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Op-ed: Why Gov. Cuomo Should Approve Nation’s First Prosecutorial Conduct Commission

By Innocence Staff

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.

3 Comments

  1. Ginny Cenatiempo

    It’s probably happening in other parts of our country but here in Connecticut it’s terrible.

  2. Rodney Parker

    I fully agree, and many will argue the system is not perfect. But when it comes to taking a persons life permanently or for dozens of years, everything that can be done must be done, and given the fact that we know where the problems can arise in the criminal justice process, everyone’s conduct must be subject to review. In the present day climate where ethics and corruption, and lies have permeated every US institution, it is clear that the courts are the last barrier to protecting constitutional and civil rights of the people. The conduct of judges and prosecutors are being called into question today in the Manafort case and an Immigration case where a judge is not threatening to hold the attorney general and others in contempt of court. It just goes to show that the system only works if there is integrity and accountability.

  3. Jacquelyn NJai

    There are many agencies created for specific purposes and in most instances, these agencies do not do what they were created to do, not in practice. Unless taxpayers who are footing the bill have a say so as to not pay the salaries, legal fees, and/or pensions for the misconduct of public servants like police officers and prosecutors, then creating another commission is infertile to resolving such egregiously condoned acts.

    Accountability is the ONLY solution to stopping these evil prosecutions. Since those over these prosecutors claim there is immunity to commit federal crimes, when I think there are many exceptions to the immunity rule being ignored, then taxpayers and other stakeholders should form grand juries and be able to change the law, and make then accountable criminally and financially for their under color of law actions.

    Finally, I think a Section 1983, 9185-1986 suit should not allow prosecutors to be immune.

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