Thursday, August 14, 2008

A response to Kelly Siegler

So Kelly Siegler, late of the Harris County District Attorney's Office (after a failed run for the office in the Republican primary) thinks prosecutors aren't trying to convict innocent citizens as much as they are just plain lazy.

"Too many prosecutors demand that the cases presented to them for the filing of charges come to them with all the questions answered and wrapped in a pretty, little bow...Maybe it's laziness that's the problem."

The problem isn't laziness -- God knows there are lazy prosecutors, lazy defense attorneys, lazy judges and lazy court staff. The problem is a basic disagreement of what the law says prosecutors must hand over to the defense in a criminal prosecution.

In Brady v. Maryland, the United States Supreme Court held that a prosecutor is under a continuing duty to disclose all material that is exculpatory, or might be exculpatory, to the defendant. That could be anything from forensic evidence that points away from the defendant, to conflicting eyewitness statements, to the criminal backgrounds of witnesses, to inconsistent statements from an alleged victim, to whether or not the complaining witness is cooperating.

"I betcha if you could interview a group of experienced detectives and ask them what their number one pet peeve about their job was, the answer you would get would be having to present their cases to prosecutors who have no guts."

It's not laziness that keeps the prosecutor from handing over this type of evidence, it is, instead, a culture in a district attorney's office that winning is the only thing that matters -- and that leads to the attitude that if the material isn't disclosed, no one will ever know about it.

That's not laziness, that's contempt of the Constitution and the rights afforded to the citizens of this state and this country. That's the reason that The Innocence Project is still fighting to free those who were wrongly convicted. That's the reason people such as Clarence Brandley and Josiah Sutton sat in prison for years for crimes they didn't commit.

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