Radley Balko at The Washington Post has written a new post, “Judge says prosecutors should follow the law. Prosecutors revolt,” questioning prosecutors who take offense at courts that call out misconduct. Discussing the controversy surrounding South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty’s warning to prosecutors, Balko asks why South Carolina solicitors would respond to the charge with such vehemence.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson was a focal point of both Beatty’s criticism and a recent move by the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to ask the Attorney General to investigate prosecutorial misconduct in her office. She responded by trying to get Beatty recused from her criminal cases. But why – if they are not committing misconduct – do prosecutors like Wilson feel threatened by attempts to investigate and curtail it?
You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.
Balko goes on to highlight other district attorneys around the country with records of misconduct in their offices who have responded to efforts to expose or address that misconduct by pushing back, such as Bill Montgomery of Maricopa County who opposed the adoption of a new rule by the Arizona Supreme Court, which provides that when a prosecutor comes to know of a possible wrongful conviction, he or she must disclose the new evidence to the trial court and the defendant’s lawyer and work to make sure that the defendant’s case is reviewed. Balko argues,
The most plausible explanation for all of these stories is that a significant number of prosecutors just don’t want to be held accountable to anyone but themselves. I suppose a lot of us would like to have that sort of protection when it comes to what we do for a living. But few of us do. And the rest of us don’t hold positions that give us the power to to ruin someone’s life with criminal charges, to convince a jury to put someone in prison or to ask the state to put someone to death.
Read the full article here.