Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

Category: Research

Prosecutorial misconduct takes place when a prosecutor violates the law of professional ethics in the process of prosecution. In most instances, prosecutors feel too much pressure to convict criminals hurriedly, especially in cases involving sophisticated violent crimes. Joined with the pressure of vast caseload and the yearning for justice, prosecutors perform unethically in some cases concerning crimes they are administering. There were several cases where courts reversed criminal convictions by relying upon inappropriate performance of a prosecutor. Since prosecutors sometimes make serious blunders, prosecutorial misconduct can take place when they focus on an opportune suspect instead of the right one, or hold back, hide, or even fabricate some proof, or when they inappropriately rely on an untrustworthy witness. All these occurrences of prosecutorial misconduct can eventually cause overturning the conviction and filing a petition. Therefore, due to prosecutorial misconduct, individuals have been wrongly convicted of crimes in some instances.

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Prosecutorial Misconduct

Prosecutors are trusted with deciding who will be held responsible for a crime committed. They possess an immense power and operate with the police when they collect proof and establish a case against a suspect. They then forward the case to court where they have the responsibility to persuade the jury of suspect’s guilt. Hence, the task of the prosecutor is to administer justice and present the judge with information and legal claims that lead to the conviction of the criminal. However, in some instances, prosecutors gather proof that is inclined to vindicate the individual they are attempting to convict.

Because prosecutors have the task of presenting facts, the prosecution is compelled to turn over all available information to the defense. Such process can be complicated, even if it will torpedo the case against the defendant. Since the criminal justice system is the sphere where the defense battles with the prosecution within the structure of the law, it is hard to present such evidence to the opponent that can therefore destroy his or her arguments. However, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to do so. Nevertheless, some cases result in wrongful convictions, whereby the prosecution is to blame. For example, in 1987, in Texas, a prosecutor experienced a dilemma where a suspect was convicted of killing his wife basing on situational evidence. Michael Morton’s defense attorney was not provided access to the report gathered by the police where Morton’s three-year-old son had reported to the police that his father was actually not the one who murdered his mother. After serving out twenty-five years in prison for killing his wife, Morton was cleared after the attorney gained access to the report by the police, including the DNA test of a bloody bandana discovered at the scene of the murder that matched a suspect who was serving a sentence for another murder.

The United States law offers federal and state prosecutors absolute and nearly unreviewable power to determine whether to present criminal charges or not and what of them to convey. This influence places the prosecutor as a powerful public official. Nevertheless, it has been identified to be the key factor in cases of wrongful convictions. Despite the fact that numerous occasions of misconduct never appear to be solved, a number of DNA exonerees present claims of prosecutorial misconduct in their civil suits filed following exculpation. In approximately half of such cases, courts establish either misconduct or inaccuracy on the part of prosecutors. These errors are enough to overturn a conviction.

The United States criminal justice system is reliant upon the principle that mistakes encompass causes, which can be prevented, and that harmful deeds merit a reward to victims and a punishment of wrongdoers. If the issue is to be resolved, it should be comprehended, not as supposed, but as it appears. The correlation between unjust convictions and the legal cause of action represents a complicated cause and effect. Instead, this issue stands for a vibrant interaction between observers and defendants, whereby all involved perform an active task. Nonetheless, the public at large has intuitively acknowledged unfair convictions to a considerable extent for the last two decades. These are a result of intentional or unintentional actions on the part of prosecutors analyzed below.

Focusing on the Wrong Suspect

In a rush to quickly convict and harshly penalize wrongdoers, a prosecutor can strictly pursue a specific suspect, while ignoring the presence of aspects or rather a substantiation that denotes a different perpetrator. Because of the character of their occupation, prosecutors are inclined to function under public scrutiny, subject to intense observation by the media, especially in circumstances that involve solemn, outrageous, and violent crimes. Therefore, in some instances, prosecutors make a blunder of focusing energy on the prosecution of a specific suspect, instead of going for other substantiations that may perhaps lead to another suspect. Prosecutor’s persistence and fervor in this case make him or her overlook possible exculpatory proof, or other aspects that illustrate that the suspect at issue is not guilty. Even when it seems that another individual is likely to have committed a felony, prosecutors can be enticed to overlook such confirmation and focus exclusively on acquiring a conviction, regardless of whether it is fair or not.

Fabricating or Holding back Evidence

The most widespread occurrence of prosecutorial delinquency involves holding back or fabricating exculpatory proof or facts that may point to the exculpation of the individual suspected of crime. As soon as the prosecutor finds and arrests a person suspected of a severe crime, pleasing the media and the public, he or she may then be unwilling to tackle any information or substantiation that opposes his or her case against the suspected criminal. This circumstance highlights anxiety caused by prosecutor’s wish for a conviction and his or her responsibility to reveal exculpatory evidence to the defense. In most instances, a prosecutor may thus overlook or purely disregard exculpatory proof. On the other hand, he or she may take procedures to aggressively conceal such confirmation from the suspect’s defense attorney and/or formulate other facts in support of his or her standpoint. Apparently, such deeds by prosecutors entail a serious professional transgression that can cause an absolutely innocent individual to be convicted of a felony. When substantiation is altered in this manner, the justice system known for its capability to convict the culpable and vindicate the innocent cannot merely operate as usual, thereby causing wrongful convictions. 

Improperly Relying on Unreliable Witnesses

Lastly, a prosecutor may commit a transgression and hinder the appropriate administration of justice in a criminal case when he or she is reliant on criminal charges that are based on the evidence of an innately untrustworthy witness. By utilizing unreliable testimonies that are obtained from sources in return for incentives aiming to present damaging information against a wrongdoer suspected of several criminal cases, he or she may be employing a witness that is completely untrustworthy. The latter may have nothing to lose by presenting false information, and it may be not clear that the witness tells the truth or not. Therefore, when his or her information is the main proof in a criminal conviction, it is inclined to be defective, thereby elevating the likelihood of a wrongful court decision.

Appeals and Prosecutorial Misconduct

Although it can be complicated to detect explicit prosecutorial misconduct in a criminal case, it is a reasonable and necessary measure, which has definitely happened in a number of cases. When an individual has a reliable and legitimate proof that prosecutorial delinquency has taken place and a suspect has been unjustly convicted of a felony, he or she must get in touch with the suspect’s legal counsel without delay. The proof of prosecutorial misconduct, as well as the turning down of other potential suspects, inappropriate evidence, or rather dependence on scandalously fabricated witnesses can amount to a justification for a conviction to be reversed. Such proof can be reassessed by the state court of appeals, including the Supreme Court, or any other higher court, and may lead to the reversal of the suspect’s criminal conviction. 

Conclusion

Prosecutorial misconduct is frighteningly widespread without curative measures, responsibility, or successful restriction. Moreover, due to prosecutorial immunities, there can be no civil cure. Prosecutors are seldom criminally prosecuted or disciplined for whatever conduct, and victims of this transgression are normally denied any civil protection due to the present prosecutorial immunities. Nevertheless, this persistent contributor to unjust convictions can be perhaps effortlessly cured. Most notably, grilling or examinations must be kept in records for the whole time in order to enhance the consistency of confession as proof. Investigators and prosecutors regularly salute such policy alterations since they commonly lead to fewer actions to hold back and reduce claims of abuse. Since a judge inspects these records before a trial, this procedure safeguards the innocent and helps in prosecution.

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