For some federal judges, the improprieties of prosecutors in California has reached “epidemic” proportions. Even worse: there are practically no sanctions for officials who hide or fabricate evidence against an accused during a trial.
Last Thursday, Judge Thomas Goethals removed Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, due to what he called a “chronic failure” to turn over evidence to the defense, in the high-profile case of the murder of eight in a Seal Beach salon.
Goethals’s attitude is unusual, because most state judges tolerate prosecutorial misconduct, which has led to frustration by several judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who have to review the cases.
A 2009 study by the Northern California Innocence Project found that appeals courts found improprieties by prosecutors in 707 cases between 1997 and 2009. Of the 4,741 attorneys disciplined, only 10 of them were prosecutors.
The problem of prosecutors using tricks to get convictions is a very serious one nationally. It is now, unfortunately, commonplace to see the lives of individuals, who spend years behind bars for crime they never committed, ruined because the prosecutor’s office withheld exculpatory evidence or testimony.
Unfortunately, this misconduct is protected by the Supreme Court, which has extended immunity protecting prosecutors’ actions.
Former Assembly member Tom Ammiano submitted measure AB 885 last year to discourage misconduct by prosecutors, which was vetoed by Governor Brown.
Attorney General Kamala Harris is the person who should prevent prosecutors from turning to tricks in their fervor to win cases at any cost. She is ultimately responsible for the culture that prevails in California prosecutor’s offices.
Judges should also follow Goethals’s example and sanction prosecutors who act dishonestly.
Prosecutors should be accountable and be responsibility for their actions. The impunity with which they are treated creates an imbalance in which justice is hard to obtain