News 04.03.09

Ted Stevens and Prosecutorial Misconduct

An op-ed in today’s New York Times examines the alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the case against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and asserts that the problem of prosecutorial misconduct is widespread – and unnoticed – in the U.S.

In the piece, “Prosecutors Gone Wild,” former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer writes that prosecutors have overstepped their role in countless cases across the country, seeking convictions rather than justice. The U.S. government was right in seeking to dismiss charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, he writes, but the Stevens case “did not occur in a vacuum.”

Prosecutorial misconduct takes many forms, from failing to disclose critical evidence to disclosing information illegally to the press to overreaching in the exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion. Underlying all of them is a frightening misconception of the role of the prosecutor.

That role is not to seek the maximum penalty at every turn, nor to put together an impressive statistical tally of convictions. It is not to use the emotional pain and personal ruin involved on all sides of a criminal case to advance one’s own career or personal agenda. Prosecutors do not even share the duty defense lawyers have of providing zealous representation. The prosecutor’s only duty is to seek justice. Period.

This duty is especially important in an age like ours, when the integrity of the criminal justice process is so frequently called into question.


Read the full article here

. (The New York Times 04/03/09)

Prosecutorial misconduct has played a role in many of the 235 wrongful convictions later overturned through DNA testing, through a range of misconduct including hiding exculpatory evidence or exaggerating the value of evidence.

 

In the case of

Curtis McCarty

in Oklahoma, prosecutors intentionally misled jurors and relied on falsified forensic evidence to convict an innocent man of murder, leading to a death sentence. McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years in prison – including 19 on death row.

Prosecutors also committed misconduct in the case of

Bruce Godschalk

, who spent more than 14 years in Pennsylvania prison for a rape he didn’t commit. When the Innocence Project requested DNA testing after Godschalk had served 13 years in prison, prosecutors said they had secretly sent the evidence for testing and received an inconclusive result. Additionally, they said the tests had destroyed the evidence. A missing piece of evidence would then later mysteriously surface, and DNA testing freed Godschalk.

 

These cases – and others like them – are proof that when prosecutorial misconduct occurs, justice cannot.

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