A Rare Victory Against Prosecutorial Immunity
In just about in profession, when a professional injures a third-party they are usually held liable and expected to pay some sort of damages. When a professional purposely commits fraud, especially when a third-party is injured, said professional can be charged criminally as well. Such is not usually the case when prosecutors lie or mislead the court, hide or withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense attorneys, or frame an innocent person for committing a crime. Prosecutors are often shielded from civil or criminal penalties by an insidious legal protection known as “prosecutorial immunity.”
There is one case in the State of Texas that will hopefully change this. According to a press release by The Innocence Project, former Williamson Country Prosecutor Ken Anderson has been charged with three felonies for concealing evidence in the Michael Morton murder case:
(Austin, TX; April 19, 2013) – Today a Texas court has ruled that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson will face criminal contempt and tampering charges for failing to turn over evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton, who was later exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 25 years for his wife’s murder, despite a court order and legal obligation to do so. The Judge ruled there was probable cause to believe Anderson violated three criminal laws by concealing evidence in the case and issued a warrant for his arrest. The decision to bring criminal charges against Anderson comes at the conclusion of a Court of Inquiry that was convened at the request of the Innocence Project, which uncovered evidence that Anderson failed to turn over that could have prevented Morton’s wrongful conviction during its decade long legal battle to prove Morton’s innocence. The court found that Anderson should face criminal charges for failing turn over favorable evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence despite specific requests from the defense and an order by the trial judge to do so. The court made specific findings that Anderson knew of evidence supporting Morton’s innocence but intentionally failed to disclose it to the defense.
Following today’s hearing, Anderson was taken to Williamson County jail for processing. He is expected to be released on bond which was set at $2,500 for each felony count.
“We believe this is a landmark case. I know that good prosecutors, and that’s most of them, agree that it’s important Judge Anderson be held accountable for the willful misconduct that caused Michael Morton to lose 25 years of his life,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “It’s extremely rare for prosecutors to be punished for deliberately hiding exculpatory evidence, much less face criminal charges. But this outcome will hopefully usher in a new era of oversight to ensure that prosecutors live up to their ethical obligations.”
This is very good news. The idea that a prosecutor should be able to get away with this kind of fraud ought to offend anyone who cares at all about the concept of justice.