NY Times Discovers Unaccountability

The New York Times reports that of the 23 cases in which the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Review Unit has asked judges to free defendants who were wrongfully convicted by their office, only a handful have asked for anyone to be held accountable. The Aug. 8 article by Alan Feuer recounts the case of Jabbar Wsahington, who spent 20 years in prison after a prosecutor intentionally withheld evidence and coaxed a witness into giving testimony that was purposefully misleading; in court, the chief of the Conviction Review Unit said: “There’s a lot of — perhaps blame is maybe the wrong word — but responsibility that goes around on that,” he said. Feuer says:

“It might seem like an obvious step for prosecutors seeking to reverse a tainted conviction to declare in open court who in law enforcement had a role in compromising the case. But assigning blame, at least in public, doesn’t happen often — even in troubled cases.”

One hopeful note in the article is that prosecutorial accountability has become an issue in the DA race in Brooklyn. Ama Dwimoh, one of six challengers seeking to defeat Eric Gonzalez, the acting district attorney, called for a sweeping review of how Mr. Gonzalez has handled bungled cases. And at the end of July, Ms. Dwimoh, who once worked in the district attorney’s office, accused her former employer of never holding anyone accountable for the many botched convictions it has helped overturn.

And, of course, accountability does not necessarily mean criminal liability. Professional discipline could be a powerful disincentive as well. And there is this:

“The accountability thing is often what stops people from embracing this process,” said John Hollway, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who studies wrongful convictions. “They think that accountability means punishment, but it can also mean improving the system.”

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