“Why is it that everyone’s mad at us?” asked the leader of an ethics-training session for Harris County prosecutors. (Rob Kepple, Executive Director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association)
But with the amount of wrongful convictions, breakdowns, and outright corruption in the U.S. justice system, one does not have to go too far for the answer. Why would anyone not be mad at prosecutors who have corrupted the whole legal process?
With the amount of power given to prosecutors, one Dallas News writer questions, do we need to begin policing prosecutors?
The broken faith is a reality that prosecutors must accept and try to mend. There are too many colossal failures in the justice system, laid bare by modern forensic testing, for district attorneys to pine for the days when their moral authority went unquestioned.
Joining the voices demanding reform is that of Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, dean of the Texas Senate and chair of its Criminal Justice Committee. Whitmire filed a bill (SB 825) to change the statute of limitations on grievances filed with the state bar alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
Inspired by the outrageous Michael Morton case, the bill would begin a four-year grievance period against prosecutors when an innocent person left prison, as opposed to the time of the offense, which is generally the case today.
Before winning his freedom, Morton spent nearly 25 years of a life sentence for his wife’s murder, a crime someone else committed. He maintains that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson (now a judge) withheld crucial evidence before trial, a charge being examined in a special court inquiry and a separate lawsuit by the state bar.
It would be an affront if Anderson could duck bar discipline based on statutes of limitations; Whitmire’s bill would head off that kind of maneuver in the future.
As this newspaper has been saying for months, malfeasant district attorneys must be held accountable for their actions.
Other bills that would right the scales of justice would standardize and clarify pretrial sharing of evidence and information — called discovery — between prosecuting and defense attorneys. Many DAs already maintain some kind of open-file policy, but the practice is uneven, according to a new survey that law firm Locke Lord LLP in Dallas did for the Texas Defender Service and Texas Appleseed.
In the state of Washington, a bill has been crafted which would compensate wrongfully jailed individuals $50,000 per year spent in jail. But none so far has been proposed to put a stop to prosecutorial misconduct.