Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wrongfully Convicted Urge Action in Wake of Supreme Court Decision Expanding Immunity for Prosecutors

From our friends at Innocence Project New Orleans:
After Tuesday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Thompson v. Connick granting prosecutors' even greater immunity for their misconduct, the Innocence Network released a letter signed by 19 innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in part because of the bad acts of prosecutors demanding greater accountability for prosecutorial misconduct. The letter, which was addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Presidents of the National District Attorney's Association and the National Associations of Attorneys Generals, demands to know what systems they intend to put in place to ensure that innocent people don't fall victim to overzealous prosecutors.

In its 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the Thompson did not meet the burden of proving that the New Orleans District Attorney's office was deliberately indifferent in failing to turn over information pointing to Thompson's innocence and the need for training and supervision to safeguard those rights. The Court reasoned that because prosecutors are required to attend law school and/or pass the bar exam and are required to meet certain professional standards, "recurring constitutional violations are not the 'obvious consequence' of failing to provide prosecutors with formal inhouse training about how to obey the law."

"Basically what the Court is saying is that because they are lawyers, there was no reason for the District Attorney to believe that his prosecutors might need training to be sure they are fulfilling their constitutional obligations to disclose information that might be useful to their defense," said Keith Findley, President of the Innocence Network. "This logic completely ignores the reality of what happened to John Thompson who was sentenced to death by prosecutors who repeatedly failed in their obligation to disclose exculpatory information. No other profession is shielded from this complete lack of accountability."

The dissent by Justice Ginsberg notes, ". . . the Brady violations in Thompson's prosecutions were not singular and they were not aberrational. They were just what one would expect given the attitude toward Brady pervasive in the District Attorney's Office. Thompson demonstrated that no fewer than five prosecutors - the four trial prosecutors and Riehlmann - disregarded his Brady rights. He established that they kept from him, year upon year, evidence vital to his defense. Their conduct, he showed with equal force, was a foreseeable consequence of lax training in, and absence of monitoring of, a legal requirement fundamental to a fair trial.

"Prosecutors posses enormous power over our all over our lives, yet today the Supreme Court took away one of the few remaining vehicles that we have for holding them accountable for their actions. It is virtually impossible for the wrongfully convicted to meet the standard endorsed by the Court today," said Kathleen Ridolfi of the Northern California Innocence Project. "If prosecutors don't quickly enact systems to stem misconduct, we are sure to see an increase in innocent people's lives being destroyed by prosecutors who too often put securing convictions above their obligations to seek the truth."

In recent Supreme Court cases dealing with the issue of prosecutorial misconduct, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorney's Attorney Generals and the Solicitor General have filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that there are already plenty of systems in place to cure the problems of misconduct, including internal disciplinary systems, state bar disciplinary systems, monitoring by the courts, and in extreme cases, criminal prosecution.

Yet, as the letter released on Tuesday notes, prosecutors are rarely disciplined for their misdeeds. The letter sites a recent landmark report by the Northern California Innocence Project, Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, that found prosecutors were guilty of misconduct in California 707 times from 1997 to 2009, yet were disciplined only 7 times. The letter also points to a USA Today investigation by Brad Heath and Kevin McCoy that was published on Sept. 23, 2010, that documented 201 instances where federal prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules since 1997, yet only one of those prosecutors was suspended from practicing law - and that was only for one year.

"Misconduct was found in the cases of all the innocent people who signed onto this letter, yet none of the prosecutors involved were disciplined in any way," said Barry Scheck, Co-director of the Innocence Project. "How many lives are going to be destroyed before we realize that prosecutors are no different than any other professionals? There are good ones and there are bad ones, and we need systems in place to stop the bad ones."

"Our condolences go out to John Thompson and his family, who endured his nightmare with him. He spent 18 years in prison -- 14 on death row -- because of the bad acts of prosecutors," said Emily Maw, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of New Orleans. "While nothing could bring back the years he lost to this misconduct, a jury and an appellate court felt he should at least be compensated for his wrong. But the Supreme Court in a poorly reasoned decision, that failed to recognize the reality of the New Orleans prosecutors office in 1984, has stripped him of that compensation today."

A copy of the letter, which was also sent to the district attorney offices in the counties where the signors were originally prosecuted, is available at this link .


Anonymous said...

Wow, this court has done for Lady Justice what Plessy v Ferguson did for Inalienable Rights.

The door is now officially open for untold prosecutorial malfeasance, oops, I mean human errors....

Practically, the court's opinion makes for a couple interesting consequences. It will obviate a huge portion of the work of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, as "...10 acts do not make a pattern." Also, that a person could undertake the elimination of all 9 Justices (though only 5 need some reeducation here) and still have a freebie, and, by the Court's rule, still not have the dots connected.
Given the fact that Thompson is black, and this nation's long record of injustice toward blacks, it is even more a travesty.
It is obvious that this opinion was authored by Justice Rip van Winkle. He has missed a good example of mindless, mean spirited, hellbent, prosecutorial briefcase-notching. So, someone please screen "To Kill A Mockingbird" for him. Be sure to have one of Bull Connor's fire hoses handy to keep him awake.

The reason it is called the 'criminal justice system' is because what passes for Justice is a crime.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Thompson drew parallels between African- Americans railroaded by former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick. He talked about the travesty of justice he received systemwide. He was eventually set free, despite the determined efforts of a justice brotherhood that targeted him and continues to target young and powerless African- Americans, who are generally under educated, non voters, and caught up in survival games that are too often illicit, illegal and nefarious.
For sure, too many young African- Americans have brought their own houses down around them. However, the remaining question is about how in the name of heaven, can a 60% majority African- American city allow itself to be railroaded by a minority of politically wealthy and influential "Red City- Red State" T.E.A. Party types plus hyper conservatives and racist, when African- Americans count the majority?
Now consider political endorsements and how former New Orleans D.A. Harry Connick stayed in power, despite his egregious errors committed against young African- Americans.
Harry Connick was perennially endorsed by Negro Mayors. He was consistently endorsed by "L.I.F.E." and many others, as NOLA Blacks languished on Death Row at the behest of powerful unjust brotherhoods and so- called legal entities. Also give credit to "S.O.U.L., B.O.L.D., C.O.U.P., Progressive Democrats" and other alphabet soup political agents who bartered and marketed Black votes like bargains at a flea market. Dabate is expected here. But where there is no debate, is the fact that in the case of Mr. Thompson:
A. Blacks who pulled levers in voting booth without reasoning outcomes were accomplices to these atrocities and efforts of alledged genocide
B. All the Political alphabets and their enablers as well as elected officials who endorsed, and continue to support, quantifiable racist thus empowering minority political rule are accomplices
C. The Connicks, Landrieus, and others have formed alliances over the years. Negro political dynasties and their family and friends have benefited tremendously, especially financially. Yet, NOLA's Blacks are among the poorest in the United States. Boards and Commissions, appointed positions by council people and mayors, are dominated by ruling minority classes, generally all White and old line rule. Black entrepreneurs are more often harassed and beat down if they don' t conform to the order of the status quo and the under educated classes are generally minimun wage worker bees. The selfish Negro elected class are little more than okey doke gurus, political pimps, and pontificating wanna be apostates and master con artist who deliver negligible returns on taxes. Lower 9th Ward, any questions?
So as we lament what happened to Mr. Thompson and that grave miscarriage of justice- it almost went there, remember all the roles and accomplices, and remember what put Black NOLA back on auction blocks.
Apartheid systems are all about cooperation and participation. When European powers hit the shores of Africa, they utilized the swiftness of Black feet to capture slaves for market. It is sad that after 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education and over 50 years since 1964 and 65, and despite all the Negroes who count themselves so-called Ivy Leaguers, elected and appointed Negroes have become supreme traitors and sell outs. Clarence Thomas is the quintessential example. He is at the apex of the most heinous disgrace to a royal class of ancestors. His court opinion regarding Mr. Thomas deserves middle passage status, a cruel and unusual travesty of justice and inhumanity.
NOLA Apartheid is a determined and effective system. The elected Negro classes enable and support it. Their eventual demise as well as the on- going destruction of Negro under educated classes, those who vote poorly and those who don't, is self inflicted and a saga worthy of great opera!