In my last column, I wrote about a USA Today study finding more than 200 examples of misconduct among prosecutors in the federal criminal justice system, of which only one faced any serious sanction. (The paper ran a follow-up last week which found that even when the suspect is eventually cleared of all charges in these cases, he still faces massive legal bills, often goes bankrupt, and is rarely reimbursed for his expenses.)
A new study of state prosecutors in California out this week comes to similar conclusions. The Northern California Innocence Project reviewed 4,000 cases between 1997 and 2009 and found prosecutorial misconduct in 707 of them (though they caution that this may underestimate the problem). In only six of those cases were prosecutors sanctioned by the California Bar. I wrote about one of those cases. The prosecutor’s boss, Santa Clara County District Attorney Delores Carr, responded by attempting to strip the state bar’s ability to discipline prosecutors.
This latest study again confirms what we’ve seen in similar reviews: prosecutors are almost never sanctioned for misconduct, even egregious violations that lead to wrongful convictions.
Both studies are worth keeping in mind in the coming months as the Supreme Court again considers the degree to which prosecutors should be shielded from civil liability.