A federal court sided with a group of New York law professors who had sued for their First Amendment right to create a public record of complaints filed against district attorneys, The New York Times reported July 22. While some parts of the ruling are under appeal, the professors continue to post complaints publically.
At least 17 New York City prosecutors drew the attention of the professors, such as for sending innocent people to prison in cases where the judge or district attorney knew about the wrongdoing.
In one complaint, a Brooklyn prosecutor withheld key evidence at trial. As a result, an innocent man went to prison for 24 years. Another prosecutor didn’t tell the jury about a favorable plea deal given to the prosecutor’s key witness, which resulted in the two defendants being sent to prison for 17 years. A third prosecutor let a witness lie. The defendant in that case spent six years in prison.
No public record of discipline against the offending district attorneys exists, and several still work in the city’s justice system, according to The Times article.
Making public such misconduct by district attorneys comes at a time when conservatives are pushing “tough on crime” rhetoric amidst the mass media’s coverage of the nation-wide spike in certain gun and property crimes.
The professors told The Times they hope public pressure forces grievance committees to consider the problems their work exposes. They say they are concerned because current laws protect prosecutors from civil penalties.
Last year, the state’s chief judge appointed three people to a new Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.
“We are trying to make systemic change, to make the grievance committee, or more broadly the government, do their job,” one of the professors told The Times. “We want to shed a spotlight: What are they actually doing? People have a right to know.”