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Few people have the privilege of seeking truth for a living, but prosecutors do. They are, in theory and often in practice, the guardians of justice. If there is evidence that a person committed a crime, a prosecutor can pursue a case. If not, it is their job to drop it.
Once a case is filed, prosecutors must share relevant evidence with the defense. That's the law, not just a nice thing to do. But sometimes prosecutors want to win convictions rather than pursue justice, and a case at the US Supreme Court this month, Brown v. Louisiana, illustrates this callous approach to truth. Let's take a look at prosecutorial misconduct.
According to many legal scholars, Louisiana prosecutors consistently fail to meet their obligations to defendants to turn over all relevant evidence. In Brown, evidence that an inmate was not responsible for killing a guard during an escape was never given to the defense and Brown's attorneys only learned of the report after trial, when it arose as evidence in another defendant's hearing.
Under the rules of criminal procedure, defendants are expected to have access to relevant evidence -- a prosecutor cannot decide to hide exonerating proof just because that complicates the case and makes a conviction harder to obtain. Brown, the defendant in question here, was known to be involved in an escape but denied killing the guard or planning to hurt anyone, yet a report that corroborated his claims was never turned over and he was sentenced to death. So why didn't State Attorneys hand over the evidence supporting his defense?
It's not the first time Louisiana State Attorneys have been accused of an overzealous approach to conviction. They appear to be less interested in justice than wins. The problem with this prosecution style is that it undermines the whole criminal justice system. What's the point of punishing a bunch of people without proving the case?
It provides good data maybe, a record of wins, but it calls into question the validity of all convictions. Even if you don't care too much about Brown, who was already in custody and trying to escape, his case signals bigger problems.
For a justice system to provide at least the appearance of fairness, its guardians must seem just, and we the people must be able to trust them.
If you have been accused of a crime, don't delay. Speak to a defense attorney. Many criminal defense lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.
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