Report depicts misconduct at Calif. courthouses

Research by the Northern California Innocence Project shows cases of courthouse misconduct.
October 4, 2010 7:22:46 PM PDT
Research by the Northern California Innocence Project shows cases of courthouse misconduct.

A new report out says prosecutors are going too far to get convictions and most of the time, they get away with it. That's according to the Northern California Innocence Project which on Monday released the results of a year of research.

Rick Walker spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. In 1991, prosecutors had entered into a secret plea deal with the co-defendant in the case who lied when he implicated Walker as the killer.

Walker was released in 2003 with an apology and a monetary settlement from the state of California and Santa Clara County.

"My son was a boy when I went in and he was a man when I got out," he said.

Walker was on hand on when the Northern California Innocence Project released a comprehensive report on prosecutorial misconduct in California.

The Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law reviewed 4,000 cases of alleged misconduct from 1997 to 2009.

"What we found is 707 cases where misconduct had occurred and those are court findings, not our findings, but judicial findings," Innocence Project Director Cookie Ridolfi said.

The Innocence Project report says of those more than 700 cases, the State Bar of California only publicly disciplined six prosecutors for misconduct.

The report argues that until prosecutors are held accountable for bad behavior, withholding evidence and other misconduct will continue to take place to win convictions.

"If they know they will be held accountable, I think there is hope there will be a fair amount of people that shape up. You are always going to have bad apples, it's a human society but until we have transparency, we can't have accountability," report co-author Maurice Possley said.

The State Bar of California responded to the report by issuing a two-page statement saying in part, "It is disciplining criminal prosecutors where appropriate and where the misconduct was willful and can be established by clear and convincing evidence."

The State Bar of California adds, "The issue is serious and needs attention and on that point, Walker couldn't agree more."

"Some of my worst days I have are, is thinking about some of the guys that are in prison today and I know they are innocent. I know it," he said.

The Innocence Project says it hopes its report will shed light on the need for reform.


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