Mar 02, 2010

Criminal Procedure 101

In 1963, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brady v. Maryland that prosecutors have an obligation to turn over potentially exculpatory information to people charged with crimes.  When prosecutors fail to do so, either intentionally or through carelessness, the frequent result is the reversal of a conviction that may have been obtained at great financial and emotional cost.

The latest example may involve Michael Anderson.  In a notorious case, Anderson was convicted of killing five people in New Orleans in 2006 and sentenced to die. Torrie Williams was the key prosecution eyewitness.

It turns out that the New Orleans DA'a office had in its files a copy of a videotaped interview that prosecutors conducted with Ms. Williams prior to Anderson's trial.  The version of events that Ms. Williams provided in the interview was markedly different from the version that she testified to at trial.  Clearly, had the DA's office complied with its legal and ethical obligations and turned the videotape over to Anderson's lawyers, they could have used it to cast doubt on Ms. Williams' trial testimony. 

Anderson is trying to set aside his conviction based on the prosecutor's failure to disclose the existence of the videotape, and court hearings are underway.  Of course, the New Orleans DA's office is trying to protect its ass by claiming that the tape wouldn't have been all that helpful.  Do you think any of these prosecutors would make this same argument if their lieves were at stake?

If Anderson's conviction is set aside, he'll have the shoddy New Orleans prosecutors to thank.  Unfortunately, prosecutors are immune from suit if they fail to properly carry out their public duties. If they at least had to apologize to Louisiana taxpayers for wasting their money and to the families of the five victims for forcing them to relive the tragic events, maybe more prosecutors would follow rather than try to evade the rules of trial.