Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson
In 1984, John Thompson was wrongfully convicted of two separate crimes—a robbery and murder— in Louisiana. He was prosecuted first for the robbery, which helped prosecutors secure the death penalty in his murder case. While facing his seventh execution date in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a private investigator hired by his appellate attorneys discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence in the robbery case that had been concealed for 15 years by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Thompson was eventually exonerated of both crimes in 2003 after 18 years in prison—14 of them isolated on death row. The state of Louisiana gave him $10 and a bus ticket upon his release. He sued the district attorney’s office. A jury awarded him $14 million—$1 million for each year on death row. When Louisiana appealed, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 29, 2011, Justice Clarence Thomas issued the majority 5-4 decision in Connick v. Thompson that the prosecutor’s office could not be held liable, ultimately granting prosecutors broad immunity for their misconduct.
In the wake of the Court’s decision, the Innocence Project, the Veritas Initiative at Santa Clara University, the Innocence Project of New Orleans and Resurrection After Exoneration formed the Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition to review the apparent lack of accountability for prosecutorial error and misconduct.
On the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson, the coalition released Prosecutorial Oversight: A National Dialogue in the Wake of Connick v. Thompson, a report calling for greater transparency and accountability for prosecutors. The report details the findings of original research conducted by the coalition, in which it reviewed court findings of misconduct over a five-year period for five geographically diverse states—California, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York—and documented 660 findings of misconduct –a likely undercount given the difficulties in identifying this behavior.
The report also details highlights from a series of forums that the coalition convened in the same five states where it conducted research, to bring together panelists from all aspects of the criminal justice system to spark a meaningful dialogue about the problem and to suggest recommendations for systems that would promote greater accountability. Participants included current and former prosecutors, ethics professors, members of state bar disciplinary committees, exonerated people, defense lawyers and judges.
The forum discussions greatly informed the recommendations in the report, which are targeted to the various stakeholders, including prosecutors, courts, state lawmakers and state bar oversight entities.
A spreadsheet of the 660 court findings of misconduct is available here.
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