Putting a Number on Prosecutorial Misconduct

One of the most infuriating aspects of the criminal justice system is that there is virtually no punishment for prosecutors who send innocent people to prison. Even if these wrongful convictions are the result of shady tactics like witness tampering, government lawyers are almost never held personally accountable for destroying the lives of innocent defendants and their families.

But at the same time, it’s not clear how dishonest prosecutors should be punished. Currently, prosecutors enjoy something of a blanket immunity when it comes to trying cases, and it is all but impossible to pierce this immunity and hold them criminally responsible for misconduct. Many (especially the prosecutors) say that this is necessary for them to do their jobs. Apparently, prosecutors don’t cling to their holier-than-thou values of hyper-morality when it comes to their own behavior.

Not only is this a double standard, but the sense of impunity that prosecutors carry with them into the courtroom allows the systemic failures of the criminal justice system to be perpetuated. How many times have we heard of exculpatory evidence being withheld from the defendant, only to be discovered 20 years later while the convict is in prison? I’m willing to bet that this nonsense would stop if prosecutors faced the risk of prison time for each blatant display of misconduct.

I’m not optimistic that such “accountability laws” will be enacted anytime soon, but I do think that we need to start keeping track of the individuals responsible for perverting the system. At the very least, such documentation will help us keep track of the problem.

The type of database I am proposing would contain a kind of resume for each prosecutor. But instead of listing accomplishments and accolades, it would list the number of innocent people that prosecutor was responsible for convicting. It might also list all the efforts of that prosecutor to prevent innocent convicts from winning back their freedom, and perhaps the total monetary cost associated with these wrongful convictions (including the cost of incarceration and settlements in civil suits launched by the innocent party). Eventually, we might even keep track of all the “little” acts of misconduct such as how many witnesses were perjured and how many lies were told during the closing argument.

Today, the justice system is a black box – we know very little of what actually happens in state controlled crime labs and DA’s offices, or how many innocent people are deprived of their God-given freedom. Keeping detailed statistics on the myriad misdeeds of prosecutors will shed light on and bring accountability to the very people who make bad situations worse when they incarcerate the wrong people.



Sherene G.

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