Editorial: Bad prosecutors should face prison
06:41 AM CDT on Tuesday, May 6, 2008 (From the Dallas Morning News, one of America’s most conservative and pro-establishment newspapers—a sign of a ray of hope; there used to be a song “Dallas News, Dallas Blues, ten little pennies in the news boys hand, then your off , and OFF—to never never land”—maybe times have changed…..MAYBE….but this is a wonderful editorial) Craig Watkins has had a few misses amid many hits in his first term as Dallas County district attorney, but it’s hard to argue with his there-oughta-be-a-law sentiment on prosecutorial misconduct.
Mr. Watkins has pushed as hard to free the innocent as he has to convict the guilty. In that spirit, he now wants Texas to increase punishments – up to and including prison time – for prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence from defendants.
Today, Texas law allows cash compensation to those wrongfully convicted but has no criminal sanctions for prosecutors who intentionally commit “Brady violations.” The term stems from a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady vs. Maryland that held that defendants’ constitutional rights are violated if prosecutors intentionally or accidentally withhold evidence favorable to the defense.
A sanction from the State Bar of Texas is the worst penalty a prosecutor currently can expect, and such instances are so rare as to be noteworthy when they occur.
Even the most egregious recent example of U.S. prosecutorial misconduct – Durham County, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong and the so-called Duke lacrosse case – resulted in only a day in jail, a fine and disbarment. If that sounds stiff, consider the potential life ruination from his attempts to prosecute three college students on rape charges he knew to be false.
Few cases are as heinous or as obvious. Ferreting out this type of injustice is far from as clear-cut as a DNA exoneration. It can be years or even decades before legal teams can dig up the evidence needed to bring such a charge.
If time – in effect, a statute of limitations – is a potential obstacle, Mr. Watkins also knows that degree is another. Every bit of evidence, from a witness to a document to a fiber found at a crime scene, carries a different weight. This must be considered in any new law.
Since he’s not a state legislator, Mr. Watkins needs someone to carry a bill for him in Austin. We would think he would have the support of the vast majority of his DA colleagues. They know as well as he does that any prosecutor who cheats the system and cuts corners makes all of them look bad.