Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anderson Cooper Discusses Prosecutorial Misconduct

Anderson Cooper (CNN) had a short segment on prosecutorial misconduct in which he referred to a recent study from Santa Clara University School of Law. In the brief introduction Cooper educates his audience about the high incidence of wrongful convictions and how many may be attributed to prosecutorial misconduct. He defines prosecutorial misconduct as instances when prosecutors presented false evidence or failed to turn over evidence "that could help clear a defendant". Anderson, cited the study, which found 707 cases where prosecutorial misconduct had occured, in all 707 of those cases the convictions were upheld, and only 1% of prosecutors found to have acted improperly were sanctioned (six). Cooper then discusses "harmless" error with his guests, who suggested an internal review process for prosecutors (adding that ineffective defenders should similarly be audited), because the 'honor system' just isn't working.

Obviously this is a topic that should receive more attention and public criticism. What I really didn't not like about this segment was towards the end where the conversation essentially comes to an agreement that there needs to be some method of accountability. It is not the suggestions that bothers me, but the fact that the information that Cooper himself shared was not incorporated into the reasoning. The truth is there is a means of keeping prosecutors accountable; appeals (which are all found to be "harmless error" when in reality that error is harming our whole system), and of course sanctioning offending parties, which as the study noted, is not a common practice. Instead Cooper fails to make these connections or make meaningful inquiry into the issue. I freely admit, the issue of remedying prosecutorial misconduct, is a controversial and complex one and certainly not one I am an expert in: And perhaps that is precisely the point-- when such issues are given attention in the media but then fail to create a meaningful discourse studies such as this one are not given proper weight, and perhaps the lip services may do a disservice by oversimplifying the issue. Interestingly enough, in the study's conclusion the authors said, "[We] have made specific recommendations for dealing with the problem. But the real remedies lie with the public, which must recognize the severity and importance of the problem and keep pressure on those responsible until reform occurs." I guess my question for Cooper is; Where is the righteous indignation, where is the outrage? Not to lend credence to the man, but can we get Glenn Beck in on this?

The study, Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, was published by the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law and is available here. 

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