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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Supreme Court Revisits Prosecutorial Misconduct

Supreme Court to take another look at prosecutorial misconduct
The Washington Post by Robert Barnes  -  October 30, 2011

Prosecutors, says Angela Davis, former head of the D.C. public defenders office, “are the most powerful officials in our criminal justice system.”  Davis, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, explains:  “They decide whether a person’s going to be charged, what to charge them with, whether there’s going to be a plea bargain and what the plea bargain will be. As they make those decisions, they exercise almost boundless discretion.”  That combination of power and discretion, she said, “can and has led to abuse.”  It’s an issue of perpetual interest at the Supreme Court. Next week, the court will hear a case in which a Louisiana death row inmate alleges that prosecutors withheld information that would have cast doubt on the eyewitness account that led to his conviction.  The case from New Orleans concerns prosecutors who worked for former district attorney Harry Connick Sr., who left office in 2003.  If that sounds familiar, it is because Connick and his office were at the center of last term’s big decision about prosecutorial misconduct. In that controversial 5-to-4 decision, the court stripped a $14 million award from John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row after prosecutors withheld evidence that showed his innocence.

The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals. However, Thompson had convinced a jury that Connick’s office should be held accountable for not properly training staff about the duty prosecutors have to turn over evidence favorable to the defense.  But Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by the court’s other conservatives, said Thompson did not meet the high standard of showing a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on Connick’s part.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on behalf of the court’s liberals, read her dissent from the bench, saying she would have upheld the award against Connick’s office for the “gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of (Thompson’s) fair trial right.”  Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson made it clear that civil remedies are not a viable option for those trying to stop prosecutorial misconduct.  He, Thompson and others were part of a group of “innocence advocates” who last week proposed a national dialogue with prosecutors to try to find other ways to investigate and sanction prosecutors who break the rules.  Santa Clara University law professor Kathleen Ridolfi said the group needs to find a way around “a system where the Supreme Court refuses to hold prosecutors accountable, even for repeated, deliberate misconduct.”

The new case, Smith v. Cain , is not about punishing prosecutors. It is about whether withholding evidence should mean a new trial for Juan Smith, who prosecutors said was involved in a gangland-style shooting that left five dead. Prosecutors have an obligation under a nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent in Brady v. Maryland to turn over any evidence material to a defendant’s guilt or punishment.  The case is expected to be determined by its specific facts rather than the potential for a new examination of Brady. It also seems not coincidental that it involves New Orleans prosecutors.  Smith’s lawyers point out that courts have overturned four death sentences from Orleans Parish because of violations of the Brady rules, and they say eight other non-capital cases have met the same fate.  The American Bar Association has asked the court to use the case to tell prosecutors that they have a greater obligation than simply meeting Brady requirements. The ABA says the court should mandate that prosecutors abide by ABA model rules that call for disclosure of any exculpatory evidence, whether it is determined to be material or not.  The National District Attorneys Association replied that the ABA is nothing but a private association of lawyers that consistently takes the side of criminal defendants. The regulation of prosecutors, it says, “is appropriately left to the individual states.”  Such sensitivity is why Scheck and others at a news conference last week took pains to say they believe only a small slice of prosecutors have committed misconduct. He said he was generally advised, “ ‘Don’t go around the country pillorying prosecutors and giving the impression that what happened in John Thompson’s case is happening across the board in an epidemic.’ ”  He added: “ We’re not saying that.”

-----BACK GROUND STORY:

Supreme Court rules against exonerated death row inmate who sued prosecutors
The Washington Post by Robert Barnes  -  March 29, 2011

An ideologically divided Supreme Court on Tuesday stripped a $14 million award from a wrongfully convicted man who had spent 14 years on death row and successfully sued New Orleans prosecutors for misconduct.  Conservative justices prevailed in the 5 to 4 ruling, which shielded the district attorney’s office from liability for not turning over evidence that showed John Thompson’s innocence.  Justice Clarence Thomas said Thompson could not show a pattern of “deliberate indifference” on the part of former district attorney Harry Connick Sr. in training his staff to turn over evidence to the defense team.  It was the first decision of the court term that split the justices into ideological camps, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disagreement by reading a summary of her dissent from the bench.  “I would uphold the jury’s verdict awarding damages to Thompson for the gross, deliberately indifferent and long-continuing violation of his fair trial right,” she said, adding that she was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  She said the actions of prosecutors under the control of Connick, who left office in 2003 and is the father of the famous singer of the same name, “dishonored” the obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the accused established in Brady v. Maryland nearly 50 years ago.  But the court has protected prosecutors from civil liability when they take cases to court to allow them to go about their work without fear of being sued. The question for the justices was whether a chief prosecutor could be sued for not ensuring that those who worked for him were properly trained and followed the law.  There is no dispute that one of Connick’s prosecutors did not turn over a blood test that would have shown Thompson innocent of one of the charges against him. But Thomas said that a single incident is not enough to prove liability for the district attorney’s office and that Thompson did not show a pattern of similar violations.  Lawyers are trained and ethically bound to honor Brady, Thomas wrote, regardless of whether additional training is provided. “A district attorney is entitled to rely on prosecutors’ professional training and ethical obligations,” Thomas said.  The court’s decision marks the apparent end of a decades-long trip through the legal process for Thompson, whose experience has produced a book, a potential movie deal and a dying confession from the prosecutor who withheld the evidence.  Thompson was convicted of armed robbery in 1985, before he stood trial for the murder of Raymond Liuzza, the son of a prominent New Orleans hotel owner. Prosecutors used the armed robbery conviction as a way to coerce Thompson not to take the stand in his own defense, and, after conviction, to secure the death penalty.  A pair of lawyers at a large Philadelphia law firm took up his case to spare him death; at one point, Thompson came within weeks of execution.  But in 1999, an investigator discovered that a blood test conducted in the armed robbery case showed that Thompson was not the perpetrator. Prosecutors acknowledged that it was withheld from Thompson’s attorneys.  The armed robbery charge was dismissed. A new trial in the murder case introduced new evidence and resulted in a verdict of not guilty. Thompson then sued the district attorney’s office, and a jury awarded him $14 million. In all, he was imprisoned for 18 years, 14 of them in isolation on death row.  Thompson returned to New Orleans, where he runs an organization to help exonerated inmates and travels frequently to speak about wrongful convictions.  Thomas was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Scalia and Alito wrote separately to emphasize their position that additional instruction from the district attorney would not have changed Thompson’s case.  It “was almost certainly caused not by a failure to give prosecutors specific training but by [a] miscreant prosecutor” determined to railroad Thompson, Scalia wrote.  But Ginsburg said there were other instances of prosecutors withholding evidence, such as a police report’s description of the shooter in the Liuzza killing that did not match Thompson.  “Ample evidence presented at the civil rights trial demonstrated that Connick’s deliberately indifferent attitude created a tinderbox in which Brady violations were nigh inevitable,” she wrote.  Thompson attorneys J. Gordon Cooney Jr. and Michael Banks said in a statement that the evidence showed “multiple constitutional violations by multiple prosecutors.”  “If prosecutors’ offices cannot be held accountable under the facts of this case, it is difficult to imagine when they would be accountable,” they said.  The case is Connick v. Thompson.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it all come down to accountability? Even with prosecutors? Most prosecutors follow the rules and respect the law- even they don't like the slimy ones who have their own agenda and don't obey the rule of law or do what's truly right.

Corrupt Courts Administrator said...

The U.S. Supreme Court Reversed and Remanded the Case - Prosecutorial Misconduct by withholding Brady material

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
SMITH v. CAIN, WARDEN

certiorari to the criminal district court of louisiana, orleans parish

No. 10–8145. Argued November 8, 2011—Decided January 10, 2012
Petitioner Juan Smith was convicted of first-degree murder based on the testimony of a single eyewitness. During state postconviction relief proceedings, Smith obtained police files containing statements by the eyewitness contradicting his testimony. Smith argued that the prosecution’s failure to disclose those statements violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83. Brady held that due process bars a State from withholding evidence that is favorable to the defense and material to the defendant’s guilt or punishment. See id., at 87. The state trial court rejected Smith’s Brady claim, and the Louisiana Court of Appeal and Louisiana Supreme Court denied review.

Held: Brady requires that Smith’s conviction be reversed. The State does not dispute that the eyewitness’s statements were favorable to Smith and that those statements were not disclosed to Smith. Under Brady, evidence is material if there is a “reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Cone v. Bell, 556 U. S. 449–470. A “reasonable probability” means that the likelihood of a different result is great enough to “undermine[ ] confidence in the outcome of the trial.” Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U. S. 419. Evidence impeaching an eyewitness’s testimony may not be material if the State’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict. United States v. Agurs, 427 U. S. 97–113, and n. 21. Here, however, the eyewitness’s testimony was the only evidence linking Smith to the crime, and the eyewitness’s undisclosed statements contradicted his testimony. The eyewitness’s statements were plainly material, and the State’s failure to disclose those statements to the defense thus violated Brady. Pp. 2–4.

Reversed and remanded.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Corrupt Courts Administrator said...

Here's part of the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion

JUAN SMITH, PETITIONER v. BURL CAIN, WARDEN
On writ of certiorari to the orleans parish criminal district court of louisiana [January 10, 2012]
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of Louisiana charged petitioner Juan Smith with killing five people during an armed robbery. At Smith’s trial a single witness, Larry Boatner, linked Smith to the crime. Boatner testified that he was socializing at a friend’s house when Smith and two other gunmen entered the home, demanded money and drugs, and shortly thereafter began shooting, resulting in the death of five of Boatner’s friends. In court Boatner identified Smith as the first gunman to come through the door. He claimed that he had been face to face with Smith during the initial moments of the robbery. No other witnesses and no physical evidence implicated Smith in the crime. The jury convicted Smith of five counts of first-degree murder. The Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed Smith’s conviction. State v. Smith, 797 So. 2d 193 (2001). We have observed that evidence impeaching an eyewitness may not be material if the State’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain confidence in the verdict. See United States v. Agurs, 427 U. S. 97–113, and n. 21 (1976). That is not the case here. Boatner’s testimony was the only evidence linking Smith to the crime. And Boatner’s undisclosed statements directly contradict his testimony: Boatner told the jury that he had “[n]o doubt” that Smith was the gunman he stood “face to face” with on the night of the crime, but Ronquillo’s notes show Boatner saying that he “could not ID anyone because [he] couldn’t see faces” and “would not know them if [he] saw them.” App. 196, 200, 308. Boatner’s undisclosed statements were plainly material. The State and the dissent advance various reasons why the jury might have discounted Boatner’s undisclosed statements. They stress, for example, that Boatner made other remarks on the night of the murder indicating that he could identify the first gunman to enter the house, but not the others. That merely leaves us to speculate about which of Boatner’s contradictory declarations the jury would have believed. The State also contends that Boatner’s statements made five days after the crime can be explained by fear of retaliation. Smith responds that the record contains no evidence of any such fear. Again, the State’s argument offers a reason that the jury could have disbelieved Boatner’s undisclosed statements, but gives us no confidence that it would have done so. The police files that Smith obtained in state postconviction proceedings contain other evidence that Smith contends is both favorable to him and material to the verdict. Because we hold that Boatner’s undisclosed statements alone suffice to undermine confidence in Smith’s conviction, we have no need to consider his arguments that the other undisclosed evidence also requires reversal under Brady. The judgment of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court of Louisiana is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. It is so ordered. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Anonymous said...

What is this nonsense that there had to be a "pattern" of misconduct for this to be wrong?

Does a murderer have to have shown a pattern of killing before he can be convicted? What about all those other crimes and misconduct that people commit? Is the lesson that if you're going to commit a crime do it once and do it big because you will only be found guilty if you show that you have a pattern of committing a crime?

More of the nonsense that these judges and lawyers come up with.

This makes no sense and there is nothing to back it up. There must be an agenda behind this decision.

Anonymous said...

you can sue the DA, please tell me what "honest" lawyer or judge can I call to sue the bastards!

Anonymous said...

Thompson attorneys J. Gordon Cooney Jr. and Michael Banks said in a statement that the evidence showed “multiple constitutional violations by multiple prosecutors.” “If prosecutors’ offices cannot be held accountable under the facts of this case, it is difficult to imagine when they would be accountable,” they said


somebody get me Cooney and Banks phone number!

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2