Thousands of people have gone to prison or face criminal charges based on questionable testimony from law enforcement officers, USA Today reports.
“At least 300 prosecutors’ offices are not taking steps necessary to comply with the Supreme Court mandate” that prosecutors must tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might help their defense at trial, the newspaper reported Oct. 17.
“That includes sharing details about police officers who have committed crimes, lied on the job or whose honesty has been called into doubt,” the story stated.
The newspaper reported its investigation found that many police departments and prosecutors failed to track problem officers. The investigation partners included the Invisible Institute.
The year-long probe in thousands of counties measured compliance with the 1963 Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court decision.
That decision resulted when prosecutors did not reveal to John L. Brady his crime partner had confessed to committing the murder in which John had been charged. This omission of information should have been part of the discovery given to defendants prior to trial, the decision said.
Because Brady’s crime partner admitted he had done actual killing, the Supreme Court ruled this omission of discovery denied Brady due process as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment. The ruling is an extension of Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S., where the court ruled that nondisclosure by a prosecutor violates due process.
The story refers to the case of Revat Vara, who was pulled over in 2006 by a Houston police officer for a missing license plate. Vara passed a sobriety test, but police officer William Lindsey said otherwise. At trial, jurors were told about Vara’s two previous DWIs. What jurors were not told was that officer Lindsey had been found guilty of misconduct by his department 35 times, and was investigated for padding his overtime by manipulating DWI arrests so he would be called to testify.
Vara’s case came down to one man’s word against another, and the jury believed Officer Lindsey. Because of prior convictions, Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He spent a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit, his attorney said.
Places that do not track dishonest or untrustworthy officers include large cities such as Chicago and Little Rock, and small venues such as Jackson County, Minn., and Columbia County, Pa.
In some places that keep lists, police and prosecutors refuse to make them public. USA Today identified at least 1,200 officers with proven histories of lying and other serious misconduct, who had not been flagged by prosecutors. It reported 261 officers were specifically disciplined for dishonesty on the job.
The National Registry of Exonerations shows that cases overturned because of perjury and misconduct by prosecutors or police more than doubled from 2008 to 2018.
Police unions are especially outspoken opponents to Brady requirements, the story said. The union representing Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went to court to stop the department from disclosing 300 officers with misconduct histories. The California State Supreme Court ruled against the deputies in August.
Twenty-five Baltimore officers were investigated last year because of mis- conduct charges, the newspaper noted. Baltimore prosecutors recently began asking the courts to vacate nearly 800 convictions that involved questionable testimony.
Since 1988, data from the National Registry of Exoneration shows 987 people have been convicted, then exonerated, in cases involving a combination of official misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or a false statement by police or other witnesses. The 987 unlawfully convicted spent an average of 12 years behind bars, according to USA Today.