The Northern California Innocence Project released a report this past week alleging 107 area prosecutors have committed misconduct since 1984. This misconduct included withholding evidence, misleading jurors, and other various unethical acts. Many of the cases were never referred to the state bar, something that’s required and something that must change.
The Innocence Project is a national organization with numerous state and local level branches who are committed to uncovering wrongful convictions and righting the wrongs that often lead to them. Prosecutorial misconduct, they say, is one such practice that leads to wrongful convictions and costly appeals and retrials.
In twenty-six of the cases they identified the courts cited misconduct and ordered new trials, barred evidence, or set aside a sentence. Nine of the twenty-six were in Los Angeles County.
Prosecutors claim the Innocence Project is exaggerating their findings; stating that courts and different experts define misconduct differently and pointing out that most appellate courts reject claims of prosecutorial misconduct.
The state bar association, however, noted that many cases uncovered by the Innocence Project were never reported to them, something legally required when the conviction is reversed or changed because of misconduct.
The bar is now investigating some of these cases, though they won’t say just how many, according to the LA Times.
The Innocence Project would like to see more accountability and a review of the policies and training procedures in place for prosecutors. Their ultimate goal is to reduce the number of innocent people being convicted and ensuring prosecutors adhere to ethical rules and Constitutional protections is one way of doing this.
They would also like to see a greater level of transparency in misconduct investigations done at the state and local levels.
The LA County District Attorney’s Office said they take all allegations of prosecutor misconduct seriously and offer “extensive and ongoing ethics training” as well. While the Innocence Project would like to see every case of misconduct passed to the state bar, the prosecutors largely believe it’s only necessary when the misconduct harmed a defendant’s access to due process.
Some cases of misconduct are intentional and some are labeled “accidental”. But when you are the defendant, any misconduct can be detrimental to your case. Part of the job of your criminal defense lawyer is ensuring your rights are protected and the prosecutor is called out when their behavior crosses a line.
If you are facing charges and concerned about your access to a fair trial, contact our attorneys today for a consultation on your case.