Prosecutorial Misconduct Could Become Punishable Crime

May 21, 2008 08:02 AM
by Cara McDonough
A Dallas DA believes prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence, enabling wrongful convictions, should face harsh punishment and possibly jail time.

30-Second Summary

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’s office leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Since 2001, DNA tests have exonerated 31 people in Texas, 17 of them in Dallas County.

Texas has, to date, paid compensation in 45 wrongful conviction cases, at least 22 of them involving prosecutors who withheld evidence from the defense.

Watkins wants prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence and put the innocent in jail to pay for their actions. “If the harm is a great harm, yes, it should be criminalized,” Watkins has said.

Watkins isn’t the only one in Texas pushing to criminalize such behavior. The Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit legal clinic, is making plans to push for such a law during the next legislative session in January.

Michelle Moore, a board member of the Innocence Project and a Dallas County public defender, worries the chance of success is “slim to none.” But the issue is gaining publicity, and pressure to punish prosecutors whose misbehavior causes wrongful convictions, may grow, forcing action.

In June, 2007, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar for breaking the rules of professional conduct while handling the now infamous rape allegations against three Duke University lacrosse players. The case sparked a nationwide discussion about ethics in the American justice system.

Headline Link: ‘DA Urges Sanctions for Prosecutors Who Withhold Evidence’

Background: Prosecutorial misconduct over the years

DA Mike Nifong and the Duke lacrosse case

Opinion and Analysis: In support of an ‘innocence commission’ in Texas

Reference: The Innocence Project of Texas


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