Monday, April 13, 2009

Improving Prosecutorial Accountability

Via email:
Today, The Justice Project is pleased to announce the release of Improving Prosecutorial Accountability: A Policy Review, which analyzes prosecutorial misconduct and presents comprehensive recommendations to improve the accountability of our nation's prosecutors.

Prosecutors are arguably the most powerful figures in the criminal justice system. Because of their role, the decisions made by prosecutors invariably have an enormous impact on defendants, victims, and their respective families. However, the responsibility of a prosecutor is not to simply seek convictions, but to seek justice. This means that, in addition to convicting the guilty, the prosecutor has a duty to protect the innocent and guard the rights of the accused. But because of a dangerous and pervasive lack of prosecutorial accountability throughout the criminal justice system, prosecutorial misconduct has become a widespread problem, leading to flawed verdicts in our courtrooms and the wrongful convictions of innocent people.

There are numerous examples of prosecutors undermining their duty to seek justice by abusing their power and committing acts of misconduct in order to secure convictions. For example:
  • Last week, Federal District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered a special investigation of six federal prosecutors tainted with allegations of misconduct that led Attorney General Eric Holder to dismiss the indictment against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens.
  • In February of this year, the California State Bar recommended the suspension of Santa Clara County prosecutor Benjamin Field from the practice of law for four years as a result of acts of misconduct in multiple criminal cases spanning nearly a decade.
  • In June of 2007, North Carolina Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong was disbarred for suppressing evidence of innocence and making inflammatory public statements related to the prosecution of three Duke Lacrosse players.
Unfortunately, these high profile examples of prosecutorial misconduct are not isolated incidents. The Justice Project's policy review reveals that prosecutorial abuse of power occurs with troubling regularity, and the vast majority of misconduct cases go unnoticed-prosecutors are rarely held accountable when they make egregious errors or abuse their power. Jurisdictions around the country have failed to effectively investigate or sanction prosecutors. This lack of accountability has led to widespread abuse of prosecutorial power, and a flawed and inaccurate criminal justice system.

The policy review released today explores the systemic causes of prosecutorial misconduct by using recent research, studies, and commission reports on the issue. By implementing the reforms recommended in Improving Prosecutorial Accountability: A Policy Review, states can finally ensure the level of prosecutorial accountability necessary for the fair and accurate administration of justice.


Anonymous said...

Hey Grits, just saw an ad on the ID channel for a new series 'Dallas*DNA'... Good Grief, these folks have suffered are innocent, so lets make a show about them? I agree the public should see what corruption is there with the cops, DA's and judges, but good grief...

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I'm not sure I understand your complaint about the show, Anon. The innocents are voluntarily participating. And I think it is a great idea to educate the public about the problems in the justice system and the problem of mistaken eyewitnesses. Prospective jurors need to know this stuff.

More on topic to this post, Grits, you may have missed this at the end of last week, but a federal judge in Miami just awarded over $600,000 in Hyde Amendment compensation to a defendant due to prosecutorial misconduct in a case there.

You can read about it here:

Michael said...

Step one: abolish absolute civil immunity for prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

Michael, I love that idea! I wonder if it would really deter though, as we have seen time and again that the 'justice' system usually takes care of its own in most cases.

Anonymous said...

Anon is past time to educate the public on this subject. I am very happy, along with many other people I know, that this show will be aired. All those participating are doing so voluntarily.

What about the innocent that have no DNA to rely on? Just wondering who might jump in and help them.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Michael, I agree with you. The judicially created absolute immunity for prosecutors has been a disaster. Even proseuctors who engage in deliberate, intentional misconduct are immune. There's no reason why prosecutors, unlike every other state actor, shoudl enjoy such immunity for deliberate misconduct.

Anon 12:33, for what it is worth, the Conviction Integrity Unity at the Dallas County DA's Office is not limiting its review to DNA cases. Obviously, those are the ones that are easiest to establish innocence, but they are reinvestigating old cases where there is no DNA as well.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there legal action taken against the DA in the Tulia drug sting fiasco?

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker from Tulia here:

There was an investigation of DA Terry McEachern, I think by the Bar Association. He was sanctioned, I think for a year, and the sanctions were probated. So any action against him was relatively mild.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker again:

Just googled Terry McEachern. It was the bar association. His license was suspended for two years, but the suspension was suspended. So he continued to practice law throughout the suspension, which has long sense past. He is now a defense atty in Plainview. Given his first hand knowledge of prosecutorial tricks, he might not be a bad one to have on your side if you are accused of a crime. But, just for the record, I would not choose him, because I would not trust him.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure I understand your complaint about the show, Anon"

I didn't realize these were voluntary. My point was they had been abused by the system once, why make them go through anything else again, and show it to the public. I was not educated on how it really worked with the show. Personally though, I think it should be an hour of the offending DA strictly talking of how the person was railroaded, and how unlawful the acts of that department was.

Informed Citizen said...

It is UNCONSTITUTIONAL - ie; "absolute immunity" for Public Servants known as Prosecutors. It is a violation of Sec. 9 & 10 of Article I, US Constitution, as well as other fundamental foundational principles of Americanism.
DA's and Prosecutors, for political and bureacratic advancement, have sold their souls. They have intentionally, and knowingly, evaded the truth and perverted the law, aided & abetted by likewise dishonorable Judicial Officials, to create the largest prison system on the planet.
Our Constitution, Texas State and Federal, mandates each and every public servant be BOUND by the Law. That requires a BOND. What today is known as INSURANCE. Just as you and I are required to have "proof of insurance or financial responsibility" to operate a Car on the public roads; they are required to have the same to operate in our Courts. In the beginning, this was a requirement for every public servant / servant of the law.
Even absent a bond - the employing entity is the party responsible for Proseutorial and Judicial Malfesance. But Honorable Judicial Officials, State and Federal, have become rare on our Land known as Texas, and our land known as the US of A.
This initiative by the Justice Project is long overdue. We absolutely MUST restore the supreme Law of the Land to our Land before it is too late to save ourselves and our posterity.

Don said...

The Bar gave McEachern a pass essentially, which leads me to question their ability to police their own. Is it any better than doctors?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any thoughts on what could induce the Texas Bar to do a better job of policing their own?

Organized public ridicule? National, statewide, and international?

A law requiring higher standards of policing for prosecutors?

Denouncement by bar associations of states like NY, CA, MA, VA MN, fill in the blank

Denouncement by the ABA?

Anonymous said...

Thanks publicdefender123

Great info

I couldn't find the story at that link, but here's another link

Anonymous said...

What about US Attorney Johnny Sutton and the 2 railroaded US Border Patrol Agents (along with numerous others in S. Texas)?

Jackie Buffalo said...

Let's watch and see how long and hard Texas fights implementing these 'recommendations'...