Monday, April 13, 2009

Improving Prosecutorial Accountability

The Justice Project has released its report on prosecutorial misconduct, along with the following press release:

The Justice Project (TJP) released today a report detailing the causes of prosecutorial misconduct and how reforms can prevent prosecutorial errors that lead to the wrongful convictions of innocent people. Improving Prosecutorial Accountability: A Policy Review explores how a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed prosecutorial misconduct to persist nationwide, and presents comprehensive recommendations to improve prosecutorial accountability.


“Jurisdictions around the country have consistently failed to investigate or sanction prosecutors who take shortcuts to win convictions rather than meet their solemn obligation and duty to seek justice,” said John Terzano, President of The Justice Project. “This lack of accountability has led to widespread abuse of prosecutorial power, and a flawed and inaccurate criminal justice system.”

TJP’s policy review discusses the unique and powerful role prosecutors occupy in the criminal justice system, and how abuse of their discretionary power leads to inaccurate verdicts and wrongful convictions. The report reveals that prosecutorial misconduct is a pervasive problem, and that states have failed to effectively hold prosecutors accountable, even for the most egregious acts of misconduct.

Among the policy review’s recommendations:

·         States should require that prosecutors’ offices adopt and enforce clearly defined policies on the appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion.

·          States should adopt open-file discovery in criminal cases, increasing the transparency of the criminal justice system and reducing the risk that prosecutors will withhold evidence from the defense.

·         States should effectively respond to misconduct by establishing prosecutor review boards with the power to investigate and sanction prosecutors.

·         States should require that all prosecutors participate in training and continuing legal education.

According to the policy review, improving prosecutorial accountability can save jurisdictions the enormous costs of re-trying cases overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. The report also details how improved accountability for prosecutors can prevent wrongful convictions—a painful ordeal for the wrongfully convicted, the victim, and their families, and a threat to public safety by allowing the true perpetrator to remain free.

TJP is a Washington, D.C. based non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to improving the fairness and accuracy of the criminal justice system. TJP has developed a national program of initiatives designed to address the policies and procedures that lead to errors and contribute to wrongful convictions.


(Mike Frisch)

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Thanks so much for providing material from and linking to this report. I've been trying for some time now to publicize, through the legal blogosphere, Angela Davis's book, Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor (2007). Thus I was delighted to learn that the report suggests her book by way of background reading (in the 'Literature' section preceding the endnotes).

I do hope everyone reads this report and thinks deeply about the need for reform on this front...and then contributes in whatever way possible and appropriate so as to put in place reasonable constraints on prosecutorial discretion.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Apr 15, 2009 5:08:18 PM

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