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Last week we wrote about an extraordinary case of prosecutorial misconduct in Connecticut that led to four overturned murder convictions because a prosecutor did not correct false testimony.   In a recent opinion editorial for The Hartford Courant, Professor David Cameron of Yale University called for better oversight of Connecticut’s prosecutors in light of this and other recent cases to ensure that such errors are not made again.

The op-ed is available in full here. We  have posted excerpts below.

David Cameron, “Murderers’ Release Points Up System Flaws,” The Hartford Courant, August 23, 2013.

“Last month, in an unprecedented development, a New Haven judge dismissed all charges against four men convicted of murder and serving sentences ranging from 75 to 100 years. He did so not because the men didn’t commit the crime but because a key witness testified falsely and the prosecutor didn’t correct the false testimony.

The extraordinary development, which occurred after the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed an Appellate Court decision ordering a new trial for one of the men, underscores the need to ensure that prosecutorial error or misconduct doesn’t occur in a trial…

In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to a defendant violates the defendant’s right to a fair trial, if the evidence is material to either guilt or punishment. One such violation involves nondisclosure of evidence that the prosecution’s case included perjured testimony and the prosecution knew or should have known of the perjury.

Sean Adams, one of the four, filed a habeas petition, claiming the state deprived him of a fair trial by failing to correct Clark’s false testimony. The prosecutor testified that he knew criminal charges were pending against Clark but intentionally distanced himself from the case and told the lower-ranking prosecutor handling it he didn’t want to know what was going on. The other prosecutor, believing the state didn’t have an obligation to disclose the plea agreement, didn’t inform the prosecutor or Adams’ counsel about it…

Since the same false testimony may have contributed to the convictions of the other three, the decision in effect applied to those convictions as well…

Adams’ conviction isn’t the only one that’s been overturned because of a Brady violation. Last October, the Appellate Court, in decision that will be appealed before the Supreme Court next month, ordered a new trial for Richard Lapointe in part because of such a violation. Whether by better supervision and oversight of prosecutors or creation of a conviction integrity unit, the state needs to ensure that such violations don’t occur in the future.”

 

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