Prosecutors often have to take cases without absolute certainty that the defendant was the person that committed the crime. Their job is just to use the available evidence to make a case for the state that the person being charged is the person responsible. Ultimately, the jury, with a little guidance from the judge is there to determine if there is enough evidence to prove someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But what happens when the prosecutor convicts someone knowing there is evidence pointing to that person’s innocence and he never turned it over to the defense or acted on it? That’s exactly what just happened in a recent Texas case. The story is a heartbreaking reminder of why it can be so important to always work with an experienced Del Mar defense lawyer like Peter M. Liss who is willing to spend time to fight for his clients and look beyond the obvious evidence.
Nearly 30 years ago, prosecutor Ken Anderson was tasked with bringing Michael Morton to justice for killing his wife. The only problem? When Anderson reviewed all of the evidence, it was clear it pointed to someone else being the murderer. Rather than present the evidence clearing Morton to his superiors in order to have the charges dropped and rather than presenting the evidence to Morton’s attorneys so they could let the jury see for themselves that Morton was innocent, Anderson hid the evidence that hurt his case. Morton then spent the next 25 years in prison until a DNA test finally exonerated him. In the meanwhile, Anderson thrived in his position at the District Attorney’s office and eventually even became a judge.
The 1963 Supreme Court decision in Brady vs Maryland requires all prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, but the failure to do so is rarely punished and even more rarely prosecuted as a crime. The only reason this particular prosecutor was eventually tried for withholding this information is because the judge in this specific case issued an order requiring that the DA disclose all evidence to the defense lawyers in the trial or risk criminal contempt charges. Because Anderson did fail to disclose evidence he was eventually charged with criminal contempt, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records. He recently secured a plea bargain allowing him to plead guilty to only the contempt charges and serve 10 days in jail and 500 hours of community service. He will also have to give up his law license.
It’s worth noting that most prosecuting attorneys are ethical people who work hard to convict people that they truly believe to be criminals according to the processes set forth in the constitution. But even when most people working in a position want to be fair and honest, that still leaves some outliers who do not.
In the handful of cases where a prosecutor knowingly withholds evidence proving someone’s innocence, the right Carmel Valley criminal attorney can make the difference between a guilty and innocent verdict. They can do this by using private investigators, forensics teams and other specialists who may be able to uncover evidence both unknown and overlooked by the police and prosecutors and the verify that the evidence used by those police and prosecutors has not been tampered with or otherwise manipulated. These specialists can be particularly important when it comes to fighting crimes that carry lengthy sentences, most notably murder charges or cases involving the three strikes law.
If you have been charged with a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with top Solana Beach criminal defense lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Creative Commons Image by Alexander C. Kafka