Thursday, October 07, 2010

Prosecutorial Misconduct--Part 2

USA Today's series on prosecutorial misconduct has continued with an article discussing whether prosecutors' offices that hid exculpatory evidence should be immune from prosecution. This issue is in the news because of the case--Connick v. Thompson (09-571)--that was argued before the Supreme Court on October 6. "The court's answer could determine the extent to which prosecutors' employers are also shielded if they fail to make sure attorneys comply with their constitutional responsibilities." The Thompson case is a particularly egregious example of prosecutorial misconduct.

John Thompson was convicted of murder and carjacking in New Orleans and sentenced to be executed for the murder.

A month before his execution date, his lawyers discovered that prosecutors had deliberately covered up a police lab report that showed he could not have committed the carjacking. Then they uncovered still more evidence that undermined his murder conviction.
Thompson was released in 2003 after serving eighteen years in prison, including fourteen on death row. Today he runs a non-profit organization in New Orleans, Resurrection After Exoneration, to help other victims of wrongful convictions. Thompson is not suing the individual prosecutors who tried his case; he is suing the district attorney's office, alleging that it "didn't train its attorneys about their legal obligation to turn over evidence that could help defendants prove their innocence." My colleague, Professor Bennett Gershman, who has written extensively about prosecutorial misconduct, is quoted by USA Today:
"The importance of [Thompson's] case is prosecutorial accountability--whether or not violations of constitutional rights make a difference, or whether the prosecutors can just walk away without any accountability, any liability, any punishment, for breaking the law."
Prosecutors around the country will be watching the Thompson case closely.

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