Prosecutorial Misconduct in Sexual Assault Cases

Prosecutorial misconduct is often implicated in wrongful convictions of sexual assault, particularly charging non-meritorious allegations, concealment of evidence, relying on evidence collected by means of “victim-centered” investigations, and failure to prosecute perjury.

A good example is Mary Kellett, former Assistant District Attorney in Hancock County, Maine. For years, persons believed ADA Kellett was overly zealous in her prosecution of sexual assault cases, charging she took ethical shortcuts and her cases often lacked probable cause.

In one case, Kellett charged a man with spousal rape, even though the complainant had a documented history of mental health problems and abuse perpetration, had refused a rape kit examination, and was suspected of seeking an advantage in an ongoing child custody dispute. Over the course of several months, Kellett refused to provide important exculpatory evidence to the defense, misled the jury during closing arguments, and engaged in other ethical violations.

Following formal complaints of unethical conduct, the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar initiated an investigation, concluding that Kellett failed to meet her “constitutional and ethical obligations,” a shortcoming the Board termed “inexcusable. On July 16, 2013, Justice Ellen Gorman, acting on behalf of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, issued a final determination of misconduct.  Kellett later resigned her position as Assistant District Attorney.

The Mary Kellett case represents an exception to the rule, because in the vast majority of cases — about 98% of the time — prosecutors who commit misconduct never experience any public sanctions.

Prosecutors play an important role in avoiding wrongful convictions of sexual assault:

  • Charging a case only when probable cause exists
  • Meeting Brady disclosure requirements
  • Enforcing perjury laws when there is clear and convincing evidence the allegation is false
  • Assuring investigations are conducted in an impartial and objective manner

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