If you, me, or any other non-sociopath made a decision leading to the wrongful imprisonment of a man, we'd probably reconsider that initial opinion. Yet the United States Supreme Court - the highest court in all the land - issues opinions making wrongful convictions more likely. Consider two cases on the government's duty to retain and disclose exculpatory evidence, and one case on the free speech rights of government employees.
In Youngblood v. Arizona, Arizona police failed to preserve clothing (from a rape scene) that contained DNA evidence:
At trial, expert witnesses testified that respondent might have been completely exonerated by timely performance of tests on properly preserved semen samples. Respondent was convicted of child molestation, sexual assault, and kidnaping in an Arizona state court.
The United States Supreme Court excused the government's negligence, ultimately reinstating the conviction. Guess what happened next?
After spending almost a decade in prison, it was proven conclusively - beyond any doubt - that the prisoner in Youngblood v. Arizona, Larry Youngblood, was innocent. Not not guilty - but totally, factually, he-didn't-freaking-do-it innocent.
The Supreme Court directly lead to the wrongful imprisonment of a man. Given that Youngblood was convicted of child molestation, and given how child molestors are treated in prison we can go farther: The United States Supreme Court caused the gang rape of an innocent man
Yet the Supreme Court has shown no contrition. In Connick v. Thompson, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors who withheld exculpatory evidence could not be sued. Indeed, in Connick unlike in Youngblood, the Supreme Court already knew an innocent man had been convicted. The man sued after he had been released from prison.
Under Supreme Court precedent, prosecutors have no incentive - other than a "conscience" - to behave ethically. Conscience belongs in quotes, as San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón's actions prove:
District Attorney George Gascón fought back against attacks on his suppression of an internal memo criticizing the San Francisco Police Department Crime Lab's DNA unit at a public forum for DA candidates last night, asserting that his office was prepared to disclose the memo through appropriate legal channels.
Long story short: The San Francisco Police Department Crime Lab is corrupt and unreliable. One lab technician stole cocaine from the lab. Yet prosecutores relied on evidence from this crime lab in their cases against innocent men. Moreover, no one - other than the prosecutors - knew about the crime lab's corruption and incompetence.
The highest prosecutor in San Francisco, Gascón, knew the crime lab was corrupt. Yet he did everything - and is doing everything - in his power to cover up the corruption. He did so even though a lower-level prosecutor begged Gascón to do the right thing:
The memo was written by a whistle-blower, formerly employed at the DA's office, who criticized practices for analyzing DNA evidence at the SFPD Crime Lab. The former employee, Rockne Harmon, is a veteran prosecutor and nationally recognized DNA expert who says he is disturbed that his report has not been shared with members of the defense bar or outside auditors who performed accreditation inspections of the crime lab.
What incentive, after all, does he have to disclose the internal memo? He can't be sued, thanks to the great big forcefield the United States Supreme Court put around him. He can't be arrested, since no one is going to arrest a prosecutor for covering up a crime.
Oh, wait, you think I'm even finished with the Supreme Court? Get ready for more.
In Garcetti v. Ceballos, the Supreme Court held that a District Attorney could fire a line prosecutor who blew the whistle about police misconduct. In Garcetti, a prosecutor who believed a police officer was lying expressed his concerns to the District Attorney. The D.A. demoted the prosecutor.
The Supreme Court held that a District Attorney may demote an employee for speaking out about misconduct. Thus, the prosecutor who uncovered the SFPD's corruption would have had to chosen between going public with the corruption, or losing his livelihood.
Reading through Supreme Court opinions on prosecutorial misconduct leaves one wondering: Does the Supreme Court want innocent people convicted?