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
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. http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/NRE2012UPDATE4_1_13_FINAL.pdf
2. Sapien J. and Hernandez S. Who Polices Prosecutors Who Abuse Their Authority? Usually Nobody. http://www.propublica.org/article/who-polices-prosecutors-who-abuse-their-authority-usually-nobody
3. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct. http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/registry/graph/numberbymisconducttype/
4. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. An Epidemic of Prosecutor Misconduct. Appendix B (2013), http://www.prosecutorintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/EpidemicofProsecutorMisconduct.pdf
5. Center for Prosecutor Integrity. Most Americans Doubt Fairness of Criminal Justice System, Reveals Center for Prosecutor Integrity. June 11, 2013. http://www.saveservices.org/2013/06/pr-most-americans-doubt-fairness-of-criminal-justice-system-reveals-center-for-prosecutor-integrity