Courts Oppose Prosecutors’ Attempts to Right Past Wrongs
by Douglas Ankney
Over the past 10 years, a growing number of reform-minded prosecutors has emerged across the U.S., seeking not only to reform current tough-on-crime practices but also to acknowledge mistakes of the past. For example, in 2018, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office opened a Conviction Integrity Unit (“CIU”) in Detroit. At least a half-dozen people were exonerated by the CIU in less than a year.
But in St. Louis, 45-year-old Lamar Johnson sits in prison where he’s been for the past 25 years for a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. And Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who now heads the office that prosecuted Johnson in 1995, uncovered evidence that prosecutors knowingly presented false testimony at Johnson’s trial and paid $4,000 to the only eyewitness in the case. That witness later recanted the testimony. But St. Louis Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan rejected Gardner’s motion seeking a new trial for Johnson, finding the motion was untimely by “approximately 24 years.” The issue is now bound for the state Supreme Court, as agreed to by the Missouri Court of Appeals, usatoday.com reports.
In March 2019, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner attempted to resentence a death row prisoner to life because Krasner concluded the death sentence wasn’t justified on legal grounds. But a federal judge blocked it. In September 2019, a Boston judge refused to allow Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to dismiss charges against a nonviolent political protester.
These battles with the courts do damage. Forcing prosecutors to waste valuable resources defending the truth risks dampening efforts to uncover additional cases of the wrongfully convicted.
Further, it’s often the local prosecutors who have access to key evidence, but these feuds often end up in appellate courts where the state’s attorney general handles the case.
As an author of a news story from theappeal.org has said, “If we want to restore public confidence in our legal system, it’s essential that prosecutors be given the same authority to undo flawed convictions and sentences as their predecessors were given to pursue them.”
Source: theappeal.org, usatoday.com