THE TRUTH ABOUT PROSECUTORS WHO SEEK TO WIN AT ANY COST
Day in and day out, juries are assembled, witnesses summoned, and evidence presented and challenged - all in the hope that a just verdict will be reached at the end of it all. By and large, the criminal justice works the way it is intended: the innocent are freed, the guilty are not and the scales of justice are in balance. That is, except when it doesn’t.
There are many ways that justice can be skewed, but perhaps the most reprehensible is when a prosecutor subverts justice to achieve a conviction. Unfortunately, this happens too often. Three quarters of a century ago, the United State Supreme Court overturned a conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct, stating then that the prosecutor’s interest in “a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Alarmingly, there are far too many examples of how prosecutors can pervert justice, justifying the means for the ends.
In a landmark examination of prosecutorial misconduct in California between 1997 and 2009 by the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University of Law, found a deeply flawed criminal justice system by prosecutors willing to:
*withhold exculpatory evidence
*intimidate a witness
*violate fifth amendment rights to remain silent
*present false evidence
*use an improper argument
The study of prosecutorial misconduct, pioneered by Kathleen M. Ridolfi and Maurice Possley, reviewed more than 4,000 state and federal appellate rulings in California filed between 1997 and 2009 and of those, the investigators found 707 cases in which courts explicitly found misconduct on the part of prosecutors and another 282 cases in which there was misconduct, but the courts found that the trials were fair, in any case. Incredibly, of the 4,741 cases, only six prosecutors were publicly disciplined for their conduct in pursuing a criminal case.
In addition, the California misconduct study found that there were instances where prosecutors committed multiple incidents of misconduct. Inexplicably, it found that courts routinely fail to report cases of prosecutorial misconduct or hold offending prosecutors accountable - even when the law mandates courts to do so.
So why is prosecutorial misconduct a serious breach of justice? Because any time justice is shortchanged, there is a cost whether it be financial costs to taxpayers from prolonged criminal litigation, the cost from civil lawsuits, the cost of compensation or the emotional costs - ranging from the toll on victim’s families from prolonged proceedings or to those wrongfully convicted to the cost to public confidence when prosecutorial misconduct is exposed. Prosecutors are entrusted by the public to carry out justice fairly and honestly. There is no such thing as justice at any cost.
Unfortunately for Jesse Brooks the cost was 15 to 30 years of his life but, in fact, incalculable.