Prosecutorial Misconduct

By Gaines, Patrice | The Crisis, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Prosecutorial Misconduct


Gaines, Patrice, The Crisis


In too many of the nation's courtrooms, equal justice remains beyond the reach of the poor and disadvantaged.

In March 2003, Delma Banks was strapped to a gurney to await his execution in a Texas prison. Ten minutes before he was to die of a lethal injection, the United States Supreme Court issued a stay of execution.

Nearly a year later, on Feb. 24, 2004, the high court reversed a lower court decision and threw out Banks' death sentence, granting him the right to further appeal his conviction. The basis of the reversal: prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically: the withholding of evidence.

"The Delma Banks case is one of the best-known cases of prosecutorial misconduct because it is one of the most startling - and because it went to the Supreme Court," says Angela J. Davis, professor of law at American University Washington College of Law and author of Arbitrary Justice: The Power ofthe American Prosecutor.

Unfortunately, misconduct by prosecutors is not unusual. Legal experts say one reason for the abuse of power is that prosecutors are seldom reprimanded for bad behavior. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, "Since 1970, individual judges and appellate court panels cited prosecutorial misconduct as a factor when dismissing charges, reversing convictions or reducing sentences in over 2,000 cases. In another 500 cases, appellate judges offered opinions - either dissents or concurrences - in which they found the misconduct warranted a reversal. In thousands more, judges labeled prosecutorial behavior inappropriate but upheld convictions using a doctrine called 'harmless error.'"

While many legal experts see the need for reform, nearly all admit the most grievous harm is done when a prosecutor intentionally abuses power simply to win a case. But reform must also tackle unintentional prosecutorial misconduct, because the prosecutor has the power, for example, to dismiss evidence as irrelevant before a defense attorney even sees it.

The Supreme Court may have agreed to hear the Banks case because the 44-year-old Black man faced death and because the decision to execute him stemmed from a case where prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence.

Banks is still in prison, but his attorney, George H. Kendall, has filed an appeal he hopes will one day lead to Banks being a free man. "It's 27 years after he has been in prison, and we are still waiting for final ruling at the district court level," says Kendall, who calls prosecutors "the least accountable public officials."

The current appeal in the Banks case is based on the prosecutor's having withheld the fact that the key witness lied repeatedly. The appeal maintains that this misconduct violated Banks' right to a fair trial. If Banks is freed, he would join hundreds of others who have been released from prison in recent years after being convicted in trials involving prosecutorial misconduct.

"Certainly, in cases where DNA proves a person innocent, we see prosecutorial misconduct many times," says Maddy deLone, executive director of the Innocence Project. Of the 205 people exonerated by DNA, the Innocence Project was involved in the majority of the cases. All Innocence Project cases are based on DNA. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of such cases ever go to trial. In the other 95 percent, the defendant usually accepts a plea agreement, taking whatever punishment the prosecutor is offering in exchange for avoiding the risk of a harsher sentence if found guilty by a jury.

People who cannot afford legal representation by a team of lawyers and investigators often take the plea, feeling doomed because they lack the resources to fight prosecutors backed by government-size budgets to pay experts, investigators and whatever else is needed. People of color, who believe jurors might find them guilty because of their race, are also more likely to accept a plea. And because such people have less experience and expertise in navigating the legal system, they are also more dependent upon the fairness and accuracy of the prosecutor. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Prosecutorial Misconduct
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.