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23 And Me

Unethical Lawyering is Not a Crime

A man who chained someone to his basement wall would be viewed as a monster, and threatened with the death penalty. When that man is a prosecutor who frames an innocent citizen, however, we don't care:

I SPENT 18 years in prison for robbery and murder, 14 of them on death row. I’ve been free since 2003, exonerated after evidence covered up by prosecutors surfaced just weeks before my execution date. Those prosecutors were never punished. Last month, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to overturn a case I’d won against them and the district attorney who oversaw my case, ruling that they were not liable for the failure to turn over that evidence — which included proof that blood at the robbery scene wasn’t mine.

Police and prosecutors framed the man. You say this is shocking, but why? Prosecutors and police - just like you and me - have deadlines. They have dockets. Police and prosecutors are not Sherlock Holmes, who always searches for the truth - which means only convicting the right man. No, like all petty bureaucrats, prosecutors care about only one thing - clearing their dockets. "Just get this case closed," is their first marching order. "Let the jury figure it out," is how they rationalize their evilness. 

And there's no doubt that prosecutors knew they were chaining an innocent man to prison walls:

The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn’t match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn’t been turned over either.

All along, the prosecutors knew they were sending an innocent man to death row. Why isn't that a crime? Not only have prosecutors avoiding criminal charges, they have also avoided civil liability and professional punishment.

The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.

A friend of mine called the New York Times column "shocking." Yet it's not shocking - not even a little. I blog less about prosecutorial misconduct than before because it's banal

In Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 188 (1997), a Washington state prosecutor, Lynne Kalina, under oath, misstated material facts in a probable cause hearing. Both the National District Attorneys' Association and United States Department of Justice filed an amicus briefs on her behalf. Lynne Kalina, the scumbag prosecutor, was never punished for lying under oath.

In Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, two Iowa prosecutors framed an innocent man. Rather than prosecutor the prosecutors, the United States Department of Justice filed an amicus brief supporting them. The National District Attorneys' Association - the "conscience of the community" - also filed a brief on their behalf.

When a courageous California lawyer, Scott Drexel, was appointed as Chief Disciplinary Counsel to the California State Bar, he tried to change the system. He went after unethical prosecutors. What happened to Drexel? The California State Bar - the body charged with regulating lawyers - refused to reappoint him:

SAN FRANCISCO - The State Bar Board of Governors decided this week not to reappoint Scott Drexel, the head of the bar's prosecution unit who had sparked controversy by tightening rules governing attorneys.

Drexel also raised hackles in the law enforcement community by going after several well-known prosecutors for misconduct, including Santa Clara County prosecutor Benjamin Field. Accused of offenses including withholding exculpatory evidence, which Field's supporters were quick to point out involved cases more than a decade old, Field ended up having his license suspended for four years.

Every day prosecutors frame people. Every day prosecutors get away with it. Every day someone innocent will go to prison. Anyone who tries changing the system will lose his job.

The only thing preventing you from being framed is luck and a lack of powerful enemies.