Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why is the Legislature taking up prosecutor accountability? Two theories

Grits had mentioned the other day that, on Tuesday, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will take up Chairman John Whitmire's SB 825 making sustained grievances related to prosecutorial misconduct public records and extending the statute of limitations for State Bar sanctions when prosecutors hide exculpatory evidence. Lisa Falkenberg at the Houston Chronicle last week ("Prosecutors need to be accountable for their actions," March 6) previewed the "we're the victim" mentality that will surely be on display by prosecutors when that bill comes up, offering the obvious rebuttal:
In an ethics training video leaked recently by someone at the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the trainer, Rob Kepple, seems genuinely puzzled at one point by the question of why the topic of prosecutor accountability is such a big deal these days.

"I got a theory," Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, tells a room full of Harris County prosecutors. "I think it's because we're pretty much done with the DNA exonerations. … We've tested just about everything we can. Now you've got a whole big exoneration machine that doesn't have anyone to chew on anymore."

So, he concludes, it only makes sense to go after prosecutors. We - presumably the media, the public, the lawmakers and the Innocence Project - need something else to chew on.

I take a different view. I think prosecutor accountability is a big issue because former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson - who sent Michael Morton to prison for a quarter century for a murder he didn't commit - is still sitting on a bench, wearing a judge's robe, hearing cases.

It's a big issue because the former district attorney, John Bradley - who fought the DNA testing that finally exonerated Morton - is still giving talks and applying for state jobs. Kepple is still defending him for having done nothing illegal or unethical.

It's a big issue because the former Burleson County prosecutor, Charles Sebesta - who sent Anthony Graves to prison for 18 years, 12 on death row, for murders he didn't commit - is still training officers through the Sheriffs' Association of Texas, and taking out full-page newspaper ads maintaining he did nothing wrong.
To which theory do you subscribe?

Kepple touts a self-serving analysis by TDCAA claiming prosecutorial misconduct is extremely rare, but a Texas Tribune investigation last year into the causes of false convictions among Texas exoneration cases found prosecutor error - most frequently Brady violations (17 out of 21 cases) - played a role in nearly a quarter of them. If Sen. Whitmire's legislation passes, at least the public will have a better idea if the state bar can or will address the matter. That would be a small but important step toward restoring public confidence.

MORE: See coverage of the bill hearing from the Texas Tribune.


Anonymous said...

Its another example of why we need to keep a close eye on the Harris Co. D.A.'s Office. Anderson is from the good Ole days.

Ryan Paige said...

Not that it will matter even if new laws are passed to punish prosecutors who violate the law. No one is ever going to be held accountable for their actions.

The Legislature could remove Anderson from the bench under current law, but Speaker Straus won't allow it to happen (as members of his staff told me).

Officer Robert Powell could have been brought up on perjury charges when his dashcam audio didn't match his sworn testimony (and revealed that he violated the civil rights of drivers), but the Denton County D.A. doesn't think it's a crime for police officers to lie on the stand and violate the law, so Robert Powell remains a police officer to this day.

If you're sitting on the State Supreme Court and your wife i accused of burning your house down, then the Governor will forget that he derided the science that frees you and will trust the judgement of the very same people he called "latter day, supposed experts" just a few months prior.

There's a different set of laws for people who have the right connections. You can never hold a Ken Anderson or a John Bradley or a Charles Sebesta or a Robert Powell accountable for their actions.

Punishments are what other people receive. These folks are above the law.

Anonymous said...

Montgomery County makes Williamson County look like pre-school with D.A's incarcerating 'victim's'(they call them criminals,even when they are not)for months at a time on bogus warrants; D.A's pressuring probation officers to force unwarranted, EXCESSIVE UA's(at the 'criminals' expense); forcing 'criminals' to sign legal documents stating that they will never, in their life, view their D.A. file; A D.A. putting out a warrant, $10,000 CASH bond, on a misdemeanor case that they, themselves, dropped earlier because they deemed it a civil matter. The outrageous behavior goes on and on and on, totally unchecked.

I will not go into the outrageous,unlawful behaviors of some of the Montgomery County judges.

Also, I have heard that Montgomery County does not follow the law, they make their own laws and that what has gone on there grows like a cancer across the state.

I often hear it said that the D.A.(s) and judges in Texas have far too much unchecked power.

This must stop. Innocent people's lives are being ruined and there is no true recompense.

If it has happened to others, it can happen to any of us.

g.h.g.mitte said...

The EYES OF THE NATION are upon YOU Texas...Bravo Senator John Whitmire...This is a huge issue of prosecutorial "misconduct" (really criminality) with IMPUNITY and Executive Branch overreach - corruption - that has skyrocked across this nation. NO ONE IS FOOLED. JUST ASK THE PUBLIC. - from the daughter of a former state's attorney who knows better, Thank you Scott Henson, GRITS and Senator John Whitmire

theslickdumpling said...

I am tired of reading articles calling it "Prosecutorial Error". PLEASE, let's call it what it is --- Prosecutorial MISCONDUCT.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Yo slick, when one grows tired enough to post their displeasure of a term coined by a lawyer or media hypers (btw, 'Prosecutorial' & hypers are not in the dictionary) that's a good time to consider utilizing that energy. -

The act of committing a crime while charged with prosecuting criminals and having quotas tied to employment advantages (raises, perks, promotions) became so prevalent that a lawyer defending lawyers watered it down with -"Prosecutorial Misconduct" on the heels of "Police Misconduct". Just recently the term "Error" was tested to see if we'd go for it. Sounds a hellova lot better than - Prosecutorial Criminal Activities & Income Tax Fraud based on receiving a state / county salary while in the commission of knowingly & willingly fabricating evidence or falsely arresting on non–existent outstanding traffic warrants.

You'll never see the coined phrases "Rapist Misconduct", "Killer Misconduct" or "Accidental Robberies" or "Accidental Conviction" because there's only so far one can go before someone calls bullshit. Since you called it, please do so every single time you witness a crime being candy coated by anyone. Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

"I think it's because we're pretty much done with the DNA exonerations. … We've tested just about everything we can. Now you've got a whole big exoneration machine that doesn't have anyone to chew on anymore."

*These words were only supposed to gain entry into the earholes of a select few and while seemingly to be just words in a row with a period at the end, I see this declaration as the beginning of an end to the "Cherry Picking for Justice" campaign by the most unlikely source.

With that, I call on Mr. Kepple and Company to ‘Chew’ on this - "Do the right thing for the right reasons" vs. simply just letting it be an old school in house motto muddied by a few bad apples that were allowed to go rogue. What in hell is the right thing you ask? (Believe me he asked)

Since there's no more DNA to locate for testing due to: it all being tested, shit just disappearing from secured evidence storage & no one is being wrongfully convicted having DNA as the key to freedom, you are challenged to publish a public announcement (you could even film it) stating that: anyone claiming to have proof that they were falsely arrested & subsequently wrongfully convicted (non-existent OTW & Plea Bargain abuse included) in a Non-DNA, Non-Death Row, Closed / Inactive case out of Harris County are asked to forward copies (certified mail return receipt) of any information supporting the claim to the Editors of the Houston Chronicle and copies to the director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Upon signing for the packages, the TDCAA will review and forward claims to the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles Clemency Section with Letter(s) of Recommendation(s) for Full Pardons – for / based on innocence signed by ever member of the TDCAA. And forward copies of this information to the Original three trial officers’ asking that they review and contribute with unanimous Letters’ of Recommendation(s) also. Releasing the claimant(s) from having to jump through any loopholes and hurdles placed before the Applicant(s) that can show he / she has applied previously. A mind numbing process meant to discourage the victims of the system.

Doing so in a public format on the TDCAA website and elsewhere will ensure that the product(s) & aftermath of the rogue is being taken seriously by those that wish to remain apart from the criminal element (colleagues’ of the past, the present & future).

Yes, you can be guilty of association despite ignoring the obvious as one defends colleagues’ with silence and / or adoration. You can also become a friggin hero over night by actually doing the right thing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Because there are too many loose cannons preying on public ignorance. Not to mention a bottomless pit of funding without any accountability whatsoever.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

It seems that the two sentence answer above has hit on the head. If I may.

Before someone starts a stop watch. For the record, it takes more than just a rogue prosecutor to obtain a wrongful conviction.

It takes a bad cop to initiate the process either via a false arrest or rightful arrest and deciding to plant evidence, ignore evidence, or lie to enhance the charges.

It takes a bad detective to decide not to verify if an alleged arrest is on the up & up. Ex: If an Outstanding Traffic Warrant actually exists and or to run a live ShowUp utilizing 17 to 31 year old fillers, seeking identification of alleged 20 year olds. Only the bad detective will seek charges despite catching a crime victim's gross description discrepancies and / or ignores the existence of possible alibis witnesses.

It takes a rogue ADA in the D.A's. INTAKE to play along knowingly & willingly engage in a conspiracy to convict the innocent by presenting the Grand Juries with false information or un-verified information.

It takes a Fake criminal defense attorney / lawyer or bad one to pretend to defend his / her client by filing fake pretrial discovery motions only to plea bargain via deception at lunch recess.

It takes a lazy unethical Judge to utilize his / her time on the bench doodling and allowing his / her assigned court to be utilized by the bad & rogue to convict the innocent.

With that, let it be known that it takes a Team effort to let a false arrest morph into a wrongful conviction. It takes a Team effort to collectively ignore obvious duties and responsibilities required to engage in the legal profession and lay blame on others when it becomes apparent that it isn’t an isolated incident. Thanks.