Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

A Broken Justice System – Cases in Point – Part 2 – The Case of Courtney Bisbee


From time to time, I become aware of cases that are particularly good examples of the flaws, the problems, the shortcomings, the failures, and the actual injustices of our so-called justice system (that I have been writing about here for the last 3 1/2 years). This is Part 2 of what is intended to be a continuing series highlighting these cases. These cases have been selected as representative and demonstrative examples, but be aware they are just the “tip of the iceberg.” This kind of stuff is happening every day in every state. You can see Part 1 here.

[Note: To the best of my knowledge, everything in this article is a matter of public record. If it can be shown that there are any misstatements, I will immediately post a retraction and an apology. This article has been reviewed and approved for posting by both Courtney Bisbee and her family.]


“Part 2” is the case of Courtney Bisbee in Arizona. Courtney Bisbee is a clearly innocent woman who was wrongfully convicted of improperly “touching” a male adolescent. There is compelling, documented evidence of Courtney’s innocence, but she continues to be incarcerated in Perryville prison in Arizona, where she has been for the last ten years. I’ve been studying this case for two years, and it is a “perfect storm” of what is broken and wrong with the justice system. At the end of the article, I’ll enumerate at least some reasons for this, and the list is long. Let me also comment that this is an overview of the case. The more deeply one digs into the details of this case, the murkier, the dirtier, and the more putrid it gets. We just don’t have the time or the space to cover all of that here., but I can say that, in general, it relates to the state of the justice system in both Arizona and Maricopa County. This is the kind of horror story that the average citizen would say “can’t happen here,” but it does.

Stephen Lemons, writing for the Phoenix New Times in 2008, wrote a comprehensive and detailed summary of Courtney’s case. See that story by Stephen Lemons here. If you have even a casual interest in the case, I suggest you read the article. Here’s an “abbreviated” version of the case:

Courtney Bisbee was raised in Michigan in a traditional family that worked hard, played by the rules, and was living the American dream; and had never had any exposure to the justice system. In 2004, she was a successful single mom of a 4 1/2 year old daughter, living and working in Scottsdale, AZ, and life was grand. She had begun a new job as a high school nurse, while completing the final weeks of her master’s degree. A compassionate and caring person, she was even tutoring some troubled teens, and therein begin the problems, because two of these troubled teens had an even more troubled non-custodial mother, with a prior criminal record.

To understand the details of the alleged incident, I refer you to the Lemons article. But basically what happened was that the non-custodial mother of two of the teens Courtney had been mentoring learned, by accident, that the boys were secretly living with another family while their custodial father was completing work-furlough for DUI. She was irate about this, and after learning that Courtney had been at this family’s house with her two sons and several other teens, cooked up a plot to sue for money based upon Courtney’s allegedly “touching” her 13-year-old son inappropriately. She even consulted several attorneys prior to ever taking her son to talk to the police.

After the accusation was made, Courtney was arrested at her home by a SWAT team, without a warrant, and in front of her 4 1/2-year-old daughter. This was after the detective on the case, just prior to her warrantless arrest, had illegally searched Courtney’s home, also without a warrant, confiscating her computer and her camcorder. And because that same detective later lied to the Grand Jury about the case, Courtney was held non-bondable for 66 days, until a second Grand Jury could be convened, which was forced by her initial attorney. Only then was she able to be released on $100,000 bond in this “he said – she said” case.

The only detective on Courtney’s case clearly went into it with the presumption that she was guilty, failing to thoroughly investigate, and concocting his own information to support his preconceived belief. This included not following established rules and protocols for interviewing children (Multidisciplinary Protocol.2003), badgering and coercing Courtney during her lengthy interrogation, lying to the Grand Jury, and lying in court. He also did not investigate one critical, verifiable fact that would have disproved the “victim’s” story (see the Lemons article), and would have, most likely, resulted in Courtney’s acquittal.

From the onset, the prosecution employed a “win at all cost” strategy to obtain a a conviction in Courtney’s “high profile” case. At that time, the Maricopa County Attorney had been conducting a five year “witch hunt” reign of terror, even investigating and charging sitting judges and county supervisors who he believed had “crossed him.” Please see the very revealing American Bar Association Journal article about this prosecutor here. He openly boasted about his 200,000 felony convictions. Also at that time, there was a nationwide moral panic going on about the safety of children in schools, and this was a hot-button political issue for the prosecutor; resulting in a rush to judgement based upon false allegations with no presumption of innocence. Courtney was clearly a victim of all this, and her family has documented multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct during the course of the investigation and trial in the prosecution’s drive to rack up another politically advantageous conviction.

At trial, Courtney was represented by an expensive but inadequate attorney from a well known Phoenix law firm who presented a lackluster defense. This attorney had coerced Courtney into opting for a bench trial. He even failed to call a key defense witness who was there waiting in the court house to testify during the trial, and who had exculpatory testimony to give.  This witness had been present when two of the state’s key witnesses had discussed the fact that the accuser was lying, and that nothing ever happened between Courtney and the alleged victim. In my opinion, this very well could have changed the outcome of the trial. Also in my opinion, this was just boneheaded legal incompetence. (Either that, or it was intentional. I’m sure we’ll never know. Why would he not call this witness?)

In 2006, the bench trial judge, who had been under investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney, ultimately found Courtney guilty, and imposed the mandatory minimum sentence plus one year – 11 years.

In 2007, the state’s key trial witness, the “victim’s” older brother, who was present at the time of the alleged incident, came forward with a sworn affidavit stating that he had lied in court during Courtney’s trial, that his brother had lied in court, and that the whole case was a scam for money perpetrated by their mother. Additionally, the “victim’s” (accuser’s) best friend was deposed by Courtney’s civil attorney, and stated under oath that the victim had confessed to her several times that nothing ever happened between Courtney and him, and that his mother was making him do it for the money. I have read the transcript of the deposition, and it is unequivocal; and what’s particularly striking about this is that the prosecutor was present for the deposition, and has failed to take any action as a result of it. This just makes my brain explode. This affidavit and the deposition have yet to be acknowledged or considered by a court. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has steadfastly ignored all this new evidence. Phoenix Fox News 10 did a story about the older brother’s affidavit recanting his testimony, saying that nothing ever happened, that his brother (the alleged victim) was also lying, and that their mother made them do it so she could sue for money. See that video here. In the video you’ll see Courtney sobbing as she declares her innocence and begs the judge not to separate her from her daughter; and maybe it’s my imagination, but I could swear the judge is actually smirking.

When Courtney was tried, convicted, and sent to prison in 2006, her parents lived in Atlanta. They moved to Phoenix with the idea that it would take them a year or two to get Courtney out of prison. They would ultimately have to sell Courtney’s and their homes, close their successful businesses, and cash in many of their assets to pay for Courtney’s failed defense. Ten years later, they are still in Phoenix, and Courtney is still in prison. Over this time period, they have dealt with a veritable parade of attorneys, none of whom have actually accomplished anything – except for collecting their fees. This was up until the point that her New York City attorneys were retained and filed her Writ of Habeas. Courtney has had an absolutely compelling habeas petition pending before the court for the last 2 1/2 years, but it is yet to be heard. I’ve read the petition, and it’s very well done, and anybody who reads it has to say, “Wait a minute. There’s something very wrong with this conviction.”

And here’s the real kicker. The people in this case who actually committed crimes – false accusation, perjury – get off scot-free. And the prosecutors, the judge, and the lawyers all suffer no consequences whatsoever. And they were all, all, complicit in sending an innocent mother to prison. And on top of all that, Courtney has been separated and alienated from her daughter by an antagonistic ex-husband, and has neither seen nor heard from her daughter in over 10 years.

What I believe this case exemplifies and demonstrates is ….

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Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutor Can be Sued for Presenting False Information to Grand Jury

The US Second Circuit has ruled that a prosecutor can be held to a standard above “qualified immunity,” and thus can be sued, for knowingly presenting false information to a Grand Jury.

This quote from the court: “It ought not to be difficult, even for the most single‐minded of prosecutors, to avoid misconduct of the scope and seriousness of that in which the defendants engaged:

Creat[ing] false or fraudulently altered documents in the course of their performance of “investigatory functions,” knowing that such information was false or fraudulent; where “false” is defined as “untrue when made and . . . known to be untrue when made by the person making it or causing it to be made” and “fraudulent” as “falsely made with intent to deceive“.

It does not seem to us to be a danger to effective law enforcement to require prosecutors and their aides to abide by these rules even when pursuing the most complicated of cases with the utmost determination.”

See the story on the “Above the Law” website here.


Police Misconduct Responsible for Famous Wrongful Conviction in Australia

andrew-mallard.9432510748baf0c450fe844b84fb6dc8The case of Andrew Mallard (pictured here) will be well known to those in Australia – he was wrongly convicted in 1995 of the murder of two women in Western Australia, spending 12 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. Mallard was eventually awarded AU$3.25 for his 12 years wrongly imprisoned, but the litany of ‘errors’ during the police investigation continue to come to light.

The real perpetrator was never convicted of the murders, he committed suicide in 2006 after being named as prime suspect by the police subsequent to a cold case review. However, during this review, and other subsequent inquiries into the policing handling of the murders, many questions have been raised about the police handling of evidence and exhibits – with many being claimed to be “lost”, now appearing on exhibit lists during a police audit – at the same time the police claimed to have lost the exhibits. Is this incompetence of malfeasance?

The whole investigation, the police handling of the evidence, the wrongful conviction and the ongoing shambles – should leave all Western Australia police and judicial system ashamed. There is a wealth of material to read on the Mallard case, as there have been so many official inquiries into the case. For more on the  media coverage of recent revelations read here:





Amanda Knox – The Period at the End of the Sentence.

Italy’s Court of Cassation has issued a final, formal opinion on the resolution of the Amanda Knox case.

It is a resounding exoneration of Knox and Sollecito, and a scathing indictment of a sloppy, inadequate, hastily contrived prosecution case.

See the ABC News story here.

New York Considers Independent Prosecutorial Conduct Review Boards

“Plagued by misconduct, New York is considering the establishment of independent review boards for prosecutors, just like the ones for judges.”

See the article by Bennett Gershman, Pace Law School professor and expert on prosecutorial misconduct, here.

From the article:

“Legislation has been proposed to establish a state Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct—the first in the nation—to investigate and discipline prosecutors for misconduct.

The Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct is modeled after state commissions on judicial conduct, which exist in every state to review complaints of misconduct by judges and impose discipline. New York’s judicial commission was created in 1975 and has made a significant contribution to enforcing standards of judicial integrity. Indeed, for the previous 100 years, only 23 judges in New York State were disciplined. Since 1975, 826 judges have been disciplined, and 166 removed from office.

The Commission bill is supported by numerous organizations—United Teachers Association, Catholic Archdiocese, Legal Aid Society, New York Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and others. Committees in the state Senate and Assembly approved the bill late last term, but it did not reach the floor in time for a vote.”


Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Criminal Law 2.0, by The Hon. Alex Kozinski (Why the US Justice System Really Isn’t Just)

Alex Kozinski is a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit. He has recently authored an article for the Georgetown Law Journal, which he simply titles “Criminal Law 2.0.” It is a comprehensive review and critique of the flaws and shortcomings of the current US justice system. My opinion is that this article is a masterpiece, a classic. Here is an experienced, seasoned, knowledgable justice system “insider” who has “figured it out.” And not only has he figured it out, but he also has some very good ideas about fixing the problems, or at least some of them. You can see the full text here: Kozinski, Criminal Law 2. I strongly encourage reading the full article.

Here is a topical summary: (Please see the full article for Judge Kozinski’s discussion of each point.)

A. The myths that cause us to think that the justice system is fair and just, when it’s really not.

  1. Eyewitnesses are highly reliable.
  2. Fingerprint evidence is foolproof.
  3. Other types of forensic evidence are scientifically proven and therefore infallible.
  4. DNA evidence is infallible.
  5. Human memories are reliable.
  6. Confessions are infallible because innocent people never confess.
  7. Juries follow instructions.
  8. Prosecutors play fair.
  9. The prosecution is at a substantial disadvantage because it must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
  10. Police are objective in their investigations.
  11. Guilty pleas are conclusive proof of guilt.
  12. Long sentences deter crime.

B. Recommendations for reform – Juries

  1. Give jurors a written copy of the jury instructions.
  2. Allow jurors to take notes during trial and provide them with a full trial transcript.
  3. Allow jurors to discuss the case while the trial is ongoing.
  4. Allow jurors to ask questions during the trial.
  5. Tell jurors up-front what’s at stake in the case.
  6. Give jurors a say in sentencing.

C. Recommendations for reform – Prosecutors

  1. Require open file discovery.
  2. Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for dealing with the government’s disclosure obligations.
  3. Adopt standardized, rigorous procedures for eyewitness identification.
  4. Video record all suspect interrogations.
  5. Impose strict limits on the use of jailhouse informants.
  6. Adopt rigorous, uniform procedures for certifying expert witnesses and preserving the integrity of the testing process.
  7. Keep adding conviction integrity units.
  8. Establish independent Prosecutorial Integrity Units.

D. Recommendations for reform – Judges

  1. Enter Brady compliance orders in every criminal case.
  2. Engage in a Brady colloquy.
  3. Adopt local rules that require the government to comply with its discovery obligations without the need for motions by the defense.
  4. Condition the admission of expert evidence in criminal cases on the presentation of a proper Daubert showing.
  5. When prosecutors misbehave, don’t keep it a secret.

E. Recommendations for reform – General

  1. Abandon judicial elections.
  2. Abrogate absolute prosecutorial immunity.
  3. Repeal AEDPA § 2254(d). (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act)
  4. Treat prosecutorial misconduct as a civil rights violation.
  5. Give criminal defendants the choice of a jury or bench trial.
  6. Conduct in depth studies of exonerations.
  7. Repeal three felonies a day for three years. (Refers to the fact that there are too many vague, overlapping laws on the books.)

I would add two more to the General category:

•  Have all trial counsel, prosecution and defense, sworn in at the beginning of every trial.

•  Abandon political election of prosecutors.

Prosecutors seek acquittal at a retrial hearing in Osaka (Japan)

From the Japan Times:

Prosecutors seek acquittal of man found guilty of raping girl

Kyodo, Aug. 19, 2015

Prosecutors sought an acquittal on Wednesday in a retrial hearing of a man in his 70s who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape and indecent assault.

The man, who had served three and a half years in prison, and his lawyer filed for a retrial last September based on new evidence. He was released last November and the Osaka District Court decided to launch a retrial in February.

The girl had admitted to giving false testimony, and a hospital record was found denying the sexual assault.

The hearing was concluded on Wednesday and the court will hand down its decision on Oct. 16.

During the hearing, the man pleaded not guilty and urged police, prosecutors and judges to look into why the false accusation was made.

The defense counsel criticized the courts that found him guilty for failing to detect the girl’s lie.

Police arrested the man in 2008 and the Osaka District Court found him guilty in 2009. The ruling was upheld by the Osaka High Court and was finalized by the Supreme Court.

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Sam Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, recently wrote an editorial for the Washington Post: The Staggering Number of Wrongful Convictions in American

In Hawaii, attorneys say they can prove that the investigation and prosecution resulting in Taryn Christian 1995 murder conviction were rife with fraud

Illinois exoneree Alprentiss Nash who was convicted of murder in 1995 and released in 2012 after DNA tests proved his innocence, was fatally shot Tuesday after an argument

New York’s highest court denies State’s appeal of 2014 court decision overturning the 1993 kidnapping convictions of Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Connor…

New Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Orange County, New York…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

The Oklahoma Innocence Project continues to battle for Malcolm Scott’s freedom…

Robert W. Wood of Forbes Magazine discusses why “Taxing Wrongful Conviction Money Is Wrong“…

The National Law Review covers the root causes of wrongful conviction

In Chicago, DNA proves Daniel Andersen’s innocence in 1980 stabbing…

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to grant immunity to  former Pennsylvania prosecutors in civil suit filed by David Munchinski who spent 24 years wrongfully imprisoned…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Attorneys for Howard Guidry accuse Former Texas Prosecutor Kelly Siegler of withholding evidence in Guidry’s 1995 murder trial just a week after another man prosecuted by Siegler, David Mark Temple, had his conviction overturned for the same reason…

Daniel Scheidell finally returns home a month after his 1995 conviction was overturned by a Wisconsin Court…

Advances in DNA technology pave the way for inmates to get new tests on evidence…

Evidence of Police Dishonesty Leads to Overturned Convictions Nationwide

The Gotham Gazette asks, “Are DA’s Doing Enough to Overturn Wrongful Convictions?”

Quote of the Day – About Prosecutors

From Cynthia Roseberry:

“We, as criminal defense lawyers, are forced to deal with some of the lowest people on earth, people who have no sense of right and wrong, people who will lie in court to get what they want, people who do not care who gets hurt in the process. It is our job – our sworn duty – as criminal defense lawyers, to protect our clients from those people.”

Cynthia Roseberry

Of course, you know who the “people” are that she’s taking about.


Equal Justice Under Law? . . . Well . . . Just How Much Justice Can You Afford?


The words chiseled in stone above the entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building say, “Equal Justice Under Law.” A truly noble philosophy – in theory.

But in actual fact, there’s nothing “equal” about justice in this country, and we’re not talking about racial, ethnic, religious, or gender issues here; although they certainly are a factor.  It’s a matter of just plain old “dollars and cents,” coupled with the statistical distribution of human capabilities. That is, the better the lawyer, the more money he/she can, and will, charge. This should not be surprising. It’s Economics 101 – supply and demand – the very bedrock foundation of capitalism. The better lawyers will be in higher demand – for those that can pay for them – and will consequently charge more money for their services. Lawyers are just like any other profession – doctor, mechanic, engineer, carpenter, tailor, chef, etc. – there’s a range of individual capabilities from “good” to “bad,” and the “good” one’s cost more money.  There’s an old saying in the legal business: “How much justice can you afford?” There’s no secret – the more you can pay for an attorney, the more effective your defense will be; and – if you’re actually innocent – the better your chances of a just outcome.

The law has become so incredibly vast, intricate, and complex, it’s no wonder that there have to be legal “specialties” – tax law, corporate law, patent law, estate law, non-profit law, contract law, political law, insurance law, criminal law, and on and on and on. It’s so complicated, even the lawyers can get it wrong. But the better lawyers are better at getting it right and in presenting an effective and successful case.

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Judge Kozinski: Time to Rein In Prosecutors

Alex Kozinski is a judge of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals. He has previously been outspoken regarding prosecutorial misconduct, and has recently authored an article for the Georgetown Law Review on the subject.

See the Wall Street Journal Law Blog article here. In the WSJ article, you’ll find a link to Judge Kozinski’s full article, which is lengthy, but the WSJ article provides a reasonable summary.


Sharing Views on Prosecutorial Reform

If you’ve read much of my stuff on this blog, you must know that prosecutors, as a group, are not my favorite people. I am a person driven by logic, fairness, reason, and justice. Given their position, I would expect prosecutors to be the same. After all, they’re supposed to be “ministers of justice,” but my observation is that it’s so often not the case. I will grant that because of the work that I do, I routinely have exposure to prosecutorial behavior that is less than ethical, is not in the interest of true justice, and is sometimes just criminal. And because they’re “prosecutors,” they get away with it. I do not believe that prosecutors are inherently evil and unethical people; but they are human beings, subject to all the same human frailties that we all are. In fact, I believe their behavior is exactly what you would expect, given the incentives built into the system and the power with which they are endowed. What the actual extent of this problem is I’m sure we’ll never know, but I do know that I see it routinely, and I can only report what I observe.

As background, it would be helpful for you to see our earlier post regarding prosecutorial misconduct from two years ago: Prosecutorial Misconduct – What’s to be Done? A Call to Action. And as an update to this article, the National Registry of Exonerations now totals 1,618 wrongful convictions overturned as of this writing, and 46% of those had “official misconduct” as a contributing factor.

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Prosecutors, Charge Stacking, and Plea Deals

We’ve posted several times on the blog about how prosecutors will “stack charges” against a defendant, thus building a very long potential prison sentence if convicted, and then approach the defendant with a “plea deal” that would result in a guaranteed, substantially reduced charge and sentence if the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the reduced offense. If the defendant takes the deal, the prosecutor doesn’t have to take the case to trial, and possibly not even to a grand jury, both of which are a lot of work and require a lot of time on the part of the prosecutor. This has become absolutely standard practice. The prosecutor will “stack” charges to build such a scary potential sentence, that even actually innocent people will be intimidated into pleading guilty, rather than face what’s called the “trial penalty ” – that very scary long sentence if they should somehow be convicted at trial. Not surprisingly, the nature of the deal offered by the prosecutor will be driven by how strong a case he/she thinks they would have in court – the weaker the case, the better the deal.

Let me also add that the prosecutor has no problem assembling a very long list of charges against you. The penal code has become so vast, and there are so many laws, that there’s a law against practically everything. I suggest that most people are not even aware they’re breaking a law when they do it, because they don’t know the law exists. I swear; I think they could charge you with something for walking down the sidewalk whistling a tune while wearing a blue shirt.

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“Anti-Snitch” Bill in North Carolina ‘Dies’ in the Legislature

Making deals with snitches — just one of the more loathsome practices of prosecutors, and it happens all the time. Here’s how it works. A prison inmate (snitch) who has contact in prison with the defendant in a case comes forward, and claims that the defendant confessed to him in prison, or that the defendant bragged about the crime, or said things that implicated himself in the crime. In “exchange” for his testimony against the defendant the snitch is granted favorable treatment by the prosecutor – reduced sentence, reduced charges, early release, etc. Snitches can also be people who are not in prison, and get paid money for their testimony, or have pending charges dropped. Snitch testimony is often totally fabricated, and the snitch is lying just to get the deal from the prosecutor or to get the money. Snitches will read newspaper reports of crimes to learn just enough detail about a crime to give some credibility to their fake claims about what the defendant said to them. And when prosecutors put snitches on the witness stand, you can’t tell me they don’t know the testimony is bogus. However, it’s not uncommon for snitch testimony to be the deciding factor in a conviction.

North Carolina has been among the leaders in addressing the problem of wrongful convictions, including establishing the first state innocence commission, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, in 2002. And recently in North Carolina, the issue of perjurious snitch testimony has bubbled to the surface. A bill under consideration in the legislature would bar a conviction based solely upon incentivized (snitch) testimony. However, that bill has now essentially died in the legislature after intense lobbying from the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

This from the publication INDY Week: “Supporters called it one of the strongest bills in the country that would protect criminal defendants from lying jailhouse snitches. But now, the I. Beverly Lake, Jr., Fair Trial Act is on life support, blocked by N.C. House leadership after pressure from the state’s Conference of District Attorneys.”

See the INDY Week story here.

Given North Carolina’s heretofore forward thinking on wrongful convictions, I am dismayed by this; but, it’s just yet another obstacle to overcome – so upward and onward. The fact that this bill has even been under consideration is a source of encouragement, because it means that some legislators actually understand some of the problems.


Judge Disqualifies All 250 Orange County, CA Prosecutors !

In Orange County, CA, a case, in which the justice system should have been at its best, has deteriorated into a revalation of incompetence, corruption and perjury involving police, sheriff’s deputies, county counsel, and prosecutors. It has also come out that this systemic corruption, involving rights violations, “professional” jailhouse snitches, and secret police files, has been going on for decades.

As a result of these disclosures, the judge in the murder trial of the worst mass murderer in Orange County history has disqualified all 250 Orange County prosecutors from the case.

See the Daily Kos story here.

And see a supporting story from the OC Weekly here.