Recent media have contained numerous stories about Tyre Nichols, who was savagely beaten to death by Memphis police officers. Over the last several years, police misconduct has received considerable media attention, as it should. However, while police misconduct obviously continues to be a significant criminal justice problem, recent events in a New York State courtroom highlight another problem that negatively affects the integrity of our criminal justice system.
Joseph Franco, a former New York City narcotics detective, was charged in 2019 with perjury and other crimes stemming from his 20-year involvement with collecting evidence of drug cases in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. Between 500 and 600 convictions in these boroughs, all of which stemmed from his work, were overturned. Mr. Franco’s case recently proceeded to trial, which a New York State Judge short-circuited by dismissing the charges with prejudice because of prosecutorial misconduct.
The prosecutors, who worked in the Police Accountability Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, wrongfully withheld evidence from the defense. This evidence included surveillance videos, communications between prosecutors, investigative memos, and the contents of confiscated cellphones. There were also several hundred audio files of interviews of a prosecution witness, which were recorded while she was held at Rikers Island. The existence of this evidence apparently came to light after Mr. Franco’s trial had begun. The Judge found that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence to Mr. Franco’s attorneys on three separate occasions, and held that this was a major ethics violation warranting dismissal. Since the dismissal was with prejudice, the Manhattan DA will not be able to prosecute Mr. Franco again on the underlying charges. Continue reading ›