”

For Daniel Taylor, it is simply not possible that he could have committed the murder as prosecutors are charging. Taylor attorneys returned to court last week seeking the right to continue to appeal his case. Northwestern Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions released an article entitled Still Imprisoned Despite Jail Alibi, which highlighted the assertion by State Attorney Anita Alvarez that her office has experienced “a shift in philosophy” and pledged to be “more open to the possibility that police and prosecutors had sent an innocent person to prison.” In her announcement, it was said the state’s attorney’s office was “about always seeking justice,” not simply “racking up convictions.” Taking a brief look into the evidence supporting the wrongful conviction of Daniel Taylor, can one believe that this statement is entirely true?

In convictions such as Douglas Prade and Daniel Taylor, the prosecutorial misconduct played significant roles at different times throughout the proceedings. Unfortunately, these two men will fight for a long time in order to find the freedom the justice system owes them. Prade was exonerated last month after a hearing when the judge ordered his immediately release claiming “no reasonable juror, considering all available evidence, would be firmly convinced that Prade was guilty of aggravated murder.” However Prade is still facing the appeals by the prosecution. Daniel Taylor is still awaiting his grant for re-trial in hopes that one day he will be declared an innocent man. In an imperfect system, one can only hope the intentions of those in the justice system are reputable and in the end, justice will be served.

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Above the Law: Prosecutorial Misconduct

WSainvil — July 26, 2012 @ 1:58 PM — Comments (6)

As the lead prosecutor of the case, it was his decision to do the right thing or continue winning cases. He had two options: disclose information that could possibly clear the defendant or cover it up and continue adding to his list of convictions.  On the outside looking in it’s a simple decision, do the right thing. Seeking true justice is more important than winning…right? However, the small voice of reason in his head lost the battle. He decided not only to hide exculpatory evidence, but to also make deals that promised inmates early release in exchange for false testimonies. This poor and reckless decision cost an innocent man three years of his life.

No, that was not the plot of a Law and Order episode or an excerpt from a John Grisham novel, it is the real life story of Nino Lyons, and a small look at how a prosecutor can behave unjustly.

The recent release of Duke Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic exoneree LaMonte Armstrong has put the spotlight back on prosecutorial misconduct, and there are many questions still awaiting responses. With the number of exonerees growing each year, it’s quite apparent that our legal system has many flaws. While many attorneys are aware of these issues, the general public is sometimes left in the dark about what causes a prosecutor to hide evidence and arrange deals with criminals.

A majority of the blame can be focused on the way the prosecutor’s office is operated and how promotions are given. The prosecutor’s office keeps track of each attorney’s conviction rate. Though few will admit it, prosecutors are promoted based on the number of cases they have won, and the importance of winning cases is critical to their success. Some are elected officials and all are expected to win. When a position opens up, it’s more likely that the prosecutor with the highest conviction rate will be a top prospect for the spot.

In no way does this justify the behavior of those who choose to ignore the laws they swore to uphold. However, it is apparent how this system can cause a prosecutor to disregard all moral, ethical, and even, legal rules.

History has shown that American society, as a whole, is driven by money and power, and it’s apparent that some prosecutors are willing to sacrifice lives of innocent people to obtain the two. Truth and integrity seem to be a thing of the past.

People question how often this behavior occurs, and there is no set number. In 2010, a USA Today investigation compiled a list of 201 criminal cases where federal judges found prosecutors who broke the law or ethical rules. These violations led to the convictions of innocent people, which also means that guilty criminals were living freely.

A person can argue that 201 cases out of the thousands that go through the system are not significant, but they would be wrong. These cases are just the ones in which federal judges deemed behavior to be unethical. This number does not include cases where there wasn’t “enough” evidence to determine if a prosecutor misbehaved.

Prosecutors Protection

In America, a citizen can sue for just about anything, but you can’t sue a prosecutor.  Many believe this is a  major factor in what causes prosecutors to misbehave.

In 1961, Paul Kern Imbler was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Morris Hasson. It was later revealed that the district attorney, Richard Pachtman, had suppressed exculpatory evidence and evoked falsified testimonies from key witnesses. After his exoneration Imbler sued Pacthman for prosecutorial misconduct, but the Supreme Court dismissed the case because Pactman was protected by prosecutorial immunity. Even if a prosecutor has been found to be acting in bad faith or ill will by deliberately hiding evidence or misrepresenting the facts, they are free from civil lawsuits.

When an average citizen violates the law there are repercussions for his or her actions. Sadly, the same rules don’t apply to prosecutors. Brady v. Maryland determined that “significant” evidence that is favorable to the defense must be disclosed or it’s a violation of the due process clause of the 14th amendment. The lead prosecutor in the Lyons case, Bruce Hinshelwood and many others, did just that. However, his “punishment” is one many would consider as a joke. Documents obtained by USA Today show he was ordered to serve a one-day ethics course for his behavior. A one-day course for deliberately putting an innocent man in prison for three years. The system basically gives a pass to its own, and takes years of life from the ones they are meant to protect.  Many wonder, where is the justice in that?

It is infuriating that some prosecutors are advancing their careers by putting innocent people in prison without any accountability. This makes them above the law, because they are clearly not adhering to or being punished for breaking it. They have nothing to fear, because most of their actions are met with a slap on the wrist.

“If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization. ”
-Mary Douglas

Changing the way these offices operate is the only way this behavior will cease. Sadly, the chances of these changes is slim.

“Life is like a boomerang…Sooner or later, our thoughts, beliefs and actions return to us with amazing accuracy.”

Although it is apparent the legal system rarely and truly punishes prosecutors guilty of purposefully convicting the innocent, we must remember Newtons Third Law – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For all their wrongdoing, there are innocence projects all over this country fighting for the true justice people of America deserve.

 

Your Thoughts

What do you think would be a fair punishment prosecutorial misconduct? We would love to hear your thoughts.

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Justice should apply to all

Jordan — July 24, 2012 @ 3:26 PM — Comments (2)

“Revenge isn’t the issue here. Revenge, I know, doesn’t work. But accountability works. It’s what balances out; it’s the equilibrium; it’s the social glue. Because, if you’re not accountable then you can do anything.”

60 Minutes reports on Michael Morton’s pursuit of justice

Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison as an innocent man; anger and the desire for vengeance are natural towards the person who wrongfully convicted him, former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson. Morton was exonerated last year of his wrongful conviction for killing his wife, Christine, in 1986. The judgement seemed to solely be based on a note he left for her that expressed disappointment for her falling asleep on him – for not having sex with him the night before. The note ended in “I love you.”

This 14-minute report covers the details of Morton’s case, and why he is suing Anderson for prosecutorial misconduct. The Innocence Project worked on his behalf to unveil the existence of a crucial document showing an interview between Christine’s mother and Christine and Michael’s son, who was three-years-old at the time of the murder. He witnessed his mother’s murder and described the killer as a monster. He said his father was not there.

Innocence Project co-founder, Barry Scheck, also weighs in on the purpose of making an example out of Anderson:

“I don’t believe that there is an epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct in this country. On the other hand, it does happen. And this is a very important moment (Morton’s claim). We’ve had a whole series of cases in this country that have focused on this issue.”

This main issue is the prosecutor’s willful withholding of evidence.

Here is a link to the Innocence Project’s post from August of last year, before his exoneration, about Morton’s case.

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