New Orleans Criminal Defense Attorney
Last week, I covered the current U.S. Supreme Court Case, Smith v. Cain. I think that it is very important for Louisiana residents to know and understand what has been going on for YEARS in the Orleans Parish DA office and how such misconduct is leading to wrongful convictions. Here are some links to refresh your memory.
The Big SleazyBy ANDREW ROSENTHAL
For the third time in 16 years, the Supreme Court is taking up the question of why prosecutors in New Orleans seem to have so much trouble with the law. Smith v. Cain, a case heard last week, outlines truly shocking misdeeds going back decades. And an article in The Times-Picayune makes clear that problems continue.
Take for example this account of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s ignorance regarding an essential rule of law:
Last week, Cannizzaro insisted his office acted properly when it waited until the middle of a trial to tell a defense attorney about its deal with the victim and lone eyewitness in a December 2010 shooting in eastern New Orleans. Cannizzaro told The Times-Picayune his office didn’t initially reveal the deal, which was inked in August, because Smith’s lawyer never asked. “The defense attorney has to request it, and if he doesn’t, we’re not obligated to give it to him,” Cannizzaro said last week.
Hey, I saw “My Cousin Vinny.” That’s just wrong.
Beginning with the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court has made clear that a prosecutor has a duty to disclose evidence favorable to the defendant—even if the defendant doesn’t ask for it—if the evidence is likely to change the result of the legal proceeding.
Lest you be shocked by this tiny little gap in Mr. Cannizzaro’s knowledge, consider his predecessor, Harry Connick, who boasted that he “stopped reading law books” and “looking at opinions” after he was elected district attorney in 1974. That apparently includes Supreme Court rulings. After the Court’s 1995 decision in Kyles v. Whitley, featuring what Justice John Paul Stevens called “many instances” of the district attorney’s office’s “failure to disclose exculpatory evidence,” Mr. Connick testified in court that he made no changes in his office’s approach to meeting Brady requirements.
If a prosecutor so blatantly fails to do his job, surely there is swift and powerful punishment. Actually, no. Lincoln Caplan, one of the board’s legal writers, explains below:
Mr. Connick’s testimony came in Connick v. Thompson, which the court decided last March. In a bitterly divided 5-4 vote, the court overturned a $14 million jury verdict against the district attorney’s office, reached because the office withheld exculpatory evidence from John Thompson and, as a result, sent him to prison for 18 years, 14 on death row. That disposed of one the handful of ways it was possible to deter prosecutorial misconduct.
A group of Yale Law School students recently published a report on “The Myth of Prosecutorial Accountability After Connick v. Thompson,” which is unsettling but well worth reading.
In the Connick case, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “[a]n attorney who violates his or her ethical obligations is subject to professional discipline, including sanctions, suspension, and disbarment.”
But that’s not really so. As the report relates, “prosecutors have rarely been subjected to disciplinary action by state bar authorities,” even though “state bar disciplinary procedures stand as one of the few – and perhaps the only – means of holding prosecutors accountable for gross misconduct.”
For instance, although the lead prosecutor in Smith v. Cain was sanctioned for misconduct by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2005 (in another case), the court suspended his sentence after observing that this was “a case of first impression in the State of Louisiana” and that the court had never before “been confronted with the issue of disciplining a prosecutor for failing to disclose” Brady material.
Well, that’s a novel idea. If you’re the first to be sanctioned for an offense, you don’t get punished for it.