WASHINGTON / November 6, 2013 – Following revelations that 22% of death sentence cases in Arizona involve judicial findings of impropriety, the Center forProsecutor Integrity is calling on prosecutors nationwide to take a proactive approach to hold unethical prosecutors accountable and restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The finding of widespread prosecutor misbehavior is based on a review of all death sentence convictions in Arizona in the past decade. These sentences are routinely seen by the state Supreme Court. Since 2002, there have been 82 death sentence cases reviewed by the state high court. In 18 of the cases – 22% of the total — the Supreme Court made a finding of impropriety.
Examples of unethical practice include presenting false testimony, resorting to emotional appeals in closing arguments, referring to mitigating evidence as “excuses,” and removing a jacket worn by a victim from a plastic evidence bag for the jury’s “smelling pleasure.”
The cases were assembled in an online database as part of a four-part investigative report by Michael Kiefer of the Arizona Republic newspaper:http://www.azcentral.com/news/projects/prosecutorial-conduct/
The Arizona study is important because previous analyses of prosecutorial misconduct focused on cases that were pre-selected based on defense counsel’s allegation of misconduct or a judicial determination of a wrongful conviction. The Arizona findings likely underestimate the true extent of wrong-doing because the most egregious cases of misconduct triggered a mistrial or led to a last-minute plea deal not carrying a death sentence.
“In the past, some prosecutors have insisted that unethical conduct is so rare that it doesn’t even deserve attention,” notes CPI spokesperson Sheryl Hutter. “But when a high court concludes more than one in five cases involve impropriety, taxpayers should be demanding accountability and lawmakers should be convening hearings.”
The CPI report, An Epidemic of Prosecutor Misconduct, concludes unethical conduct has become widespread throughout the country: http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/EpidemicofProsecutorMisconduct.pdf
The Center for Prosecutor Integrity is working to preserve the presumption of innocence, assure equal treatment under law, and bring an end to wrongful conviction through the enhancement of prosecutorial ethics.