California Takes Action Against Prosecutorial Misconduct

Addressing a Serious Issue

The State of California has recently taken decisive action to combat prosecutorial misconduct. In a groundbreaking move, the legislature passed a bill that makes it a felony for prosecutors to hide evidence. Governor Brown signed this bill into law, and it will be effective from January 1, 2017. Additionally, the California State Bar Association Board of Trustees went further by recommending a new version of California Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 5-110. This new rule mandates that prosecutors must disclose any evidence that could potentially exonerate the accused, regardless of its importance to the case.

Prominent Figures Bring Attention to the Issue

St. Francis School of Law Dean Carole J. Buckner, a former federal prosecutor, has played a pivotal role in shedding light on this problem. Alongside many other attorneys from across the state, she has been actively involved in the California State Bar’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC). In this capacity, Dean Buckner organized and moderated two Ethics Symposium Panels, both of which focused on the issue of prosecutorial misconduct.

One panel, titled “Prosecutorial Misconduct: Epidemic or Aberration?” featured criminal defense attorney Mark Gerragos and George Cardona from the United States Attorneys’ Office for the Central District of California. The discussion revolved around several high-profile cases of prosecutorial misconduct.

Dean Buckner also moderated a panel that included former prosecutor James Fox, incoming California State Bar President Maurice Possley, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of a critical Northern California Innocence Project Report, and California State Bar prosecutor Cyd Batchelor. This panel discussed the training of prosecutors to prevent misconduct, the extent of the problem, and the Innocence Project’s recommendation for California to adopt the new ethics rule.

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The Importance of the New Statute and Ethical Rule

The introduction of the new statute and the proposed Rule of Professional Conduct carries immense significance. Like many other states, California has multiple innocence projects aimed at overturning wrongful convictions. These projects seek post-conviction relief for individuals who have been wrongfully imprisoned due to various factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. Professor Karen Travis, a former criminal defense lawyer who now teaches criminal law in the Juris Doctor program at St. Francis, attended the California State Bar Annual Meeting program on “Making a Murderer and Beyond: Post-Conviction Relief in Today’s Judicial System.” The program emphasized the crucial role of withholding exculpatory evidence in wrongful convictions. However, it also highlighted other causes, such as mistaken identification, flawed forensic science, and unreliable informants.

Raising Awareness through Pop Culture

The Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has played a significant role in raising awareness about prosecutorial misconduct and its connection to wrongful convictions. The show also shed light on another issue: false and coerced confessions. St. Francis students studying criminal law and criminal procedure closely followed the series, engaging in related class discussions. They even attended a special session on the topic, led by former prosecutor Professor Ray Chao. Notably, post-conviction relief was recently granted to Brendan Dassey after a court determined that his confession was involuntary, taking into account his age, IQ, and the absence of a parent during questioning.

St. Francis School of Law: Leaders in Legal Education

St. Francis School of Law boasts a distinguished faculty composed of both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys who are at the forefront of legal practice. This unique blend of expertise enriches the online classrooms, creating a dynamic and engaging learning environment. To learn more about St. Francis School of Law and its programs, please visit Garrity Traina.

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