Monday, February 20, 2006

When Prosecutors Go Bad

I wonder how often prosecutor's lie and cheat to win, as this lawsuit seeks to uncover in New York. What does the lawsuit claim:

The suit accuses prosecutors in some cases of presenting false testimony by witnesses about their deals for leniency in exchange for cooperation, according to a copy provided by the lawyer filing the suit. It says prosecutors withheld evidence that could be seen as motivating witnesses to give false testimony, and also accuses prosecutors making false or misleading trial presentations to juries.

I'm with Kevin J. Mahoney on this one:

There is, perhaps, no greater threat to the criminal justice system than that posed by the unethical prosecutor. H[er] opportunities to cheat the accused citizen of h[er] right to a fair trial are unlimited. H[er] voracity for victory encourages every abuse imaginable – by the police, by “objective” or “disinterested” witnesses, and by expert witnesses, particularly those at the state crime laboratory. An assistant district attorney, as the Commonwealth’s legal representative, is not only not bound to pursue a conviction at all cost, [s]he is prohibited by the rules of ethics from intentionally undercutting the rights of the accused. The prosecutor is obligated to do right by the accused. Many prosecutors, in their zeal, fail to appreciate their obligations. Some, perhaps a substantial number, are so driven by impulse to punish the accused, they readily disregard their ethical obligations; these individuals, unrestrained by the rules or by conscience, hide exculpatory evidence from defense counsel, coach their witnesses, pressure defense witnesses into disappearing, threaten defense witnesses with prosecution, thereby, intimidating them into refusing to testify or into adopting “recollections” favorable to prosecutor.

Although many prosecutors are great, well-meaning, and cognizant of their ethical duties, sadly some are not. I hope the lawsuit can change attitudes from the modern Nancy Grace clones, those who epitomize Brandeis' warning: "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficial. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by [wo]men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."

As Skelly Skell pointed out, the leaders of disciplinary action in the bar, Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL), have noticed the obvious connection between unethical prosecutors and wrongful convictions. This is particularly dangerous when public defenders are understaffed , as National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC) noticed. When such understaffing causes not only an inability to find all the evidence you need, but when it burns you out. I know I've been there, fed up with clients, from my first years of practice, and the lack of sleep doesn't help. It doesn't help that we get so little respect you'd think we were K-Fed's backup singers.


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