Veritas Initiative, Innocence Project, Innocence Project New Orleans and Voices of Innocence Will Embark on Nationwide Tour Seeking Policy Reforms to Prevent Prosecutorial Misconduct
Death Row Exoneree John Thompson, Who Was Stripped of His $14 Million Civil Award for Prosecutorial Misconduct by the U.S. Supreme Court, Will Headline Events
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(Washington, D.C. – October 27, 2011) Today the Northern California Innocence Project’s Veritas Initiative, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project New Orleans, and Voices of Innocence announced plans to conduct a nationwide tour, “Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson,” to explore policy reforms to prevent prosecutorial misconduct. John Thompson, who lost his appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 and was stripped of his $14 million civil award for the intentional misconduct that caused his wrongful murder conviction and near execution, will headline forums across the country with policy makers and prosecutors to spark a national dialogue on possible solutions.
“As someone who came within days of being put to death because of the intentional misconduct of prosecutors at the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office, I’m all too familiar with what can go wrong when the enormous power of prosecutors goes unchecked,” said Thompson, Founder and Director of Resurrection After Exoneration and Voices of Innocence; “My case was not an isolated incident. Of the six men who received the death penalty at the hands of one of my prosecutors, five had their convictions reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. I know that most prosecutors are as bothered by this behavior as I am, and I call on them to help us find a way to make prosecutors’ offices more accountable.”
The tour, which will include stops in Arizona, California, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, will bring together participants from all aspects of the criminal justice system including legal ethics professors, members of bar disciplinary committees, prosecutors and judges. At the end of the tour, the groups will prepare a report with recommendations for reform.
“We recognize that this is a complex problem. It is not easy to develop internal systems in prosecutors’ offices that effectively distinguish between error and misconduct nor independent institutions outside of their offices that can adequately investigate and remedy misconduct when it occurs. A serious, thoughtful, constructive discussion of this issue, conducted without posturing or finger pointing, is an appropriate response to John Thompson’s case, which makes it clear that civil suits against prosecutors are virtually impossible,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
Kathleen Ridolfi, professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and Executive Director of the Northern California Innocence Project and the Veritas Initiative, added, “Allowing this type of misconduct to persist undercuts public trust and undermines prosecutors who do their jobs properly. Prosecutors – who are no doubt just as concerned about misconduct as we are – are in an excellent position to help identify and correct improper prosecutorial actions. Their input will be invaluable as we move forward with collaborative discussions focused on solving this problem.”
At each stop on the tour, the groups will release new state specific research illustrating the scope of the problem. This research will mirror research that was released last year in California by the Veritas Initiative in Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, which documented 707 instances where an appellate court found misconduct during the 13 year period, but found that only 7 prosecutors were disciplined.
“There’s no question that prosecutors have tremendous responsibility to protect our safety, but everyone suffers when prosecutors put their zeal for winning above finding the truth. We’ve seen too many situations where the innocent are unjustly punished because of prosecutorial misconduct. The current mechanisms of accountability are not working. These forums are an important step towards reform that is long overdue,” said Angela Davis, professor of law at American University's Washington College of Law and author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor.
Questions that panelists will discuss at the forums will include:
What are the systems we rely upon to ensure prosecutorial accountability?
What does research-based evidence tell us about how well those systems are working?
What improvements should be made to these systems to ensure quality and accountability?
A video of today’s press conference and additional information about “Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson” is available at http://www.prosecutorialoversight.org.