Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Urge Your Legislators to Hold Prosecutors Accountable

By its controversial 5-4 decision in Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices complete legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office knowingly abandonsits responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence in its zeal to win convictions.

Groups representing prosecutors have argued that there are already mechanisms that effectively address misconduct, yet studies have revealed that these systems hold prosecutors accountable less than one percent of the time.

Recent reports have shown that when prosecutors abuse or misuse the power invested in them by the state they face virtually no consequences for their actions. According to Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, prosecutors were found by appellate courts to have committed misconduct 707 times from 1997 to 2009, yet were disciplined only 6 times. A USA Today investigation by Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy that was published on Sept. 23, 2010, documented 201 instances where federal prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules since 1997 and noted that only one of those prosecutors was suspended from practicing law - and that was only for one year. While it may be that each of these violations did not merit a severe sanction, each incident required a review anda transparent response. The public has a right to know what happens and whether they can have confidence that errors and misconduct are being addressed and prevented.

It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent.

Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.