This week, a federal jury found that District of Columbia. police framed Donald E. Gates, an innocent man, for a 1981 rape and murder of a 21-year-old Georgetown University student. Gates, who is African American, was imprisoned for 27 years. Two days after the verdict, the city settled with Gates for $16.65 million in damages.
The trial determined that two D.C. homicide detectives,Ronald S. Taylor and Norman Brooks, both now retired, largely fabricated the confession Gates was supposed to have made to a police informant. The detectives also withheld other evidence from Gates’ defense attorney. You can read the whole horrible story here.
There are a couple of aspects of this story, and others like it, that I don’t understand at all.
One is this: why aren’t the two detectives going to prison? Their conduct has cost the city’s taxpayers eight figures in damages, it has already cost an innocent man the prime of his life, and what is their penalty? I would support capital punishment for police like these. Destroying a man’s life, breaching a public duty, shredding public trust, using the law for evil— few murders do so much damage. It makes no sense for there not to be life imprisonment, execution, something to announce to the community that police and law enforcement officers will and must be held to the highest standards, and suffer greatly when they fail to meet the lowest. From what I can tell, these evil detectives—that’s a fair description, isn’t it?— aren’t even going to lose their pensions. Continue reading →
This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If I have to explain what’s unethical about this and why, you are beyond my help.
From the Washington Post:
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.
Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.
The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions…
Read the rest here.
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
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Regret isn’t enough.
Ken Anderson has been a Williamson County (Texas) district judge since 2002, but in 1987 he was the district attorney who prosecuted Michael Morton for fatally beating his wife to death. Morton was convicted and served 25 years in prison before DNA tests proved he was innocent. (This is yet another triumph of The Innocence Project.) Another man has been arrested for the murder of Morton’s wife Christine, as well as a second woman he allegedly killed in similar fashion while Morton was behind bars.
Last week, a five day hearing examined Judge Anderson regarding his conduct in the case, in a special court of inquiry to determine whether he engaged in criminal wrongdoing as well as unethical prosecution. Among the questions raised was why Anderson never divulged to Morton’s defense team a police report that Morton’s neighbors had said that they saw a suspicious man walking into the woods behind the Morton home shortly before the murder, and why Morton’s three-year-old son’s statement that “a monster,” not his father, beat the child’s mother to death was similarly withheld. On the stand enduring five hours of questioning, a tearful Anderson could only say that he didn’t remember not turning over the evidence to the defense, while defense attorneys adamantly insisted that they never received it. The hearing also revealed that Anderson kept his lead investigator from testifying at trial, when his testimony would have ensured that the child’s statement and the report about the stranger were raised in court, as well as allowing defense attorneys to cross-examine the investigator regarding his peculiar theory of the case.The theory, which was subsequently endorsed by DA Anderson, was that Morton become homicidal after his wife fell asleep when he sought to have sex with her, and donned his scuba wet suit so his son wouldn’t know it was him beating her to death. Continue reading →
Reader John Robins provides additional, and depressing, perspective on the Montgomery case, discussed in today’s post, Jonathan Montgomery: Victimized By An Unethical Tag Team Of A Vicious Teenager And An Officious Attorney General. Here is his Comment of the Day:
“It gets worse than this, actually. Although everybody acknowledges that Montgomery is innocent, he must still report to a probation officer and must register as a sex offender until the Virginia Court of Appeals grinds its way through the Petition for Writ of Actual Innocence, which may take several months, and is being handled by the Innocence Project out of D.C. I know what went on in this case and what happened because my office was involved in the defense. Continue reading →
Why is the The Best in Ethics 2011 only about 33% the size of the “Worst”?
This troubles me. My objective is not to be negative. The problem, I think, is that ethical conduct is still much more common than unethical conduct, and it is usually less controversial to identify: most of the time, good ethics is self-explanatory. All of us learn more from mistakes and misdeeds, our own and those of others, than we do from meeting societal standards. Most of what Ethics Alarms does is to try to identify unethical conduct, what was wrong with it, why it happened, and how we can discourage it.
Which is all well and good, but I still would like to make 2012’s Ethics Alarms more positive year than this one, if possible. Help me, will you, find more topics involving good ethics, so next year’s Best list can hold its own with the Worst.
Here are the 2011 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:
Most Important Ethical Act of the Year: Acquitting Casey Anthony. The Florida jury charged with deciding if Casey Anthony murdered her daughter faced the ire of a lynch mob-minded public that wanted the unsympathetic Anthony convicted, based on suspicious conduct and a dubious explanation, but the evidence just wasn’t there. Thus the courageous twelve upheld the American values of fairness, objectivity, and justice under the law. It is interesting that the most ethical act of the year also sparked some of the most unethical arguments of the year, by too many citizens who benefit from our nation’s ideals without comprehending them. Continue reading →