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Prosecutorial Misconduct Still a Big, Big Problem: District Attorneys Do Bad Things

We monitor cases of prosecutorial misconduct here in Texas and elsewhere, and in the past we’ve reported on things like:

  1.  Trusting Prosecutors With Forensic Lab Evidence? Consider Harris County District Attorney: Notices Sent of 100s of Wrongful Convictions
  2. Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas: Continuing Injustice
  3. Prosecutorial Misconduct Rules Issued by Texas Supreme Court: Where is Michael Morton’s Prosecutor, Ken Anderson, Now?
  4. Prosecutorial Misconduct Allegations Against Four Top Texas District Attorneys: Update
  5. Texas Top Prosecutors In Trouble: Dallas DA Craig Watkins, Austin DA Rosemary Lehmberg, Corpus Christi ex DA Anna Jimenez, Williamson County ex DA Ken Anderson – How Big is Prosecutorial Misconduct Problem in Texas?

As the media spotlight and legislative focus turns on the bad acts of district attorneys and those prosecuting criminal cases on behalf of the government, there is the optimistic idea that there will be less prosecutorial misconduct in the future.

But is this true? Consider the following:

1. California’s 9th Circuit: Epidemic of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The federal appellate court over in California, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, recently made national news when its justices blasted state criminal judges in California for not doing more to stop the rampant prosecutorial misconduct that the federal court sees happening throughout the state.

They were caught on video, as the federal court harshly questioned attorneys before them during argument in a felony appeal of a case where prosecutors went so far as to introduce FAKE evidence in order to get their conviction.

Watch the video here (it’s especially interesting around the 34″ mark):

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In its coverage of this video (which has been widely circulated), the L.A. Times also pointed out that the Northern California Innocence Project released a report in 2010, where their research found 707 cases of prosecutorial misconduct over 11 years, with a mere 6 disciplinary actions taken against prosecutors — and shockingly, state appeals courts going ahead and upholding the convictions in the prosecutorial misconduct cases 80% of the time.

2. Nueces County Prosecutors Accused of Keeping Evidence Back From Defense Attorneys

Last month, the Corpus Christi Caller Times reported on how prosecutors down in Nueces County allegedly have been holding back important evidence in felony cases – sometimes until the eve of trial (giving the defense less time to work with it) and sometimes not turning it over to the defense at all.

Defense attorneys for a man who was convicted of capital murder and given a life sentence have brought this matter before a state district judge, arguing that they didn’t get important evidence in his case until the week before trial began — and that it wasn’t a single instance of prosecutors doing this, holding back evidence in other felony cases.

3. Former Nueces County Prosecutor Whistleblower Lawsuit

In a related case, attorney Eric Hillman is suing Nueces County for wrongful termination, arguing that he was fired from his job as a Nueces County prosecutor because he wouldn’t follow orders. Hillman is alleging that he was instructed by the District Attorney’s Office to keep back the identity of a witness who could help the defense.

4. State Bar of Texas Investigating Burleson County Prosecutorial Misconduct in Anthony Graves Case

The Texas Bar announced back in July that it was going forward with an internal prosecutorial misconduct investigation involving ex-Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta Jr., in the Anthony Graves case.

Back in 1994, Sebesta prosecuted Anthony Graves for capital murder and got the death penalty. Now, it’s been shown that Graves was innocent and he’s been exonerated.

A special prosecutor was appointed to look into the 1994 prosecution, and now it appears that Sebesta did not only do very bad things in the trial of Anthony Graves (what the special prosecutor calls a “travesty” of justice) but the investigation has unearthed other alleged acts of misconduct in other criminal trials by the ex-District Attorney.

Sebesta set up a web site where he maintains his innocence and gives his side of things.

5. Washington Prosecutor Closing Argument is Misconduct

Prosecutors sometimes become so zealous in winning their case that they forget that they are seeking justice, not convictions. Misconduct often involves hiding the ball (the evidence) from the defense.  Not always, though.  For an example of how slanted the district attorney’s perspective can be, the recent prosecutorial misconduct found by the Washington Supreme Court where a felony murder conviction was reversed because of the prosecutor’s PowerPoint presentation during the criminal trial’s closing arguments.

In making his final presentation to the jury, this prosecutor showed 100+ slides with prejudicial, conclusory headings like “Defendant is Guilty of Premeditated Murder” in bold font and colorful highlights to the jurors. The state court ruled this was blatantly wrong and freed the defendant.

 


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