Monday, June 25, 2012

Another victim of prosecutorial misconduct

Over at Grits for Breakfast we have yet another tale of a man who has sat in prison for more than a decade due to prosecutorial misconduct. Compounding matters is the very real possibility that Kenneth Wayne Boyd is innocent.

Suppressed evidence, jailhouse snitches and liars, liars and more liars. Somewhere along the way, then-Shelby County District Attorney Karen Price must have forgotten that edict from the Texas Supreme Court that prosecutors have an ethical duty to see that justice is done. Ironically, as Grits points out, Ms. Price is in a run-off for the Republican nomination for DA.

It's cases like this that scholars like to point out when anyone has the temerity to criticize the criminal (in)justice system in this country. Academics like to tell us that our system of justice might get it wrong at first but, by golly, the truth will come out in the end.

Of course this is coming from the mouths of erudite judges, professors and commentators who have never had the pleasure of spending a decade or more behind bars. Most have never seen the inside of a jail.

Yes, eventually Clarence Brandley, Anthony Graves and Michael Morton did walk out of prison as free men. But they can never be given back what was taken from them. They can never get back the years they lost. They can never get back the time with their children. They can never get back the loved ones who died while they were locked up. The state can give them all the money in the world - but there is no remedy for being wrongfully convicted.

There is no telling how many men and women are sitting behind bars today as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. As I've stated before, there is no way of knowing when the state is withholding exculpatory evidence. If the prosecutor keeps it a secret - the defense will never know about it until it is too late.

This sad state of affairs will continue until we decide to do something about it. It's not enough to release someone and vacate their conviction. It's not enough to hand them a check and tell them you're dreadfully sorry they lost a huge chunk of their lives. The only way this will stop is when prosecutors are held criminally liable for their actions.

It should be a felony offense with no statute of limitations. Maybe taking away someone's ticket to ride will be enough to make prosecutors err on the side of disclosure when presented with evidence that may be beneficial to the defense. Maybe the threat of prison will be enough to remind prosecutors of their ethical duty to see that justice is done. Maybe the fear of criminal prosecution will be enough to remind prosecutors that a win-at-all-costs mentality is the enemy of justice.

Who the hell am I kidding. It'll never happen.

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