Wednesday, January 18, 2012

School's in session

There are many ways to poison a jury pool.

Prosecutors can tweet the names of people arrested for DWI or post their photos on Facebook. Prosecutors can castigate jurors after an acquittal and give them information the judge ruled inadmissible at trial. Prosecutors can leak information to reporters about high-profile cases.

But the Dallas County District Attorney's Office has come up with an ingenuous way to poison potential jurors. It's called the Citizen Prosecutor Academy. It's an "intensive" ten-week course offered in both the spring and fall twice a week to teach citizens how the system malfunctions "works."
"Unless an individual has served on a jury or unfortunately been a victim of a crime, the average citizen simply does not know how the system works," said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins . "Last fall, we were approached by James Tate, a graduate student in the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Texas at Dallas, about starting a Citizen Prosecutor Academy in Dallas County. Mr. Tate had participated in a similar program in another county and after he shared his experience with us we were inspired to create our own academy. The curriculum is being developed by a diverse team of seasoned prosecutors, so we are optimistic it will be a success. Our primary goal is for participants to graduate from the program with a realistic and informed perspective of the inner workings of the district attorney's office that we hope they will share with others."
A "realistic and informed perspective" of how the DA's Office works? Really?
The mission of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Citizen Prosecutor Academy is to enable Dallas County residents to be exposed to the numerous procedures within the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.  This will provide Dallas County residents the opportunity to engage in open dialogue with prosecutors and leaders in the community, and discover the practices and methods of the judicial process.  Our goal is to inform citizens who will share their experience with neighbors, friends, and family in their communities.
Now I will give Mr. Watkins his just due. His office has been at the forefront of exonerating wrongly convicted inmates through the use of DNA testing. In fact, since 2001, there have been more DNA exonerations out of Dallas County (21) than out of any other county in the country.

But, back to the indoctrination course...

According to the press release:
Each week, participants will hear from guest speakers including assistant district attorneys within various divisions/units of the DA's office, and other key personnel in Dallas County's criminal justice system.
There's nothing in the press release about speakers from the criminal defense bar. Now, maybe that was just an oversight. Maybe "other key personnel" refers to criminal defense lawyers. But I doubt it.

I'm sure the folks who sign up for the academy won't hear much about illegal and repressive bond conditions, the abuses indigent defendants face in the courts, how junk science is used to obtain convictions or the ways in which Brady material is either hidden or never disclosed.

No comments: