Monday, November 11, 2013

Is 10 days in jail sufficient for someone who sent an innocent man to jail for 25 years?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Here is the NY Times story covering the issue:

For what may be the first time on record, a former prosecutor in Texas is going to jail for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence in a murder trial. The 10-day jail sentence for the prosecutor, Ken Anderson, is insultingly short — the victim of his misconduct, Michael Morton, spent nearly 25 years in prison. But because prosecutors are so rarely held accountable for their misconduct, the sentence is remarkable nonetheless.
In 1987, Mr. Morton was convicted of beating to death his wife, Christine, and sentenced to life in prison. He maintained his innocence, and in 2010 DNA testing confirmed that he was not the killer.
Even before a Texas court vacated Mr. Morton’s conviction, his lawyers alleged that Mr. Anderson, the prosecutor in his case, had deliberately withheld evidence that would have exonerated him. During Mr. Morton’s trial, the judge had ordered Mr. Anderson to turn over any such evidence and received only a few documents in return. In fact, Mr. Anderson possessed many documents he did not turn over, including a transcript of a phone conversation revealing that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son had described his mother’s killer as a “monster” who was not his father.
Mr. Anderson, who later became a judge, has said he did not consider the judge’s order official because it was not written down. But he was fully aware of his ethical duty to disclose important exculpatory evidence and that a failure to disclose violates due process rights under the Constitution. In April, a judicial investigation found probable cause to believe that Mr. Anderson was in criminal contempt for withholding the documents. On Friday, he pleaded no contest. In addition to receiving the jail sentence, he was disbarred and stripped of his law license.
This case may sound extreme, but prosecutorial misconduct is far too common, and the remedies for it, if any, usually come long after the harm has been done. Criminal defense lawyers have called for judges to issue a standard written order reminding prosecutors of their ethical duty and to warn them of contempt charges if they do not comply. Prosecutors should welcome this practice to reinforce professional standards and identify the wrongdoers among them.


Anonymous said...

No, not enough time.

But it wouldn't matter anyway.

In the SD Fla., we have a standard discovery order that requires the AUSA to turn over such materials, imposes time constraints, etc.

Many AUSAs regularly (as an office policy) fail to comply with it, particularly with regard to Giglio materials.

The LIE that they regularly spew is that it is not Giglio until they determine who the witnesses are going to be. What a bunch of bullshit.

The fact that some AUSAs do it (and the office encourages it) is bad, and speaks volumes to a lack of ethics and mentality better suited for a civil law firm engaged in "hide the ball" discovery tactics. The fact that the Judges here permit it to go on, without consequence, is unforgivable.

It will continue to go on until one of two things happen: (1) Rule 16 is amended to allow for depositions and full discovery or (2) a SD Fla judge's close family member is indicted, tried and convicted of something he or she is completely innocent of, and later exonerated after 25 years in prison because the prosecutor hid evidence or failed to fulfill their duty (in other words, only when Rule 16 is amended - never).

Some of these guys and girls truck into private practice after 5, 6 or 8 years in the office and continue to misbehave and bend the rules. Only then, they are not cloaked with the protection of absurd Eleventh Circuit case law that holds no AUSAs accountable, no matter how egregious the conduct, and local judges who worship the US Attorney's Office; then, they wind up in trouble.

Rumpole said...

Texas gets it wrong again. In the federal system the prosecutor would have been promoted. Which means this guy should have been elevated to the court of appeals.

Steve Stallings said...

One relatively simple reform would go a long way to helping combat discovery abuses: allow one deposition -- the deposition of the case agent. Such a reform would not significantly increase the costs to the government, but would permit the defense to at least know where to look and what to ask for.

Marilou said...

It's a start. Scott Greenfield wrote about this today also.

MC Waste Services, Inc said...

legal professionals should be accountable for their mistakes, otherwise it is not a profession.

Anonymous said...

He should get the amount of time the guy he framed got.

Anonymous said...


At least he got disbarred, which means that the system is free of this man engaging in the same conduct ever again.

I've never understood playing games/holding back discovery. First, I would not be able to sleep at night thinking about the sh-tstorm I could be setting myself up for. Second, it is far easier to disclose and then litigate the merits/relevance of the material via motion in limine.