Friday, September 24, 2010

Report documents prosecutorial misconduct

A USA Today investigation revealed 201 cases between 1997 and today in which federal prosecutors committed various acts of misconduct that resulted in convictions. The violations ranged from not handing over Brady material to defense attorneys to sitting by and letting prosecution witnesses lie under oath. In 47 of those cases, defendants were either exonerated or set free after the misconduct came to light.
One of those rules, established by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago in a case called Brady v. Maryland, is that prosecutors must tell defendants about evidence that could help prove their innocence. Withholding that evidence is "reprehensible," the court later said.
The article highlights the injustice that Mr. Nino Lyons of Florida suffered when prosecutors failed to turn over Brady material in his drug case. During his trial, federal prosecutors put inmates on the stand who all testified that Mr. Lyons sold them dope. But prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to the defense that would have discredited many of the jailhouse snitches the feds paraded on the stand.

The violation only came to light because one line in a 40-page sentencing report indicated that some evidence may not have been turned over. Prosecutors then dropped the drug charge against Mr. Lyons while the judge tossed out the rest of the case. According to one of Mr. Lyons' attorneys, Robert Berry, the only reason the misconduct came to light was because Mr. Lyons' case was tried.

The sad truth is when some 90 - 95% of cases are resolved with plea bargains, there are a lot of cases that are never investigated properly. There isn't a whole lot of investigation going on in the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center when prosecutors are making time served offers on misdemeanor cases to defendants who were unable to post a bond. Those defendants who sit back in the holdover cell are looking for a way out of the disgusting mess known as the Harris County Jail -- given a choice of pleading guilty and walking away or staying in jail while their court-appointed attorney investigates their case; the path of least resistance is the most popular choice.

I've had more than one prosecutor make an offer on a new case and then get irritated when their offer is rejected in favor of resetting the case to allow more time for investigation. The only way to change this cultural mindset is to shine a light on what goes on behind closed doors -- and the only way to do that is to push cases to trial.

1 comment:

Concerned said...

You are right on it. The problem is
not that it needs to come into the light so much as it is needing more people that will stand up and say 'no more'. People are so afraid of truth here in Arkansas.
You just get wiped under the carpet
Prosecuters are given way to much power,and seems like the more they get, the less ethics they have.I am
trying to tell the story of a real injustice done to someone I know,but i get so angry everytime I start thinking about what was done to them.