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Innocence Project Attorney Nina Morrison Addresses Prosecutorial Misconduct in NYTimes Op-Ed

By Innocence Staff

Today, the New York Times published an op-ed by Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison examining a recent prosecutorial misconduct scandal involving Glenn Kurtzrock, a former homicide prosecutor in Suffolk County. In May 2017, Kurtzrock was caught withholding exculpatory material from Messiah Booker, a man charged with first-degree murder who had maintained his innocence.

According to Morrison:

Mr. Booker was arrested and spent more than 18 months in jail awaiting trial before his defense lawyer discovered that Mr. Kurtzrock had altered hundreds of pages of police records to remove a wealth of exculpatory information. That included evidence pointing to another suspect he knew Mr. Booker’s lawyer had been investigating. The prosecutor had also removed the covers of two police notebooks to make it look like his altered versions of the documents were the originals.

Upon discovering Kurtzrock’s violation of Brady v. Maryland, the Suffolk County district attorney fired Kurtzrock and dismissed Booker’s murder charge mid-trial. The district attorney’s office proceeded to review the entirety of Kurtzrock’s case files and found that he had concealed evidence in four other cases—all four of which have since been overturned by the courts.

Related: Freedom at a cost: the devastating case of Corey Williams

Despite Kurtzrock’s actions, he has yet to be charged with a single crime.

He hasn’t even been suspended from practicing law, much less disbarred. He’s now working as a defense lawyer in private practice. That’s right: he’s making a living representing people accused of crimes, in the same courthouse from which he was (supposedly) banished a year ago. His law firm website even touts his experience as a “former homicide prosecutor.”

The law also makes it virtually impossible for Mr. Kurtzrock’s victims to sue him, with the Supreme Court having declared that individual prosecutors and their offices are “immune” from civil rights lawsuits in all but the rarest of cases.

Related: Prosecutors shouldn’t be granted total immunity for unlawful conduct

While Kurtzrock is the most recent example of prosecutorial misconduct, according to Morrison, it is certainly not uncommon.

“The National Registry of Exonerations, based out of the University of California, Irvine, reports that “official misconduct” — by police, prosecutors or both —was a factor in roughly half of the nearly 2,200 exonerations across the country since 1989,” writes Morrison. If prosecutorial misconduct is a significant factor in many wrongful convictions, how can it be remedied? Morrison explains:

It doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than tolerate a bar “discipline” process that is marred by lengthy delays, operates in secrecy, and too often results in little to no consequences for even serious misconduct, legislators should create commissions to regulate prosecutors’ conduct and law licenses, with greater accountability and transparency.

Last week, for example, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would require the establishment of a commission on prosecutorial conduct:

The Republican-controlled New York State Senate passed a landmark bill, sponsored by Senator John DiFrancisco and Assemblyman Nick Perry, that would require these reforms. The Assembly takes up the bill on Monday; if approved, it will head to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. And if he signs it into law, New York will be the first state in the country to create such a commission.

“If an elected district attorney is unwilling or unable to bring criminal charges against an assistant prosecutor who so flagrantly violates the law,” Morrison concludes, “the attorney general or governor should step in and appoint a special prosecutor.”

Read the full editorial here.

 

3 Comments

  1. Donna English

    My son was convicted of a crime, sentenced to LIFE, but is innocent. We’ve been fighting this for 10 yrs, even had an Evidentiary Hearing on many many grounds. To get to the point that has to do with the article, is that the crooked Prosecutor, Investigators admitted to a BRADY VIOLATION, but got away with it because they gave a “soft” excuse!!! It also had to do with “fingerprints, all negative”, but an extra person (possible suspect) was included in that and we were never told about it. Even the Lab guy requested a re-print of this other suspect along with my sons reprint request, same form, we never knew of, BUT…
    THEY DID! Their excuse was it was “stuck” in the file folder, never saw that and sent it forward to the Prosecutor that claimed he never saw it either, which had to be a lie because they complied with the reprinting request because my son was also on the request form! They had to have seen it my sons name was included on it, (and my sons finger prints taken four times came back negative!) but this other possible suspect was never brought up! They hid it until they got caught on it at the Evidentiary Hearing. So they admit to a BRADY VIOLATION, but then claimed they never saw that guys name on Lab request form! My sons case should’ve been tossed and never be stuck in prison like this, all because of shady, lying Prosecutors team. Why has this been swept under the rug? The whole case was nothing but lies, a set up and proof of an extreme amount of misconduct! Don’t know what to do anymore!

    • Michael Bourke

      +Donna English.
      If your son is innocent and you have proof that he is, but he has been given a life sentence and has already served 10 years(?), I encourage you to keep fighting – though I can well understand that you might be tired of it and don’t know what to do next. Maybe getting the right lawyer would be a solution, and the Innocence Project may be able to help you with that. There is a ‘Contact’ button at the top of this page.

  2. Monique Lewis

    Thank you Nina Morrison! I am still fighting for my husband who was Alison wrongfully convicted by Glenn Kurtzrock! It’s a struggle everyday. He ripped my family apart and gets to go home everyday and enjoy his family, like nothing ever happened!

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