Stevens says prosecutorial misconduct cannot go unpunished

Stevens says prosecutorial misconduct cannot go unpunished

Last month, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gave a talk
in which he said that it was up to Congress to make prosecutors liable
for violating a defendant’s constitutional rights. According to
The Wall Street Journal, Stevens gave the speech to the Equal Justice
Initiative and the speech concerned the importance of upholding a criminal
defendant’s constitutional rights and the need to make sure that
prosecutors do just that. The Supreme Court has long held that prosecutors
cannot violate a defendant’s constitutional rights, but also that
prosecutors cannot be sued for misconduct.

In March, the current Supreme Court justices voted 5-4 to overturn a jury’s
$14 million award to a man who had been wrongfully convicted because of
misconduct by prosecutors. The man spent 14 years on death row for a murder
he did not commit. His innocence could have been proven before trial,
but prosecutors hid the exculpatory evidence. The majority justices said
that the plaintiff had failed to prove that a pattern of flagrantly violating
constitutional rights by the local district attorney’s office had occurred.

Stevens said that Congress must make district attorneys liable for their
employees’ egregious and willful errors just like other employers
are held liable for such behavior (such as sexual harassment) in the private
sector. He pointed out that since district attorneys are often elected,
there is actually more incentive to convict people by any means necessary
than there is incentive to uphold a defendant’s rights. He said
making district attorneys liable for the bad behavior of employees would
lead to better training and less wrongful convictions.


Stevens Urges Congress to Crack Down on Prosecutorial Misconduct (The Wall Street Journal)