prosecutorial misconduct

Sad Follow-Up to a Prior Snell Author Talk

Those who follow Snell Library’s Meet the Author Series may remember author John Hollway’s discussion of his book, Killing Time, the story of an innocent man’s 14 years on death row and how he came to be found innocent and released. At the time of the talk, the Supreme Court was due to hear a civil case brought by the innocent man, John Thompson, and his attorneys against the New Orleans prosecutor’s office that was found to have withheld evidence in the original case, evidence that would have led to his acquittal but whose suppression meant he lost all those years of his life to unjust prison time. A local jury awarded him $14 million to compensate for the time he spent on death row, and appeals courts upheld the award, all the way to the Supreme Court. A sad update this week, however, as the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 decision overturning the monetary award, stating the prosecutor’s office could not be held responsible for the “bad actions” of a single person, even though it has been shown that the office had a clear pattern of violations of the rules for handling evidence and was obviously not training its prosecutors in correct procedures — and even though all the lower appeals courts had upheld the local decision that the prosecutor’s office was responsible. Commentators around the news media are outraged by the decision; for examples, see this New York Times op-ed or this piece in According to the Facebook page for the book (which by the way offers more links to additional media coverage of the decision, as well as to the text of the decision itself), “Now the only remedy that any of us has for prosecutorial misconduct is a complaint to the State Bar Association — which, in most states, you can only make if you are admitted to the Bar yourself.” This is a grim outcome for all of us, not just John Thompson.