Their proposed solutions reflect competing schools of legal thought. The approach in Washington State is a top-down exercise of federal power, pushing lawyers to make sure they meet with their clients, tell them their rights, investigate their cases and represent them zealously in plea negotiations and at trial.
The one in Comal County, Tex., is a bottom-up appeal to the marketplace. Defendants there will soon be able to use government money to choose their lawyers in much the same way that parents in some parts of the country use government vouchers to pay for grade school.The county calls it “client choice.” Another name: Gideon vouchers.In Washington, Judge Robert S. Lasnik drew on Supreme Court decisions involving school busing and prison overcrowding to impose a federal monitor on two Washington cities that had, he found, failed to provide meaningful representation to poor criminal defendants.Judge Lasnik, of the Federal District Court in Seattle, found that the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington had effectively instituted a “meet and plead” system in which lawyers handling 500 cases at a time would “often meet their clients for the first time in the courtroom, sometimes with a plea offer already in hand.”“The system is broken to such an extent,” he wrote, “that confidential attorney-client communications are rare, the individual defendant is not represented in any meaningful way, and actual innocence could conceivably go unnoticed and unchampioned.”
The second is an editorial about how bad prosecutorial misconduct has become and urging something to be done about it:
Yet far too often, state and federal prosecutors fail to fulfill that constitutional duty, and far too rarely do courts hold them accountable. Last month, Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, issued the most stinging indictment of this systemic failure in recent memory. “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land,” Judge Kozinski wrote in dissent from a ruling against a man who argued that prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence in his case. “Only judges can put a stop to it.”I have been calling for open file reform for a long time and have never heard a good response about why we shouldn't have open files from the government. If any current prosecutor would like to debate this issue, I will set it up with one of the local organizations.
***Judge Kozinski was right to castigate the majority for letting the prosecution refuse to turn over evidence “so long as it’s possible the defendant would’ve been convicted anyway,” as the judge wrote. This creates a “serious moral hazard,” he added, particularly since prosecutors are virtually never punished for misconduct. According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, multiple studies over the past 50 years show that courts punished prosecutorial misconduct in less than 2 percent of cases where it occurred. And that rarely amounted to more than a slap on the wrist, such as making the prosecutor pay for the cost of the disciplinary hearing.Brady violations are, by their nature, hard to detect, but Judge Kozinski had no trouble coming up with more than two dozen examples from federal and state courts just in the last few years, and those are surely the tip of the iceberg. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 43 percent of wrongful convictions are the result of official misconduct.The Brady problem is in many ways structural. Prosecutors have the task of deciding when a piece of evidence would be helpful to the defense. But since it is their job to believe in the defendant’s guilt, they have little incentive to turn over, say, a single piece of exculpatory evidence when they are sitting on what they see as a mountain of evidence proving guilt. The lack of professional consequences for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence only makes the breach of duty more likely. As Judge Kozinski wrote, “Some prosecutors don’t care about Brady because courts don’t make them care.”Courts should heed Judge Kozinski’s call, but it will take more than judges to fix the problem. Prosecutors’ offices should adopt a standard “open file” policy, which would involve turning over all exculpatory evidence as a rule, thus reducing the potential for error.Fighting prosecutorial misconduct is not only about protecting the innocent. It is, as Judge Kozinski wrote, about preserving “the public’s trust in our justice system,” and the foundation of the rule of law.