Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ProPublica Investigates Prosecutorial Misconduct in New York

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A new ProPublica special report that analyzed more than a decade's worth of state and federal court rulings found more than two dozen instances in which New York judges explicitly concluded there had been prosecutorial misconduct. And in nearly every instance, despite convictions being overturned, appellate court disciplinary committees never took action against the prosecutors for their costly errors. 

The investigation uncovered only one prosecutor, former Queens assistant district attorney Claude Stuart, who was disciplined for his actions and eventually lost his job after several abuses including withholding evidence from the defense, manipulating evidence and lying to a trial judge. In two of those cases the convictions were overturned.

"It's an insidious system," said Marvin Schechter, a defense attorney and chairman of the criminal justice section of the New York State Bar Association. "Prosecutors engage in misconduct because they know they can get away with it." (Schechter said he was expressing his own opinion, not that of his bar section.)

New York City's district attorneys disagree and call these errors limited in scope. But in response to those isolated instances, some have gone a step further by establishing internal units that examine claims of abuse. But as long as the abuse goes unchecked, academics and defense lawyers say prosecutors will continue doing what they’re doing.

"If you're in the Olympics and you're in a race and you win and then it's found that you took steroids, they take your medal away," said Larry Goldman, a former Manhattan prosecutor who is now a defense attorney. "No one says, ‘Oh well, it doesn't matter if you took steroids, you would've won anyway.'"

The obligation to disclose potentially important evidence to defense lawyers has long been a vital part of the criminal justice system, yet the new analysis showed that violations involving withholding evidence were the most common form of serious misconduct by city prosecutors. 
 
The New York State Bar Association has recently taken on the issue of how to define prosecutorial misconduct and what should be done about it as part of a larger initiative to address wrongful convictions. And while state legislators have introduced several bills incorporating the bar association's ideas, none have gained much traction. The state’s District Attorneys Association has outright opposed them, and other city district attorneys have said they could adversely affect public safety and are unnecessary in light of their own efforts to improve training and oversight.
 
Join ProPublica’s live chat Thursday at noon EST to discuss its latest investigation into prosecutorial misconduct. You can tweet questions with #PolicingProsecutors.
 
Read the full article.

For more background on this issue, 
download the Northern California Innocence Project report on prosecutorial misconduct.
 
You can also read the Innocence Project’s report: Court Findings of Prosecutorial Misconduct Claims in Post-Conviction Appeals and Civil Suits Among the First 255 DNA Exoneration Cases


August 13, 2012

Misconduct by Prosecutors, Once Again

In March 2000, a tough guy named Petros Bedi was convicted of shooting a man dead in an Astoria nightclub. For this and other crimes, he is now serving 42 1/2 years in prison.
The crucial witness against Mr. Bedi agreed to testify only after the police arrested him on charges of dealing drugs.
During Mr. Bedi’s trial, a defense lawyer blasted away at the credibility of this witness and tried to prove he had incentive to lie. Didn’t the Queens district attorney foot the hotel bill to put up you and your girlfriend for eight months? Weren’t you paid handsomely for your testimony?
No, the witness insisted. I paid my own bill. Nobody paid me anything.
This was not true, and the prosecutors who sat in that courtroom and vouched for the honesty and truthfulness of this witness knew it.
Newly disclosed witness protection records show that the district attorney’s office in fact paid the witness, Seraphim Koumpouras, $16,640 for hotel bills. Prosecutors also gave him about $3,000 in cash; he received the last payment six days before he testified.
None of these specifics were disclosed to the defense. Instead, Mr. Bedi, with the help of a private investigator, battled for 10 years to obtain these records, which prosecutors should have turned over at the trial.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in State Supreme Court in Queens, Mr. Bedi’s new lawyer, Joel Rudin, asked the court to overturn the conviction. “This is,” he said, “a reprehensible case of prosecutorial misconduct.”
The district attorney’s office says only that it intends to contest the case vigorously.
Mr. Rudin has found a new witness, who points at a different gunman. Let’s put that question aside for now. Let’s also acknowledge that Mr. Bedi is no Jean Valjean, languishing because of an ugly twist of fate.
Mr. Bedi has been convicted in other cases of drug dealing and conspiracy to murder. But the genius of our system is that our most cherished rights often ride the backs of deeply flawed defendants. As Mr. Rudin says, “Just because the prosecution thinks he’s a criminal, that doesn’t mean they can rig the result.”
Mr. Rudin can lay claim to a real expertise on questions of prosecutorial misconduct. In 2003, a court found that a prosecutor in Queens had lied and tolerated lies by witnesses in order to convict Shih-Wei Su of a pool-hall murder.
Mr. Su served 13 years in prison. When he got out, he sued the city with Mr. Rudin’s help. In 2008, the city agreed, by way of apology, to write him a check for $3.5 million.
Mr. Rudin also handled the case of Jabbar Collins, who served 16 years because of prosecutorial missteps in Brooklyn. With Mr. Rudin’s help, he filed suit last year against the city and Michael Vecchione, chief of the rackets bureau for Brooklyn’s district attorney.
Prosecutorial misconduct has become a legal sore in plain sight. Marvin Schechter, a defense lawyer and chairman of the criminal justice section of the New York State Bar Association, wrote a column recently stating that misconduct stood revealed not as a trickle but as a polluted river.
He blamed district attorneys who valued conviction rates and tough-guy images over adherence to the rights of the accused. “Assistant district attorneys do not emerge from law school with a genetic disposition” to hide vital material, he wrote. “Instead this is something which is learned and taught.”
Prosecutors loosened howls of indignation. Prominent prosecutorial sorts have written letters in the past month and intimated they will no longer serve on committees if such calumnies stand.
Harrumph and all that.
AS Mr. Rudin noted in his filing, in 70 known cases of prosecutorial mistakes and misbehavior in Queens over about a decade, the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, has disciplined just one lawyer.
In Brooklyn, the district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, promoted and gave an award to Mr. Vecchione.
Three years ago, the State Bar Association created a task force that studied 53 cases of wrongful conviction. It found that prosecutorial and police misconduct accounted for over half the cases.
The stakes are primal. Mr. Bedi, 41, falls well short of sainthood, but he has served 17 years for all of his crimes. If his conviction on the murder charge stands, he faces 25 more years in prison.
As for Mr. Koumpouras, the prosecutors said his life was in danger, so they squirreled him away, at quite unusual expense. But when he stepped off the stand, such worries dissipated.
Prosecutors, the records show, handed him a final $100 and bid him goodbye.
E-mail: powellm@nytimes.com
Twitter: @powellnyt

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  2. Domestic Violence Chief Lawrence Newman of the Manhattan New York District Attorneys Office uses his position to politically and in a discriminatory manner target his enemies and racial/religious minorities, while routinely exonerating, or not even charging whites and jews.

    For example, his office refused to even charge, let alone arrest, attorney and fellow Jew Sanford Rubenstein when he was accused of raping a powerful black woman, and where there was certainly enough evidence to either arrest, charge, or indict him under the Violence Against Womens’ Act (“VAWA”), which calls for mandatory arrest under those circumstances, while Mr Newman routinely forces minorities and his political enemies to take plea agreements even when there is no evidence, probable cause, or where the alleged “victim” recants or admits that they lied to harm the defendant.

    ADA Lawrence Newman also allegedly maintains a political “vendetta list,” repeatedly investigating, setting up his targets using his paid or contracted staff, working hand in hand with like-minded local feminist and lesbian organizations, and relentlessly coming after his targeted individuals, unless he completely and absolutely destroys them.

    In another case his office exonerated international banker and fellow Jew Dominique Strauss-Khan, where there was more than enough evidence to prosecute that man for raping a poor black hotel chambermaid.

    Meanwhile Mr Newman goes on CLE Conferences and tries to increase support for ever expanding the power of his office, trying to unconstitutionally criminalize otherwise benign behavior and civil litigation disputes between parties as an extension of “domestic violence.”

    ADA Lawrence Newman is what is wrong with the legal system in America in a nutshell, and he should be fired or indicted for corruption and discrimination immediately.

    His conviction and prosecution record should be examined and pulled immediately, not limited to determining what the racial/religious makeup of his aggressive prosecutions/convictions are, and who he lets go.

    This will provide prima face proof of his extremist, racist, discriminatory, selectively prosecuted, and unfair dealings with the public, as he should be considered a clear and present danger to justice, race relations, national security, an open and democratic society, the rule of law, and New York City in general.

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