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Holding Prosecutors Accountable For Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions


While there are ways of holding police accountable for misconduct and civil and constitutional violations, it has historically been difficult to do the same when it comes to prosecutorial misconduct, even when that misconduct leads to wrongful conviction, as described in a recent New York Times article.

Federal law does not yet properly address prosecutorial misconduct. Not only are attorneys who work in the district attorney’s office immune from being sued for their mistakes, anyone wrongfully convicted is also prohibited from suing the state unless they can conclusively prove that they are innocent (i.e. it is not enough to have been the vitim of an unfair trial).

The Importance of Municipal Liability

There has been one caveat for victims of prosecutorial misconduct: the ability to sue cities and counties for these mistakes by demonstrating that the mistake was due to an administrative issue and the prosecutors were aware of the problem pattern that gave rise to the mistake and subsequent injustice. Just within the last 10 years, approximately six wrongful lawsuits against the state of New York, for example, have been settled by New York City. And in Brooklyn alone, New York City and the state of New York have already paid more than $40 million to settle lawsuits involving retire detective Louis Scarcella.

However, one recent case could significantly affect this opportunity: A federal judge in New York recently ruled that, according to a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case, any mistakes which arise from the supervision and training of assistant district attorneys are prosecutorial—not administrative—in nature, and thus cities cannot be held accountable for these mistakes. 

Accountability for Prosecutorial Misconduct

This recent decision is of significant concern, as it could not only make it impossible to hold prosecutors responsible for legal or ethical violations, it could also bar those victims of these mistakes from seeking any financial redress. Without the possibility of being held accountable, and a complete lack of municipal liability, there would be no incentive for district attorneys to ensure that they are abiding by the constitution and behaving ethically, as well as ensuring that there are policies and practices in place to promote fair trials instead of those leading to mistakes, misconduct, and wrongful convictions.

The issue is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and will be pivotal, marking the first time in almost 20 years that the issue of municipal liability will be considered in court.

Florida and Massachusetts Attorney Fighting Wrongful Convictions

Our criminal justice system is far from perfect, and unfortunately, at times, people are wrongfully convicted for crimes they did not commit.

At The Baez Law Firm, our nationally recognized attorneys excel in helping to overturn wrongful convictions and holding those involved in misconduct responsible. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.


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