Everyone has heard about the repercussions of police misconduct, but much less has been done about the problem of misconduct by prosecuting attorneys. When New York police commit a constitutional rights violation, such as unlawful arrest or excessive use of force, the victim can win a large financial settlement in civil court, and the offending police officers can face criminal prosecution for civil rights violations as well as job termination. But what happens when a New York assistant district attorney (ADA) violates someone’s civil rights? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors, including both the individual and their employer, cannot be sued for civil rights violations except in very rare instances.
Prosecutors Who Commit Illegal Acts Go Largely Unpunished
The New York Times recently described a particularly egregious case of prosecutorial misconduct in which a Suffolk County ADA altered police records to remove exculpatory information on a young man who was being prosecuted for first-degree murder. When this misconduct was discovered, the ADA was fired, and that murder case was dismissed along with five other homicide cases in which the ADA concealed evidence that favored the accused. Was that ADA or his office sued by the victims who were unjustly prosecuted and imprisoned? Was he indicted on criminal charges or at least barred from practicing law? No. He is now a criminal defense lawyer, and his website actually highlights his former employment as a homicide prosecutor.
New York Creates Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission
At present, the powers of New York prosecutors are “virtually unchecked,” according to a New York City Council Member. “The [district attorney] alone decides who to charge and for what … which information to share with the grand jury and which to withhold … who sits [in jail] awaiting trial… and when, if ever, the defense gets access to information critical to the case.”
To strengthen New York’s ability to fight the abuse of power by prosecutors, the state has enacted a new law that creates the nation’s first prosecutorial misconduct commission. The law is being challenged on the basis that it is unconstitutional, but Governor Cuomo and the legislature are determined to overcome this obstacle.
The commission will have the authority to initiate its own investigations into any district attorney’s office or individual ADA. It will also investigate complaints made by defense attorneys, criminal defendants, and members of the public regarding prosecutorial misconduct. The commission will have authority similar to a court, enabling it to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents. After a full hearing of the evidence, the commission can recommend that a prosecutor be admonished, sanctioned, or removed from office.
Contact Our Manhattan Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced New York City criminal defense attorney who knows how to win for you, even against the worst prosecutor. Contact Watford Jackson, PLLC by calling 855-WAT-JACK or 855-928-5225.