Despite Misconduct, Prosecutors Rarely Held Accountable
Huffington Post’s Radley Balko exposes prosecutorial misconduct and the broken system of prosecutorial oversight in a recent long form article for the website’s new weekly magazine Huffington. “The Untouchables: America’s Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them” examines the wrongful conviction of John Thompson, Michael Morton and others, and the prosecutors who are rarely held accountable for their role in these injustices.
Prosecutors and their advocates say complete and absolute immunity from civil liability is critical to the performance of their jobs. They argue that self-regulation and professional sanctions from state bar associations are sufficient to deter misconduct. Yet there’s little evidence that state bar associations are doing anything to police prosecutors, and numerous studies have shown that those who misbehave are rarely if ever professionally disciplined.
And in a culture where racking up convictions tends to win prosecutors promotions, elevation to higher office and high-paying gigs with white-shoe law firms, civil liberties activists and advocates for criminal justice reform worry there’s no countervailing force to hold overzealous prosecutors to their ethical obligations.
Thompson was a 22-year-old father of two living in Louisiana when he was wrongfully convicted of two separate crimes, a robbery and murder. While facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence that had been concealed for 15 years by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
After serving 25 years behind bars, Michael Morton was exonerated by DNA evidence that also revealed the identity of the true perpetrator. Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson currently faces criminal contempt and tampering charges for failing to turn over evidence suggesting Morton’s innocence despite a court order and legal obligation to do so.
Today, both men advocate publicly for criminal justice reform legislation to strengthen oversight of prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted.
And yet despite his efforts, the final indignity may be that Thompson’s name is now attached to a Supreme Court decision that in all probability will make injustices like the one that befell him more likely, not less. “I’m scared to death for my kids,” Thompson says. “I’m scared for my grandkids. I’m scared for my country. I’ve been all over America talking about this. And I see nothing that says we’re ready to do something about this as a people.”
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