The New York Daily News recently published an op-ed by Frederic Block, a federal district judge for the Eastern District of New York, in which he recommends that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sign the legislation that would mandate the establishment of the nation’s first Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), passed both the Senate and Assembly with bipartisan support. If signed into law, the nation’s first Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct would be created, which, according to Judge Block, would “have the power to investigate citizens’ allegations of prosecutor malfeasance and recommend sanctions.”
Why, now, is it so crucial for the foundation of this commission? Judge Block cites the case of Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison for a 1994 Brooklyn murder he did not commit. Collins was ultimately exonerated based on the key witness’ recantation of his testimony and admission that police coerced him into lying.
Related: Why Aren’t Prosecutors Who Break the Law Held Accountable for Misconduct?
“As a federal judge for over two decades, the level of prosecutorial abuse and lack of accountability in this case has haunted me,” writes Judge Block. “I presided over the civil case that Collins brought seeking damages for the violation of his rights. While I ruled that the city could be held liable, I was forced to dismiss the claims against the prosecutor and the district attorney on grounds of prosecutorial immunity.
“As a federal judge for over two decades, the level of prosecutorial abuse and lack of accountability in this case has haunted me.” -Judge Block
Since then, the state and city taxpayers have paid $13 million in settlements stemming from Collins’ wrongful conviction. The prosecutor hasn’t paid a dime, nor has he been punished at all for his egregious behavior.”
Related: Innocence Project Attorney Nina Morrison Addresses Prosecutorial Misconduct in New York Times Op-Ed
Of course, the legislation is not without its critics. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York argues that “the commission is unnecessary because judges can already control the conduct of prosecutors in the courtroom and reprimand them”— which Judge Block rebuts saying that judges’ ability to do this is limited.
“If a prosecutor withholds or tampers with evidence, we probably won’t know about it. And even when we discover that prosecutors have committed serious constitutional violations, our power to directly sanction them is extremely limited.”
Since it is prosecutors’ jobs to hold people accountable for their unlawful actions, it seems only fair that they are held accountable if their actions violate the law. For this reason, Judge Block recommends that Gov. Cuomo sign the legislation into law—a recommendation in which the Innocence Project fully supports.
Read the full article here.