Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Texas Tribune seeking solutions for prosecutorial error

The Texas Tribune has completed its series on wrongful convictions, their causes, and available remedies, with a special focus on issues surrounding prosecutorial error and misconduct: Here's their roundup of links to their various stories - "Seeking  Solutions" is a 12 minute video summarizing the key issues, focusing mainly on Michael Morton's exoneration:
Seeking Solutions
by Brandi Grissom, Justin Dehn and Ryan Murphy
Michael Morton’s 2011 exoneration brought to a crescendo calls for change in the way that prosecutors are regulated in Texas. Morton, prosecutors and criminal justice reform advocates talk about why prosecutorial errors happen and how they can be prevented.
Grits had discussed possible state legislative solutions (or, at least, preliminary reform measures) regarding prosecutor misconduct here and here.


Anonymous said...

Having read the Texas Tribune series, I can't help but notice how old the cases are which Ms. Grissom relies on. Morton, Cook and Graves--the three cases which seem to have garnered so much media attention--are all more than 20 years old. Not to excuse any possible Brady-type violations by the prosecutors in those cases, I can't help but wonder if the outcomes in at least two of those cases (Morton and Cook) might have been different if the crimes had been committed today. What I'm referring to here is the advent of more professional Crime Scene Units (you know, the CSI folks) and the routine use of DNA testing. While admittedly, things still fall through the cracks, the testing of forensic evidence has become almost commonplace these days. Had DNA results in both of those cases been unconvered on the front end of those investigations, one can't help but wonder if the entire direction of the prosecutions might have been changed. I wish Ms. Grissom had explored this issue more thoroughly.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Here's a more recent one for you, 8:45, or here, just in case you're trying to pretend prosecutor misconduct is a thing of the past. Grissom focused on cases where all the details have finally come to light and she could attempt to write a definitive account, but often that takes years. We don't know the identities yet of innocent people convicted recently - sometimes it's taken decades to find exonerating evidence, say, to counter a mistaken eyewitness ID.

Plus in some instances, as with Kerry Max Cook or Anthony Graves, that the misconduct took place long ago doesn't mitigate the ongoing damage when prosecutors won't admit to their mistakes and instead double down to fight all efforts to uncover the truth. In Smith County, the DA's office still smears Cook in the press. It's not just some old case for him.

Lee said...

Louk at em cowboys escortin Mr. Morton on the couthouse steps wit them hats and boots, Dems is tuff cowboys of crim, aint they?

Dats the way em is her in Texus. Wes jus a bunch of dum Texus hicks, hillbilles an redneks dat love to rope, shoot and lynch em an den cover the questens latr. Dats cowboy Texus tuff of crim.

We teach dems who ther massa is.

Anonymous said...

Funny that in both of your contemporary examples, the misbehavior (or crime, as the case may be) was quickly discovered and those responsible are being investigated.

I disagree with your proposition that Grissom focused on cases "where all the details have finally come to light." Aren't there court hearings still to be held in both Morton and Cook? As much as you advocate for the accused, you sure don't hesitate to rush to judgment when the shoe is on the other foot.

My point earlier was that under the pretense of "seeking solutions," Ms. Grissom completely ignored advances in law, science and technology which may significantly reduce the likelihood of the same mistakes being made today.

For example, she completely ignored the decision of the Supreme Court in 1995 in Kyles v. Whitley which extended the holding in Brady to impute knowledge to prosecutors of exculpatory information in police files which may not have been turned over to the DA. Kyles was decided after Morton, Cook and Graves. That was a HUGE "solution" that the Tribune completely failed to mention.

Routine DNA testing and improved awareness regarding problems with eyewitness identifications are also major developments within the last 10 or so years which are already revolutionizing law enforcement. You discuss those issues routinely on here, Grits.

Go look at the list of exonerees on the Tribune website. Only 3 of the cases are after 2000--and on one of those, the prosecution joined in the motion for a new trial.

To me, the Texas Tribune coverage of this issue (and most of the mainstream media coverage, for that matter) is not very objective. They use very old cases, which were admittedly tragic, to justify major and extreme "solutions" which may no longer even be needed. In my opinion, that suggests a more brazen anti-law enforcement, anti-prosecution agenda. It would be like using the Kennedy assassination today to suggest we need better "solutions" on how to protect the president. You would think that supposedly reputable journalists could do better. But then again, I'm starting to think that's an oxymoron.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:28, you want it both ways: You want credit because it's impossible to prove a negative, then deflect every example by claiming "they system worked." Except the state bar never held anyone accountable in any of these cases, so even from this small sample we know it didn't work. As Milton wrote, they who have put out the people's eyes reproach them of their blindness.

Just to be clear: Grissom chose cases from a national "registry" of exonerees created by academics. That does not include every innocent person. And fwiw, she's willing to be held accountable for what she writes, but clearly you are not.

Also, she addressed the issues underlying Kyle v. Whitley by showing that police don't always abide by those obligations. She didn't name the case, but she didn't ignore the substance.

To me, you're not very objective and your agenda is blatant. You show up here trolling with the identical red-herring complaints in every single post remotely related to prosecutorial misconduct and make the same, tired arguments over and over. Tell us Anon, since you openly impugned her motives while hiding behind anonymity like a coward: Why should anyone take your word over Brandi Grissom's?

Hook Em Horns said...

12:28 Yes and no. John Bradley was defeated in Wilco. Jack Skeen is now a judge in Tyler. It's hard to address this on a case by case basis but I assure you that there are situations in court every single day that leave me scratching my head.

Fixing prosecutorial misconduct is only part of what needs to happen in Texas. Faulty eyewitness testimony is being addressed but our problems are systematic and much, much deeper than a lot of people realize.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed. Nietzsche.

Lee said...

Consider our prosecutors like the Roman politicians and the courtroom the Collesium. We give the crowd what they want and they love us for it.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:45, - If you get your way, in 20 years you can say the cases being talked about then, the cases where the misconduct is now occurring, are "old cases." If we follow your lead, nothing will be done. Science will advance. Those who are currently fighting for the wrongly convicted will continue to fight and there will be even more evidence that the problem is serious. But, there will continue to be those who are willfully blind to injustice.

I watched an old movie a while back - I think it was called Trial at Nuremberg, or something like that. Part of the movie demonstrated how there were good people in Germany who turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by the German government because they thought it was for the good of Germany. I'm sure they told themselves, like you, that while a few bad things may be happening, the problems are minor and rare and it is for the overall good of the people.

We could argue over the details of the numbers of the particulars of the cases all day. But, the bottom line is there is overwhelming evidence that there are serious problems with the Texas criminal justice system. You seem to like to argue the numbers so, let's see - 25% of the cases that the authors looked at involved misconduct. So, what if we took that number and extrapolated - honestly its probalby not possible to be accurate - but, if one went to the extreme as you do with your arguments, we cuold say that it could be that misconduct happens in 25% of cases. I think that number may be too high because we know thatn 95% of cases are settled with pleas so there is little need for misonduct. However, we also know that sometimes prosecutors may withhold evidence or use other less than ethical tactics even in cases where defendants plea. So, maybe 25% isn't too low, I don't know. We simply can't nail down the number, but, there is enough evidence to know it is a serious and all too frequent problem. Another consideration, the cases that have been looked at are mostly murder cases or other very serious crimes that have resulted in long prison sentences. What about all those more minor cases. Do you think misconduct doesn't happen in those? Let me assure you it does. So, again, if we were to extrapolate, does misconduct occur in 25% of the less serious cases? Maybe. Maybe its less than 25% but I'm usr it is a significant percentage. I know for a fact that people sometimes take plea deals because they know that prosecutors will cheat and police will lie to convict. So, just because someone pleas doesn't mean there hasn't been misconduct. So, maybe 25% isn't too high, I don't know.

You think the Grissom stories have been slanted one way. I think they've been slanted the other. I think the author has too frequently quoted prosecutors who are using what seems to be the new strategy, claim it is rare and unintentional and blame the cops.

You know, I read those quotes saying how rare and unintentional it is. Yet, out of all the cases I've read about, I can't recall a single one where a prosecutor inadvertently withheld evidence or did something unintentional. To the contrary, in every case alleging prosecutorial misconduct I can recall, the behavior has always been deliberate and intentional. The author also uses the word error - these are not errors we are talking about. We are talking about deliberate and intentional conduct. So, in my opinion, the articles are giving prosecutors a pass instead of calling them on all the BS.

I'm glad to see this issue is finally getting some attention. Its similar to the way child sexual abuse was a few decades ago. It was kept secret, within the family, most people didn't want to acknowledge that it happened. We have seen the same attitude with prosecutorial misconduct and now the light is beginning to be shown on it.

BTW - 8:45, go ahead and admit it, you're John Bradley, ain't ya?

Lee said...

My poetry

The Professional Disaplined Workers

The teacher whom inapproerately touches a student will be fired and then sent through the pedophile processor.

The clergy who molests the children under their care will go to prison and if they ever get out they will be considered a sex offender forever.

The psycharist who fails to keep the client's cofidences will face a lawsuit and possibly lose their license.

The physician that bills the insurance company for medical services never rendered will face medical review board and prison.

The accountant or investor that steals money from clients and then hides it from the IRS will go to federal prison upon conviction.

The police officer that shoots the unarmed civilian under dubious circumstances will be lynched by the media and face a grand jury.

The trucker that was drunk and caused a fatal traffic accident will have his licenced suspended at the very least while manslaughter charges are processed.

The professional athlete that is suspected of drug misuse will face sanctions, media questions, the termination of sporting career, a large fine and prison.

The banker caught stealing money from the bank will likely fired, arrested for theft, pay a large fine and a few years of incarceration.

The EMT that arrives on the scene inebriated and fails to render the proper care to the victim is at the very least likely to be fired and then sewd by the victim's family.

But the prosecuting lawyer whom hides evidence from the defense, lies to the judge, lies to the defendant, and lies to the jury, causing a wrongful conviction and incarceration for an innocent defendant is immune. The defendant is a disposable casualty.

Praise the Connick v. Thompson 2011case that allows prosecutors to do whatever the want!!!

RSO wife said...

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, continued, and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." - John F. Kennedy

Anonymous said...

People are finally getting fed up with this type of conduct in our justice system. I'm waiting to see the movie produced by Lawless America the Movie by Bill Windsor. Their website has been hacked but you can access their information on facebook for now:
I hope Bill and his crew has plenty of security when they film in Texas

Thomas R. Griffith said...

At first 8:45 AM sounded like the ramblings of the "King of Nolo Contendere" - Mr. Casey J. O'Brien, who wants us to call him 'jigmeister' with, 'pleameister' being a much better fit.

But, after a re-read, Lee you might be right, jiggy can't spell 'oxymoron' or use it in a sentence. Thanks.

Marian Hoy said...

Thank God!
The disgraceful behavior of many disreputable prosecutors is noticed! For the past 70+ years the U.S. Supreme court has given prosecutors carte blanche immunity from prosecution for any mistake they commit when prosecuting an innocent person, and many took advantage of that free ride!
Frequent misconduct which consists of suppression of exculpatory evidence (evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial, that clears or tends to clear the defendant of guilt), knowingly use of false testimony or coercing witnesses, blatant false statements to witnesses, deliberately mishandling, mistreating or destroying evidence, allowing witnesses they know or should know are not truthful to testify, pressuring defense witnesses not to testify, relying on fraudulent forensic experts, making leading arguments that over state the probative value of testimony, among other disreputable actions.
Prosecutors lied to the jury and intentionally railroaded innocent persons in at least 25% (I’m sure that’s an extremely low number) of exonerated cases. Michael Morton, was railroaded through the criminal justice system and into prison for more than 25 years, and it was a miracle that Anthony Graves and the others weren’t put to death.
A Texas DA is a powerful one in local government. District attorney duties and responsibilities are explained in The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 2.01. (The following has been excerpted from 2.01).
. . . It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys . . . not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.

So, what’s to be done? How about this:
1. Petition and/or request that the U.S. Supreme court eliminate the carte blanche immunity to district attorneys nationwide. [note: I realize this is a long shot, because most of the court members protect their brother lawyers!]
2. Establish a ‘fine’ system for those district attorneys who participate in prosecutorial misconduct. It’s the first step in accountability for this privileged group!
Hit them in the pocket book, and let’s see how careful they will be the next time they make a choice between telling the truth and constructing a very convincing lie. The DA would personally pay a fine (beginning at $5000.00+) to the court or maybe the family of the wrongly convicted person.
After working for 31 years as a police officer and trainer of police, I have, for the past 6 years worked for those innocent persons who are currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. With every one of my clients, the misconduct began with a bad arrest, but it was continued by a disreputable district attorney who carried the misconduct to conviction and incarceration.
The responsibility of making sure the legal safeguards, of the U.S. Constitution, TX Penal Code, etc, which protect innocent people from false arrest are upheld, lies directly on the shoulders of the prosecutor who must make sure arrests are legal according to the criteria of the offense for which a person is being charged.
I simply don’t believe that a prosecutor who has successfully completed a law school program, passed the State Bar, and has been a practicing attorney for a number of years before being elected district attorney does not know and completely understand the rules against: withholding exculpatory evidence from defense, deliberately mishandling, mistreating or destroying evidence, allowing witnesses (they know or should know) are not truthful to testify, pressuring defense witnesses not to testify, relying on fraudulent forensic experts, or making misleading arguments that overstate the probative value of testimony.
Do you?
I’ve written a book: Falsely Accused ( or that explores, in depth, the shameful behavior of many prosecutors in this country.
Marian Hoy
Former Dallas Police Officer, and trainer of police.

Help FREE Bryce said...

Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful convictions... I think the percentage is much higher and possibly has been at epidemic levels for years... and climbing higher and higher..."on purpose"