Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

Thanks to courts, police perjury remains major problem

According to an old lawyer joke, the best way to tell when a lawyer is lying is to look to see if his lips are moving. That rule seems to apply to cops on the witness stand, too. But “testilying” is no laughing matter. It is undoubtedly a significant factor in many wrongful convictions.

Proving it to the courts’ satisfaction, though, is another matter. As Radley Balko notes here, “The problem isn’t that cops aren’t capable of telling the truth. The problem is that the courts have treated cops as if they’re incapable of lying.”

Alan M. Dershowitz said the same thing in an op-ed in 1994. “Some judges refuse to close their eyes to perjury,” he wrote, “but they are the rare exception to the rule of blindness, deafness and muteness that guides the vast majority of judges and prosecutors.”

Balko argues that this could be changing, thanks to increasing prevalence of video cameras that catch cops in lies, as happened recently in a Chicago-area case. But until video cameras are everywhere, some cops will probably continue to lie as long as the courts allow them to get away with it.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Bronx Prosecutor Scolded and Barred From Courtroom for Misconduct

Assistant District Attorney Megan Teesdale was banished from Bronx Judge John Wilson’s courtroom after failing to reveal evidence that would have freed a man held at Rikers Island on bogus rape charges.

“To my mind, this is an utter and complete disgrace — not just for you, but for your office in general,” Bronx Criminal Court Judge John Wilson told Bronx assistant district attorney Megan Teesdale before dismissing the case on March 21.

“This situation, while egregious, reflects a larger problem endemic to our criminal justice system,” said Segundo’s attorney, Robyn Mar of the Bronx Defenders.

Brady violations often go unpunished within city District Attorney’s offices, according to lawyer Joel Rudin.

Read the full NY Daily News story here.

National Registry of Exonerations Records 600th Exoneration for Murder

The National Registry of Exonerations, a dynamic database of known exonerations in the United States since 1989, recently reported another noteworthy milestone: the 600th exoneration for murder. Of 1,348 known exonerations as of April 8, 2014, nearly 45 percent have been for murder. This disturbing statistic, once unimaginable to most Americans, supports the assumption that countless wrongful convictions are yet unknown and the conclusion that Americans should strongly support efforts to improve the criminal justice system.

Above all, the 600th exoneration for murder confirms the “tip of the iceberg” characterization often referenced by those who have researched known exonerations. Continue reading

New Motion, Old Story: Court Urged to Vacate Conviction in 1982 Murder

A controversial case that imprisoned three men including a former Woonsocket Rhode Island police detective may see a new outcome more than thirty years after the crime. A lengthy motion filed in Superior Court by lawyers for Raymond Tempest Jr., 61, seeks to have his conviction of the 1982 murder of Doreen Picard vacated after DNA testing of a hair found in the victim’s hand proved not to be from Tempest.

For those who have studied wrongful convictions, reading the 76-page motion brings a troubling sense of déjà vu. If the motion is granted, it will be an Continue reading

Are prosecutors’ conviction-integrity units the real deal?

Are prosecutors’ conviction-review or conviction-integrity units a sincere effort to right wrongs or an insincere attempt to cover up challenged cases with a heavy layer of whitewash? Hella Winston explores the issue in an excellent article for The Crime Report, which you will find here.

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity Expands Registry to Include State-Level Cases

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity (CPI) announced today the expansion of its efforts to identify and analyze prosecutorial misconduct to include state and local cases. The Registry initially focused on misconduct by federal prosecutors. CPI is now inviting submissions of state-level cases for inclusion in its Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct, which was established in January 2014.

An online database, national in scope, the Registry identifies leading types of prosecutor misconduct, and enables analysis of trends and comparisons across jurisdictions through searchable sort, filter, and search functions.

Cases can also be downloaded into a spreadsheet to facilitate in-depth analyses: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/registry/database/

Cases qualify for inclusion in the Registry based on a determination by a bar disciplinary committee, or by a trial, appellate, or supreme court judge. CPI estimates there have been 16,000 determinations of prosecutorial misconduct nationwide since 1970.

Cases should be submitted by email to Sakeena Farhath, Registry Director: registry@prosecutorintegity.org

For more information, visit the Center for Prosecutor Integrity: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Prosecutors Balk at Being Held Accountable….

By Radley Balko, Washington Post:

I’ve addressed the problem of prosecutorial misconduct here a few times before — both its prevalence, and the fact that misbehaving prosecutors are rarely sanctioned or disciplined. Recently (or perhaps the better word is finally), some judges have begun to speak out about the problem including, most notably, Alex Kozinski, the influential judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way. Beatty singled out South Carolina’s 9th Judicial District in particular. There’s a good reason for that: He noted in his talk that two prosecutors from that district, overseen by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, had already been suspended for misconduct and at the time of his talk, another complaint was pending. A recent complaint by the state’s association of criminal defense lawyers recently laid out a list of other complaints (PDF) against Wilson’s office. (You can read Wilson’s response here.)

But Wilson took personal offense at Beatty’s comments. She accused him of bias and sent a letter asking him to recuse himself from criminal cases that come out of her district. In one sense, Wilson is unquestionably correct. Beatty is biased. He’s clearly biased against prosecutors who commit misconduct. But that’s a bias you probably want in a judge, particularly one that sits on a state supreme court. It’s also a bias that isn’t nearly common enough in judges. (Not only do most judges not name misbehaving prosecutors in public, they don’t even name them in court opinions.)

Other prosecutors around the state jumped on, and now at least 13 of the head prosecutors in the state’s 16 judicial districts, along with South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, are asking for Beatty’s to be recused from criminal cases. This would presumably end his career as a state supreme court justice.

Over at the Connecticut Law Tribune, the public defender who writes under the pseudonym “Gideon” comments on this mess:

Why, then, is it so inappropriate for Justice Beatty to remind stewards of justice that their charge includes not only securing convictions, but also maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system? What is so particularly offensive about the justice making his opinion known? Certainly no one would argue that there are two competing opinions to be had here; there is no pro-suppression of exculpatory evidence lobby. So is it merely the petulance of being chided in public?

This isn’t an unusual occurrence, however. Prosecutors in San Diego have long used a state law to “disqualify” pro-defense judges. Just a few months ago, they boycotted a superior court judge because he issued a few too many rulings upholding the Fourth Amendment, in favor of defendants. They claim that these statements and rulings evince an underlying bias that these judges have, making them unfit to be neutral and detached magistrates in criminal court.

Also in Santa Clara County, Calif., where a few years ago former district attorney Delores Carr responded to a series of scandals in which her office failed to expose exculpatory evidence, and one of her assistants was sanctioned, by boycotting the judge who ruled against her, and then attempting to restrict the power of the state bar to discipline prosecutors. (Something the bar rarely does, anyway.)

In these days when the media and the masses equate every arrest with guilt and every acquittal with a mistaken jury and a technicality in the law, these incidents show that some prosecutors aren’t above playing to these base sentiments, or worse, actually believe these very things.

Why else would a judge who sides with a defendant and his Fourth Amendment rights be unfit to sit in criminal court? Why else would it be grounds to disqualify a judge for reminding prosecutors of their ethical obligation?

Justice Beatty’s remarks are troubling, but not for the reasons the attorney general of South Carolina thinks. They’re troubling because they reveal that prosecutors there engage in witness tampering, retaliatory and selective prosecutions and even perjury. They’re troubling because they reveal that perhaps the South Carolina Supreme Court has been aware of this unethical conduct but has heretofore turned a blind eye to it (“no longer overlook…”). They’re troubling because they reveal that justice in South Carolina isn’t what justice should be and some want to keep it that way.

One more example: Recently in Arizona, the state’s supreme court recommended adopting an ethics rule that would require prosecutors to disclose ”new, credible, and material evidence” of a wrongful conviction, make that information available to the convicted and then “undertake further investigation or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.”

This seems like a pretty sensible guideline. Yet the office of Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery opposed it. Why? According to a comment Montgomery’s office submitted to the court, because there’s “no convincing evidence that Arizona has a ‘problem’ of wrongful convictions” or that “prosecutors have failed to take corrective action when appropriate.” In a debate a couple of weeks ago, Montgomery reiterated his opposition. He said he already follows the rule, and so he was insulted that anyone would suggest an ethical guideline would be necessary to hold him to it.

Of course, even if Montgomery himself always follows the proposed rule, he isn’t the only prosecutor in Arizona. Nor will he be the last prosecutor in Maricopa County. Certainly he can’t believe that every current and future prosecutor in Arizona will now and always do the right thing when presented with evidence of a wrongful conviction. Perhaps it’s true that only the rare, rogue, isolated prosecutor would hide, obscure, or sit on such evidence. But if disclosure of that evidence is the right thing to do, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would oppose giving the state bar a way to discipline that prosecutor, rare, rogue, isolated as he may be.

The most plausible explanation for all of these stories is that a significant number of prosecutors just don’t want to be held accountable to anyone but themselves. I suppose a lot of us would like to have that sort of protection in our jobs. But few of us do. And the rest of us don’t hold positions that give us the power to to ruin someone’s life with criminal charges, to convince a jury to put someone in prison or to ask the state to put someone to death.

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • In the UK, bid to overturn arson convictions due to police misconduct
  • In Texas, exoneree Anthony Graves seeks a court of inquiry to examine alleged misconduct by the prosecutor who wrongfully convicted him

Prosecutor Misconduct in the Todd Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 by the state of Texas for setting a fire that killed his three young children.

We’ve reported numerous times on this blog about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, and here is just one of those articles - Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?

 It’s clear to even the casual observer of this case that Todd Wilingham was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully executed.  The State used now-debunked junk science in determining the fire that killed the Willingham children was arson.  The case is carefully documented in the award winning film Incendiary: The Willingham Case.

And now, another snake has just slithered out of the pit that the Texas justice system has made of this case.  It’s been revealed that the Willingham prosecutor, John Jackson, made a secret deal with jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham had confessed the crime to him in prison.  And further, that Jackson then concealed this deal from the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons which was considering a stay of execution for Willingham.

Reported here by the Innocence Project - New Evidence Suggests Cameron Todd Willingham Prosecutor Deceived Board of Pardons and Paroles About Informant Testimony in Opposition to Stay of Execution.

Read the stories from the New York Times here, and the Manchester Guardian here.

Friday Quick Clicks…

  • A Final Farewell to Greg Wilhoit, Who Survived Oklahoma’s Death Row
  • New book released:  I am Troy Davis
  • A Pittsburgh man serving three life terms deserves a new trial in the death of three city firefighters, but the retrial will be delayed while prosecutors appeal the judge’s decision.  When Greg Brown was convicted of arson in a 1995 blaze that killed three Pittsburgh firefighters, prosecutors said no witnesses were promised money in exchange for testimony.  Allegheny County Judge Joseph Williams on Wednesday ruled 36-year-old Gregory Brown Jr. deserved the new trial because prosecutors didn’t reveal that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms paid one witness a $5,000 reward.  That witness testified he wasn’t promised any money for his testimony, which Williams said could have been used to impeach his credibility had Brown’s defense known about the reward.  Full story….

John Raley to Judge: Never Again Show Poor Judgment on DNA

First, a disclaimer: John Raley is one of my heroes.

When John Raley met Michael Morton and became convinced of Morton’s innocence, Raley committed to doing whatever he could as a pro bono lawyer to bring truth to a terrible injustice. It would take years. Morton had been convicted of the 1986 bludgeoning murder of his wife Christine and sentenced to life in prison. But he was unwavering in claiming his innocence. And as it turned out, he was telling the truth.

Justice was delayed for Morton for twenty-five long years, six years longer than his exoneration could have taken if prosecutors had been cooperative in the review of this case. Unfortunately, Raley, Morton, and Innocence Project lawyers met only obstruction from the Williamson County (Texas) prosecutors.

Two of the “hard-on-crime” officials who were instrumental in the original conviction or in delaying the post-conviction search for truth, paid a price for their decisions. In a guest column (here) in the Austin American Statesman, Raley has asked a third official, now a judge, to take responsibility for his role. Continue reading

Study shows how ‘mob journalism’ helps convict the innocent

“The media has won deserved credit for its role in exposing wrongful convictions,” The Crime Report says. “But there are many examples of compliant coverage of prosecutors and law enforcement authorities who rush to convict the innocent on flimsy or phony evidence.”

To prove its point, the web site has published a study by crime journalist David J. Krajicek that focuses on three examples — the 1949 case of Florida’s “Groveland Four”; the conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth in the 1985 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl near Baltimore; and the conviction of Walter McMillian for the 1986 murder of a clerk in Monroeville, Ala.

All three cases are good examples of how the news media frequently follow — and sometimes lead — police and prosecutors down the rabbit hole of bias and tunnel vision. You can read the excellent study here.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

click
  • New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for people wrongfully convicted of crimes to recover damages from the state.  Schneiderman’s Unjust Imprisonment Act would strip away restrictions in state law that block claims from people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit.  Full article here.
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project hiring an investigator
  • Another chance for the U.S. Supreme Court to say no to prosecutorial misconduct
  • Missouri considers eyewitness id and videotaped interrogations reform
  • Opening of sealed records in Orange County, CA shows improper use of informants

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

click

NY murder convictions vacated; wrongful convictions scandal called “metastasizing”

Brooklyn (NY) Supreme Court Justice Raymond Guzman vacated the murder convictions of Antonio Yarbough, 39, and Sharrif Wilson, 37, Thursday after the two had served 21 years in prison for a 1992 triple murder—that of Mr. Yarbough’s mother, his twelve-year-old sister, and her friend. The two men, who were 15 and 18 at the time of the murders, have long claimed they did not commit them. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson dismissed the cases against the men.

No physical evidence had connected the two men to the crime. The post-conviction breakthrough came last year when DNA testing of evidence found under the fingernails of Mr. Yarbough’s mother matched DNA from a subsequent rape and murder that occurred in 1999 when Yarbough and Wilson were in prison. Family members cheered as the decision was announced in court. Continue reading