A Prosecutor Is Sent To Jail For Unethical Conduct, And It’s About Time

Good.

Good.

In the resolution of a case already discussed on Ethics Alarms, Former Williamson County (Texas) District Attorney Ken Anderson has been  sentenced to serve 10 days in jail, pay a $500 fine and complete 500 hours of community service as punishment for intentionally failing to turn over exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated Michael Morton, who spent nearly 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Anderson also was forced to surrender his law license and resign his post as a judge because of his ethical breaches in the 1987 case, ultimately overturned after DNA evidence proved that Morton did not beat his wife to death.

Ten days for the prosecutor who disgraced his profession, sullied the justice system and destroyed a life seems like a rap on the wrist, and even an insult to the man who had to spend  nearly 9000 days in jail because of Anderson’s deception. Consider, however: despite blatant prosecutorial misconduct, in every state and for centuries, with untold numbers of innocents jailed and executed, most never vindicated, this appears to be the first time on record that any prosecutor has been punished with jail time. Few, compared to the number deserving punishment, have been punished at all.

It’s a start. It’s a precedent.

The justice system just became a little more accountable.

_____________________________

Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum

Sources: New York Times, ABC KVUE

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

25 thoughts on “A Prosecutor Is Sent To Jail For Unethical Conduct, And It’s About Time

  1. No. I refuse to accept this as “a start”. A man spent 25 fucking years in prison… This guy should have every horror visited upon him that I could dream up.

    Until actual, harsh penalties start being levied on asshats like this, there will be little disincentive to not do it.

    Same goes for cops, btw…

        • And yet uncontrolled retribution is not a consideration when determining constituted and legal punishments. Nor should it be.

          I hate when people say “that child molester got off way too easy! But that’s ok, he won’t last one month in prison, because we know what happens to them!”

          No, if one thinks he got off easy, then they ought to agitate for more severe punishments, but never agitate for mob ‘justice’.

          • Precisely! If you must rely on the punishments dealt by the mob then the official punishment isn’t enough, and if your official punishment is satisfactory then additional punishment by the mob is unconscionable. I feel the same way about the sex offender registry, actually.

          • And yet uncontrolled retribution is not a consideration when determining constituted and legal punishments. Nor should it be.

            It should be in this case?

            Why should those who use the powers of the legal system to break the law be entitled to its protections. to the contrary, they should be declared exlex– outside the legal system.

        • If they knowingly abuse their vast powers (they are the only people who are allowed to deprive you of your liberty, your property, and your life), then I want to be very, very clear…

          Whatever happens to them in prison isn’t bad enough

    • No kidding. If I were told “For 500 dollars, 500 hours, and 10 days in jail, we will send one person you don’t like away for 25 years,” well, I just might be able to think of someone that would be worth it. If the punishment can be seen as worth it, then it’s not enough punishment.

  2. Not a crack, I’m afraid. Or a precedent. He was convicted of criminal contempt solely because he disobeyed the Judge’s specific instruction here, otherwise there’d be no penalty.

    Fortunately, there is something very simple that judges across the country can do to eradicate this problem. All judges, state and federal, should issue the standing “ethical rule order” proposed by the Hon. Nancy Gertner and Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck. The proposed order requires prosecutors to disclose, pre-trial, all evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” Details regarding the proposed ethical rule order, including all the justifications supporting it, can be found in this article by Barry Scheck.

    The reason such standing ethical rule orders are important is that they allow prosecutors, like Ken Anderson, to be held in criminal contempt if they are later found to have engaged in misconduct. Anderson could be punished today only because such an order had been issued in the Morton case.

    Today’s conviction of Ken Anderson stands out as an extreme aberration in a society where police and prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unpunished. But it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, today’s result will deter rogue cops and prosecutors in the future from engaging in similar misconduct. But this will happen only if judges across the country do what the judge did more than 25 years ago in the Morton case: issue an order requiring that proper disclosure to the defense, or risk criminal contempt proceedings

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-godsey/for-the-first-time-ever-a_b_4221000.html

    • Note – this isn’t the first time that a prosecutor has been imprisoned for criminal contempt, disobeying a judicial instruction to hand over exculpatory evidence.

      Mike Nifong (Duke Lacrosse case) served one day in jail for criminal contempt – though in that case, no-one was wrongly convicted.

      • Thanks, a correction worth making— though Nifong was not jailed for his prosecutorial misconduct, but for lying to the judge about it. Lying to a judge during a trial will get any lawyer in big trouble, prosecutor or not. The instance of misconduct in Nifong’s case, among many others, was that he, like Anderson, didn’t hand over Brady material to the defense as required by law. But it was the fact that a judge asked him if he had and he replied in the affirmative that got him a day’s jail time.

        • Of course, this begs the question of why it took so long for “A Prosecutor [to Be]Sent To Jail For Unethical Conduct”.
          And I think I have the answer.

          Compare the public outrage against Ken Anderson to the public outrage against George Zimmermann. Compare the number of people who tweeted Ken Anderson’s address with those who tweeted George Zimmermann’s address. Compare the number of news organizations who altered video and audio to make Ken Anderson look guilty to the number of news organizations who altered video and audio to make George Zimmermann look guilty.

          The horrible truth is that society and the mainstream media are more interested in railroading people for real or imagined crimes than punishing prosecutors who railroad people who railroad people for real and imagined crimes. Hell, there were more people who wanted Nakoula Basseley Nakoula to be prosecuted for murder than those who wanted Ken Anderson to be prosecuted for misconduct.

          Is it any surprise we have prosecutors who have the same mindset as those who wanted to get Zimmermann and Nakoula, due process be damned?

        • In North Carolina, prosecuters are legally immune from the law, at least while in office. A prosecuting attorney can do things like give a rape suspect the current address and cell-phone number of his victim. He can then threaten to throw said victim in prison if she fails to tell him where she is staying and her current cell-phone number. Nifong couldn’t be punished for anything he did in that case except lying to the judge.

    • I object to the proposed rule. Both the law and the ethics rules require a prosecutor to do this—it’s ridiculous to add another layer. The law that is needed is one that makes willful and knowing violation of Brady by a government lawyer a felony, along with any other acts that rob a defendant of a fair defense and a just trial, like suborning perjury and manufacturing (or destroying evidence). We won’t put you in jail for railroading an innocent man into prison, but lying to a judge about it is intolerable—what a stupid and offensive message. And, as with Nifong, criminal contempt usually results in symbolic jail time—one day. Kind of like “Scared Straight.”

      • I agree. No additional layer needed. I am a little concerned about the consequences here though. I’ll take your word for it that this guy deliberately withheld evidence and ruined a man’s life. People who do that deserve a lot of misery and jail time is the least of it. But we both know that courts and juries often get “intentional” acts and “negligent” acts wrong. It happens every day. There frequently also is disagreement about what could be considered exculpatory evidence. It’s a claim frequently made on appeal. “Negligent” prosecutors deserve to get reprimanded and even lose their licenses to practice (depending on the circumstances), but I don’t believe they should go to prison. I had every intention of becoming a prosecutor when I entered law school, but decided against it because I was terrified of the ramifications if I was ever wrong. In civil litigation, if an attorney messes up, someone (either the attorney, firm, or perhaps an insurance company) has to write a check. In criminal cases, there is no way to truly rectify the error of convicting the wrong person, even if the error was unintentional.

  3. Perhaps apt punishments for intentional actions to falsely convict the innocent would be an equal measure of what the innocent party receives?

    This guy in jail for 25 years might translate fairly into the prosecutor being in jail for 25 years.

    Negligence of course resulting in loss of license.

  4. Perhaps apt punishments for intentional actions to falsely convict the innocent would be an equal measure of what the innocent party receives?
    ************
    Yes.

  5. Consider, however: despite blatant prosecutorial misconduct, in every state and for centuries, with untold numbers of innocents jailed and executed, most never vindicated, this appears to be the first time on record that any prosecutor has been punished with jail time.

    Has there ever been instances where prosecutors were punished with vigilante justice?

    If anything justifies vigilantism, it is this kind of misconduct.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.