Key Facts

Prosecutors play a preeminent role in America’s criminal justice system. While most prosecutors are ethical, a variety of factors can induce prosecutors to act in unethical ways.

Fact #1: Since 1989, there have been over 1,400 documented cases of persons who have been convicted and later exonerated (1).

Fact #2: An estimated 43% of wrongful convictions arise from misconduct involving prosecutors and other officials (1).

Fact #3: More than 90% of criminal cases are adjudicated during closed-door plea-bargain negotiations. These cases have little or no public accountability (2).

Fact #4: Many different types of ethical violations have been reported. The following are the most common types of ethical violations committed by prosecutors (3):

  • Failure to disclose exculpatory evidence (Brady violation)
  • Use of inadmissible or false evidence/lack of candor to the court
  • Plea bargain offense
  • Inflammatory statements/witness harassment
  • Mischaracterizing the evidence
  • Vouching

Fact #5: Fewer than 2% of cases of prosecutor misconduct are subject to public sanctions. When sanctions are imposed, they are often slight (4).

Fact #6: Americans are concerned about the fairness of our criminal justice system. According to a national public opinion survey (5):

  • Over two-fifths (42.8%) of the respondents say prosecutorial misconduct is widespread
  • Two-thirds (66.8%) think the presumption of innocence is becoming lost
  • Three-quarters (74.8%) believe our legal system often does not follow the rule of ‘equal treatment under the law’


1. National Registry of Exonerations, UPDATE: 2012 The National Registry of Exonerations, April 3, 2013.

2. Sapien J. and Hernandez S. Who Polices Prosecutors Who Abuse Their Authority? Usually Nobody.

3. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct.

4. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. An Epidemic of Prosecutor Misconduct. Appendix B (2013),

5. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. Most Americans Doubt Fairness of Criminal Justice System, Reveals Center for Prosecutor Integrity. June 11, 2013.