Former Prosecutor Actually Goes to Jail for Misconduct Involving Wrongful Conviction

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Back in 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that would have a far-reaching impact on criminal law. The case, Brady v. Maryland, involved prosecutors who withheld exculpatory evidence (evidence that would tend to indicate the defendant's lack of guilt in committing the crime). In this case, prosecutors had in their possession a written statement, a confession, from another person. This confession would have exonerated the accused person; instead of handing over the evidence, prosecutors withheld it in order to obtain a conviction.

In criminal law, we refer to this today as a "Brady violation."

In Brady, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors' failure to disclose exculpatory evidence was a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (generally, the Due Process clause).

That said, it's a common complaint of defense attorneys that prosecutors seem to rarely be punished for Brady violations - and we have as evidence plenty of wrongful convictions to prove it. Recently, although the case doesn't appear to directly involve prosecutorial misconduct, we have the recent exoneration of two men freed after nearly 40 years behind bars for a murder conviction based on coerced testimony.

And earlier this month, Mark Godsey for the Huffington Post wrote that "for the first time ever," a prosecutor would be punished for the wrongful conviction of an innocent man. "Today in Texas," writes Godsey, "former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to intentionally failing to disclose evidence in a case that sent an innocent man [...] to prison for the murder of his wife." In Anderson's case - unlike so many prosecutors who apparently go unpunished across the country - he lost his law license and must spend 10 days in jail.

Granted, this might not seem like a great deal of punishment for someone who may have sent innocent people to jail or prison for decades-long stretches. Godsey's reference to the man wrongfully convicted for his wife's murder involves the number 25. That's 25 years behind bars. But at least it can be held up as an example of justice and perhaps a precedent for future use.

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