(Graphic: The Veritas Initiative, link)
Let me begin this post with an apology to all the prosecutors out there who are personally committed to upholding the highest standards of ethics and the law. That being said, you know what they say about “a few bad apples.”
Prosecutorial misconduct. Well folks, this one is a hot button of mine. Ask the average citizen, and they are totally unaware that such a thing ever happens. After all, prosecutors are honorable people who are committed to ethics, justice, upholding the law, and to helping protect the public by ensuring that the ”bad guys” are sternly dealt with, and if necessary, isolated from society, or even put to death. At least this is what they tell us in their campaign speeches when they’re running for election or re-election. But prosecutorial misconduct and misdeeds happen, and they happen more frequently than any normal citizen would imagine. Let’s look at some data. The National Registry of Exonerations has compiled detailed data for 873 exonerations (wrongful convictions) for the period 1989-2012. You can see the full report here – exonerations_us_1989_2012_full_report. Here is Table 13 from that report showing frequency of causes contributing to wrongful convictions:
The red box highlights the cause of “official misconduct.” (Note that the percentages for each type of case total to more than 100%. This is because any wrongful conviction can have more than one contributing cause.) The average for all 873 cases in which “official misconduct” was a contributing factor is 42%. This figure includes both police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct, and the table does not separate the data for the two. However, if we assume a 50/50 split, this yields an occurrence of prosecutorial misconduct in 21% of wrongful convictions. And keep in mind, this data set includes only data for known wrongful convictions. Who knows how many more times this happens, and it doesn’t “get caught?” I think we can safely say that prosecutorial misconduct is not an “ignoreably rare” phenomenon.