Last month, California Superior Court Judge Andrea Bryan ordered the release of convicted child molester Augustin Uribe due to “numerous acts of misconduct” by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. Uribe’s conviction was overturned in 2008 after a videotape taken during a physical examination of the alleged victim called into doubt whether she had actually been assaulted. The video was never handed over to defense attorneys. The alleged victim has since recanted her accusation.
Shortly after Judge Bryan’s decision, Santa Clara County DA Dolores Carr put out a press release announcing her office would be boycotting Judge Bryan’s courtroom, a move a San Jose Mercury News editorial called “extreme, highly unusual, and broadly criticized by experts in legal ethics as a direct challenge to the independence of the court.”
Carr, who was elected in 2006 on a platform promising to reform the DA office’s win-at-all-costs mentality, lost sight of that objective rather quickly. I wrote a short piece last July about several related incidents:
In 2007 the San Jose Mercury News revealed that Deputy District Attorney Jaime Stringfield of Santa Clara County, California, had introduced a fake DNA report into evidence in a sex abuse case. In February, responding to the revelation that the district attorney’s office had failed to turn over thousands of videotaped interviews with suspects, many of which contained exculpatory information, the county public defender’s office announced that it would review 1,500 sex abuse cases for possible wrongful convictions. Later that month, a state bar judge suspended Deputy District Attorney Ben Field’s law license for four years based on misconduct in four criminal cases dating back to 1995. And in March, the Mercury News reported that in hundreds of cases, officials at the county crime lab didn’t tell prosecutors or defense attorneys when their experts couldn’t agree on fingerprint matches…
At a February meeting of county prosecutors, Carr vowed that none of her staff would be “thrown under the bus” as a result of the scandals. Immediately after the state bar’s decision to suspend Field’s license—the harshest penalty imposed on a state attorney in 20 years—Carr announced that Field would continue working for her office while he appealed the ruling. She also vowed to help limit the ability of the state bar to punish prosecutors for misconduct.
Since that piece ran, the number of tapes the DA’s office should have turned over to defense attorneys but didn’t has risen to more than 3,300.
I’ve written before about how rarely bad prosecutors are disciplined for their mistakes, even when those mistakes send innocent people to prison. It’s probably not surprising, then, to see some who hold the position come to view that lack of discipline as an entitlement. Carr seems to have lots of invective for the people who want to hold her deupties accountable, but little for the prosecutors who actually broke the rules.
Unfortunately, the political process doesn’t appear capable of holding Carr acountable, either. She’s favored to win reelection this year.