First, have a look at this video, from tonight’s episode of 60 Minutes:
Brady v. Maryland was the Supreme Court case that made it illegal for prosecutors to withhold exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. The problem is that there’s rarely if ever any punishment for breaking the rule, even when it has led to wrongful convictions and imprisonment.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, featured in the above video, is now publicly advocating that prosecutors who knowingly violate the rule (that is, who knowingly break the law) should face criminal charges, not just professional sanctions (which also rarely happen).
"Something should be done," said Craig Watkins, whose jurisdiction leads the nation in the number of DNA exonerations. "If the harm is a great harm, yes, it should be criminalized."
Mr. Watkins said that he was still pondering what kind of punishment unethical prosecutors deserve but that the worst offenders might deserve prison time. He said he also was considering the launch of a campaign to mandate disbarment for any prosecutor found to have intentionally withheld evidence from the defense.
Such ideas could not be more at odds with the win-at-all-costs philosophy that was the hallmark of legendarily hard-line Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade and, to a lesser extent, of subsequent administrations.
It is rare for a prosecutor to advocate strict penalties for misconduct – even when it’s intentional, said Mr. Gershman, a former New York prosecutor. "I couldn’t give you five cases in the last 40 years of criminal charges against prosecutors," he said.
The Duke lacrosse case was great in that it brought national attention to the possibilty of wrongful prosecutions and prosecutorial misconduct. But it may have also fostered the misconception that prosecutors like Mike Nifong are routinely punished when they make the same mistakes he made. In truth, it almost never happens. Still, it’s fun to watch law-and-order, "the law is the law" prosecutors backpedal when asked why they themselves shouldn’t face charges when they violate the law.
Watkins, by the way, is a rock star. Read my interview with him here.