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Monday, October 31, 2011

Courts - "Supreme Court to take another look at prosecutorial misconduct"

"Cruel but Not Unusual: Clarence Thomas writes one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions ever" was the heading to a column by Dahlia Lithwick last April 1st on the Supreme Court's decision in Connick v. Thompson, involving former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr.

Robert Barnes story Sunday in the Washington Post reports:

Next week, the court will hear a case in which a Louisiana death row inmate alleges that prosecutors withheld information that would have cast doubt on the eyewitness account that led to his conviction.

The case from New Orleans concerns prosecutors who worked for former district attorney Harry Connick Sr., who left office in 2003.

If that sounds familiar, it is because Connick and his office were at the center of last term’s big decision about prosecutorial misconduct. In that controversial 5-to-4 decision, the court stripped a $14 million award from John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row after prosecutors withheld evidence that showed his innocence.

The court has long agreed that individual prosecutors should be protected from civil liability so that they may freely pursue criminals. However, Thompson had convinced a jury that Connick’s office should be held accountable for not properly training staff about the duty prosecutors have to turn over evidence favorable to the defense. * * *

The new case, Smith v. Cain , is not about punishing prosecutors. It is about whether withholding evidence should mean a new trial for Juan Smith, who prosecutors said was involved in a gangland-style shooting that left five dead. Prosecutors have an obligation under a nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent in Brady v. Maryland to turn over any evidence material to a defendant’s guilt or punishment.

The case is expected to be determined by its specific facts rather than the potential for a new examination of Brady. It also seems not coincidental that it involves New Orleans prosecutors.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 31, 2011 09:12 AM
Posted to Courts in general