That's the title of Brandi Grissom's Texas Tribune post on a forum on prosecutorial misconduct held yesterday tat UT Law.
In 91 criminal cases in Texas since 2004, the courts decided that prosecutors committed misconduct, ranging from hiding evidence to making improper arguments to the jury, according to data that the Innocence Project will release today.
None of those prosecutors has ever been disciplined.
“It paints a bleak picture about what’s going on with accountability and prosecutors,” said Cookie Ridolfi, founder of the Northern California Innocence Project, who researched misconduct data in Texas and other states.
At a symposium today at the University of Texas at Austin, exonerees Michael Morton of Texas and John Thompson of Louisiana, along with lawyers and legal scholars, will discuss the need for increased accountability for prosecutors nationally and in Texas. The symposium is part of a national accountability campaign by the New York-based Innocence Project.
“There’s no disincentive for a prosecutor to do it unless he or she has an internal moral code themselves,” Ridolfi said. In a study of California cases, her organization reported that from 1997 to 2009, courts found 707 instances of prosecutorial misconduct. There were just six instances in which prosecutors were disciplined.
As more inmates are being freed based on DNA evidence, Ridolfi said, more cases of misconduct are being identified. Although it is often the same prosecutors who repeatedly engage in misconduct, she said, the problem reflects poorly on the entire justice system.
“It’s basically bringing down the integrity of all the district attorneys’ offices,” she said.
In Texas, Ridolfi said, she found only one instance in which a prosecutor was publicly disciplined, and it took place before the time period her group studied. Terry McEachern, who prosecuted the infamous Tulia drug cases in which black defendants were convicted of drug charges concocted by a rogue investigator, received a two-year probated suspension of his law license in 2005 and a $6,225 fine.
"New Research Illustrates Lack of Accountability for Prosecutors in Texas," is the news release issued by the Innocence Project and Prosecutorial Oversight. Here's the beginning:
New research released today by the Prosecutorial Oversight coalition illustrates the lack of accountability and transparency for prosecutorial misconduct in Texas. The research will be addressed at a symposium today at the University of Texas School of Law that will include panelists with backgrounds from all aspects of the criminal justice system addressing systemic and legal approaches for reducing prosecutorial error and misconduct.
The Austin event marks the second stop on a national tour organized by the Prosecutorial Oversight coalition, which includes the death row exoneree John Thompson, who was stripped of $14 million in civil damages for prosecutorial misconduct by the U.S. Supreme Court in Connick v. Texas; the Innocence Project; the Veritas Initiative, Northern California Innocence Project’s prosecutorial accountability program; the Innocence Project of New Orleans; Voices of Innocence; and local partners, the Texas Center for Actual Innocence; and the Actual Innocence Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.
“No one is disputing that prosecutors have tremendous responsibility, and the vast majority do a good job under difficult circumstances. But now that the Supreme Court has given prosecutors almost complete immunity for their actions, we need to develop systems of accountability for dealing with those prosecutors who violate their ethical obligations,” said Jennifer Laurin, Assistant Professor, University of Texas School of Law.
The research released today was conducted by the Veritas Initiative, which issued a groundbreaking report on prosecutorial misconduct in California last year. The group reviewed all of the published trial and appellate court decisions addressing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct between 2004-2008. To see what, if any, consequences prosecutors face for their misconduct, Veritas looked at Texas’ public attorney disciplinary records from 2004 to November 2011.
From 2004 to 2008, courts found that prosecutors committed error in 91 cases. Of these, the courts upheld the conviction in 72 of the cases, finding that the error was “harmless.” In 19 of the cases, the court ruled that the error was “harmful” and reversed the conviction. From 2004 until November 2011, only one prosecutor was publicly disciplined by the Texas Bar Association, and this was from a case that arose before 2004.