News 10.01.12

Pennsylvania Stop on National Tour Addressing Prosecutorial Error Tonight in Philadelphia


Death Row Exoneree John Thompson, who was stripped of a $14 Million Civil Verdict by the Supreme Court, to Headline Event, which will be streamed live at www.prosecutorialoversight.org


 

Contact: Marissa Bluestine, 215-2004-4255,

mbluestine@temple.edu


Paul Cates, 212-364-5346,

pcates@innocenceproject.org


 

(Philadelphia, PA; October 1, 2012) — Panelists with backgrounds from all aspects of the criminal justice system will address systematic and legal approaches for reducing prosecutorial error and misconduct at a forum tonight at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP. The event, sponsored locally by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Matthew H. Ryan Law and Public Policy Forum, will be headlined by John Thompson. Thompson was wrongly convicted and spent 18 years in prison – 14 on death row – because of prosecutorial misconduct uncovered by his Philadelphia lawyers J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. and Michael L. Banks of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court stripped Thompson of $14 million in civil damages in a decision granting prosecutors almost complete immunity for their misconduct. Panelists will discuss prosecutorial accountability in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in

Connick v. Thompson

.

 

Tonight’s forum is the latest stop of a national tour organized by the Prosecutorial Oversight coalition, which, in addition to the local sponsors, includes Thompson; the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law; the Veritas Initiative, Northern California Innocence Project’s prosecutorial accountability program; and Voices of Innocence.

 

“There’s no question that prosecutors take on tremendous responsibility and the vast majority do an admirable job under difficult circumstances. While instances of intentional misconduct as in Mr. Thompson’s case are rare, even small unintentional errors can lead to the conviction of an innocent person,” said Marissa Bluestine, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that individual lawsuits are not a practical means to address this problem. We need to evaluate our systems of accountability to prevent such errors and deal with those prosecutors who intentionally violate their legal and ethical obligations.”

 

The prevalence of prosecutorial error and misconduct is difficult to document. At other stops on the prosecutorial oversight tour, the coalition presented data on the number of times that courts made findings of misconduct between 2004 and 2008. This data, which doesn’t begin to fully illustrate the scope of the problem, is not easily available in Pennsylvania because court opinions are typically unpublished. Even so, dozens of cases involving court findings of prosecutorial error – ranging from improper jury selection to inflammatory closing arguments – have been documented.

 

“The fact that this problem is so difficult to document shows how little accountability there is for prosecutors,” said Cookie Ridolfi, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project and the Veritas Initiative. “We don’t accept this lack of accountability and oversight for any other government entity where life and liberty are at stake, and there’s no reason we should do so for prosecutors.”

 

The panel at today’s forum will be moderated by Anne Bowen Poulin, Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law. Panelists will include Thompson, Honorable William R. Carpenter, Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County; Thomas G. Wilkinson, Jr., President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and Partner at Cozen O’Connor; Greg Rowe, Legislative Liaison for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association; and Emily West, Research Director of Innocence Project. The forum, which is open to the public, will be held at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP at 5 PM. It will also be streamed online at

www.prosecutorialoversight.org

.

 

“We’re know there’s no easy fix to this problem, but we’re hopeful that this forum can help spark a discussion with prosecutors and other participants in the criminal justice system on how we can develop internal systems to better train and monitor prosecutors as well as establish some form of oversight over this group of people who wield so much power over our lives,” added Bluestine.

 

Additional information about Thompson and the tour, including a live stream of panel discussion is available at

http://www.prosecutorialoversight.org

.

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