Prosecutors occupy a central role in our criminal justice system. In every case, they choose the offenses the defendant will be charged with, present evidence to a grand jury to secure an indictment in a proceeding they control almost exclusively, and then represent the public in the actual criminal case where they make almost all of the decisions concerning many important matters such as plea bargains. Additionally, their investigatory resources are generally far greater than those available to the defense. Finally, since many people equate a criminal charge with actual guilt, they can be ahead of the game before the jury is selected and the trial starts.
They may not like to admit it, but prosecutors are not perfect. They sometimes make mistakes that result in wrongful convictions. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will soon be hearing a case that may further close off the ability of the wrongfully convicted to seek redress for the resulting harm.
Under current law, suing police officers who commit misconduct is relatively simple. In sharp contrast, federal law protects prosecutors who make mistakes that hurt defendants. Thus, individual district attorneys in New York State are immune from suits for courtroom mistakes that result in wrongful convictions. Further, suing New York State is a waste of time unless the plaintiff can demonstrate conclusively that they were innocent of the offense that sent them to prison. Continue reading