Sadly, some prosecutors care only about obtaining convictions at any cost; ethics, justice, and even facts be damned. More and more cases of prosecutors engaging in misconduct, at times even outright fraud, are being discovered. The consequences of prosecutorial misconduct rarely fall on the prosecutors themselves. It is the defendant who almost always suffers. Innocent people have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit because a prosecutor was willing to engage in misconduct so they could “win.”
This is exactly what happened to Tina Jimerson and John Brown, Jr. A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit opinion led to the exoneration of both Jimerson and Brown after they both had served 26 years of their life sentence. The Court ruled that former Dallas County, Arkansas, deputy prosecutor Robin Wynne and other law enforcement officials failed to turn over, or had even destroyed, critical exculpatory evidence.
Wynne, who is now a judge on the Arkansas Supreme Court, failed to disclose a jailhouse informant and the state’s deal with that informant to provide inculpatory testimony in exchange for leniency; concealed a recorded confession and the subsequent destruction of that recording; gave false answers to defense discovery requests; and hid a witness who has since testified that the state inaccurately documented his statements.
The three judge panel clarified Wynne’s misconduct, writing: “Although the substance of the recording is not entirely clear, what the recording contained appears to be significant enough that law enforcement and the prosecution worked together to intentionally conceal its existence from the defense. The intent is demonstrated in several ways.... Taken together, the uncontroverted evidence establishes bad faith.” While the Court’s ruling exonerated Jimenson and Brown, and noted the breadth of the prosecutorial misconduct, no mention was made of any repercussions for Wynne. Two people spent 26 years in prison for no legal reason while Wynne got promoted to the Arkansas Supreme Court. In an American criminal justice system that thrives on holding criminal defendant’s accountable for even the tiniest transgression, it seems deliberate and grotesque that no one is even attempting to hold Wynne accountable for his misconduct.
To date, Arkansas’ state bar and its judicial oversight committee have failed to investigate Wynne’s misconduct. If the system were actually concerned with its own integrity, it would demand that Wynne’s misconduct be closely examined and harshly punished if the facts and law require. This case also calls into question all of the other cases handled by Wynne as both a deputy prosecutor and a judge. It is reasonable to wonder whether this man can be trusted. Prosecutors must begin to experience professional consequences and steep sanctions for their misconduct. Misconduct must not be hidden, overlooked, or called “harmless error.” Spending unwarranted time in prison is never “harmless.” Unless we demand meaningful consequences that will motivate prosecutors to forego engaging in misconduct, we will continue to see lives ruined and zero prosecutorial accountability. Prosecutors must be forced to practice what they preach or face serious prison time themselves.
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