The New York Times highlights Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office and the role of prosecutors in wrongful convictions in a piece about the fallout from a New York detective’s faulty police work. Francis Robles writes that in uncovering flawed police work, “renewed scrutiny has also focused on the role prosecutors play in what turn out to be wrongful convictions, and whether they should be held responsible when justice goes awry.”
The most recent wrongful convictions out of Hynes’ office include that of Jabbar Collins, William Lopez and David Ranta. (View our “Brooklyn”-tagged posts here.) Hynes has pledged to review more than 50 murder convictions that were won with the help of former detective Louis Scarcella, who’s work has come under scrutiny since the exoneration of Ranta.
Hynes is running for his seventh term as District Attorney of Brooklyn amid widespread criticism of his office’s handling of these high-profile murder cases. Hynes set up a Conviction Integrity Unit which helped exonerate Ranta, but an earlier piece by The Times suggested Hynes was himself privy to some of the unethical conduct going on at the time of Ranta’s trial and that the CIU investigation came far too late.
Robles piece is not limited to Brooklyn, however, pointing to the recent ProPublica study and a New York State Bar Association study of exonerations in 2009 which found “government practices” to be the second leading cause of wrongful convictions in the 53 cases they reviewed throughout New York State. The report, which is featured on our Research page, focused its recommendations on reforming government practices around the disclosure of Brady material.
The recommendations included:
- remedies for late Brady disclosures and the procurement of false testimony,
- a change in the materiality standard from a “reasonably probability” that the undisclosed information would have affected the case outcome to “no possibility,”
- internal procedures for preventing Brady violations and investigating and punishing them in district attorney’s offices,
- a statewide procedure for identifying and reviewing intentional or reckless Brady violations,
- pre-trial Brady conferences, and
- the training of law enforcement officials on issues dealing with Brady.
For now, however, the state of New York is simply relying on internal investigations like that undertaken by Hynes’ office to correct systemic flaws in the application of Brady and other misconduct. As exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic said in The Times,Considering that Scarcella was working in tandem with the prosecutors, relying on the D.A. to do the investigation is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, particularly when exposing the cases would mean exposing prosecutorial complicity.