Prosecutorial Misconduct: How Bad Is It? Dallas Chief Investigator Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribe
Prosecutors are the attorneys who earn their salary by working for the government in enforcing criminal laws in the criminal justice system. They are supposed to be interested in justice, not personal career wins or financial gain.
That’s not the reality today — prosecutorial misconduct is a catch phrase that is trending.
We’ve written about prosecutors doing bad things for many years now. For some of those stories, check out our earlier posts including:
- Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas Murder Trials: Prosecutors Fighting Against Misconduct Allegations
- Prosecutorial Misconduct Still a Big, Big Problem: District Attorneys Do Bad Things
- Prosecutorial Misconduct Allegations Against Four Top Texas District Attorneys: Update.
July 4, 2016: Wall Street Journal Editorial Demands “Reining in Prosecutorial Misconduct”
On the day we Americans celebrated our country and the freedoms it provides, the revered Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an op-ed piece written by John Hollway, entitled “Reining in Prosecutorial Misconduct.”
In the piece, WSJ points to examples from a variety of states where prosecutors have done anything but pursue justice. There’s the California case where the state attorneys waved a magic wand and created their own pieces of evidence, using snitches (who are always all too ready to make a deal) as well as fudging documents and transcripts to make their case. That’s one state example.
WSJ is correct to point out that this is not just a state problem. There’s more than enough finger-pointing to go around to federal prosecutors, too.
They point to the “…questionable ongoing prosecution of the investment partnerships Powhatan Energy Fund and Huntrise Energy Fund,” where publicly shared financial activities are later used by prosecutors to try and finesse a criminal case using some really broad federal criminal statutes. We’ve pointed out how the federal prosecutors used some financial tricks to build a case against Dennis Hastert, in a similar strategy, since the sex crime allegations had long passed their statutes of limitations.
Lives Are On The Line When There is Prosecutorial Misconduct
Thing is, when we cannot trust the state attorneys to do the right thing, someone’s life is at play. Either they are at risk of spending a chunk of their lives behind bars, or they are facing an even greater danger: in Texas, we have the death penalty option for prosecutors to take.
If the prosecutor in a Texas criminal case wants to seek the death penalty, then he or she can do so. That’s the law. However, things get really twisted when that prosecutor then takes steps to win that case by monkeying with the evidence in order to get that conviction.
We’ve seen this before. It’s a tragedy that has played out here in Texas, and elsewhere.
However, it is STILL HAPPENING.
This week’s Houston Chronicle reports on how Harris County prosecutors allegedly forced four (that’s right, FOUR) witnesses to testify as they were instructed. One witness has told the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that he was told to lie on the stand by two Harris County prosecutors. Other evidence has been presented that the two state attorneys hid 18 witness statements from the defense and if that wasn’t enough, they got rid of emails and case notes that might help the other side.
Result: teacher and DEA-informant Linda Carty was convicted and sentenced to die.
Another result: these two prosecutors still work for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Oh, and they’re supervisors to boot.
What happened here? Well, for one thing it looks like the prosecutors just ignored the requirements of Brady v. Maryland and the “Brady rule.”
Brady v. Maryland
Long ago, back in 1963, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L. Ed. 2d 215 (1963). The state is legally required to turn over all the evidence it has in its possession, custody, or control to the defense lawyers if that evidence is material evidence and favorable to the accused. That is the “Brady Rule.”
If the prosecutor fails to do this, it is called a “Brady violation.”
The state attorneys try and dance around this Brady requirement by a provision within it that limits the evidence which must be turned over as only the “material evidence.” (You may have seen Sam Waterston’s character Jack McCoy debate with his assorted female associates over whether or not the stuff he was holding back was “material” or not. It’s a big Law and Order theme.)
Key here: the prosecutor gets to make the call on “materiality.” What if they’re wrong and label something immaterial and hold it back, and it’s really a material piece of evidence? Whoops, right? And the jury never hears it. And maybe the defense lawyers never know it exists.
In Texas, we have new laws on the books that try and work around this problem that allow for open discovery to the defense. This is a result of the Michael Morton wrongful conviction case (read about that here.)
Whether or not this has solved the Brady problem in Texas is debatable. See, “Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas Alert: Ethical Rules Held to Have Broader Duty Than Brady to Turn Over Exculpatory Evidence to the Defense.“
It’s Not Just the Attorneys in the Office of the District Attorney That Do Bad Things
Seeing the WSJ op-ed this week is a good thing. Having the corruption within the system involving prosecutorial misconduct being acknowledged is good, and a step in the right direction. Still, it’s still very likely that most people doesn’t understand how bad it is — or how deep it goes.
Here’s an example. This week, we learned that a guilty plea has been entered by Anthony Robinson over in a Dallas federal court, where he has been facing federal felony bribery charges. Mr. Robinson was a Big Kahuna over in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office: he was their chief investigator for several years.
Now, he’s admitted to taking a bribe from a man who was accused of failure to register as a sex offender. This guy offered Robinson lots of money if he could get the case dismissed. Robinson’s assistant got the case dismissed.
The bribery actually involved the accused man “investing” in Robinson’s new cattle business. A brand new checking account was created, $20,000 was deposited, and Robinson’s name was placed on the account as an authorized signatory. He wrote at least one check on that account before he was arrested.
Facing Prosecutorial Misconduct in Dallas and North Texas
When you are accused of wrongdoing and enter the criminal justice system, it can be overwhelming and terrifying. Defendants depend upon that system to work as it should, with their legal rights respected. All too often, that dependence upon the integrity of the system is naive and misplaced. Criminal defense lawyers know this all too well — and it’s a real tragedy when an accused is wrongfully convicted because of the skulduggery of an unethical prosecutor. A tragedy that just keeps happening in our state — and in our part of North Texas — today.
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