Thursday, October 07, 2010

Prosecutors seldom disciplined for misconduct; can they be held liable in civil court?

Before heading out (a little late) this a.m. to the Texas Forensic Science Seminar at the capitol, I wanted to point readers to the transcript from oral arguments (pdf) at the US Supreme Court in a Louisiana case (Connick v. Thompson) which will determine whether prosecutors can be held liable in Sec. 1983 civil rights lawsuits for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. This story from says the justices appear ready to allow the case to go forward. And here's an excellent soup to nuts account of the case from Slate written before oral arguments were held. (I may have more to say about this after I've had a chance to thoroughly read the transcript.)

Relatedly a new report (pdf) on prosecutorial misconduct from a group called the Veritas Initiative came out this week analyzing hundreds of cases where courts found prosecutorial misconduct. Out of 707 cases where courts found misconduct, only 6 prosecutors were disciplined by the state bar. Indeed, "67 of the 600 identified prosecutors in the 707 cases where misconduct was found committed misconduct more than once, three committed misconduct four times and two did so five times." See coverage of the report from the LA Times and another recent media report on prosecutorial misconduct from USA Today.

I was interested to read the CA researchers' time-consuming but systematic methodology, which would be replicable here in Texas if anyone with resources cared to do so. I would guarantee our state bar association's rate of disciplining prosecutors who engage in misconduct will be as low or lower than in California.


Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that at least Louisiana has some balls.


Anonymous said...

Interesting to see. What about
all the convictions overturned for
ineffective assistance of counsel. What happens to those lawyers deemed "ineffective" by an appellate court?

Jerri Lynn Ward said...

Personally, I think they should be punished by being put in stocks on the grounds of the courthouse and having rotten produce thrown at them. Then they should have to make restitution to their victims.

If they can't immediately make monetary restitution, they should be bonded as servants to their victims. I would hope that one of the orders their victims gives them is to clean all toilets in the house daily with their tongues. After all, their tongues were heavily implicated in their transgressions.

You may think I am kidding, but I am not.

Grits, the above is biblically based. We should use it like you did to stop the sole use of "confessions."

Jerri Lynn Ward said...


I am kidding about the toilets...sort of.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, Jerri, TX law doesn't require corroboration yet for confessions (though federal law and the Uniform Military Code of Justice both do). Perhaps that's next.

That said, I think the concept of indentured servitude to one's victims is a very slippery slope. There are many things, like corroboration, that Old Testament biblical law gets right. Its endorsement of slavery IMO isn't one of them.

Jerri Lynn Ward said...


What was I thinking of that you worked on at the legislature? I must have confused issues.

Anonymous said...

I wish prosecutors were as honorable as defense lawyers such as John Edwards.