It's Called Discovery

At one point in My Cousin Vinny, Vinny Gambini  (Joe Pesci, down in Alabama from Brooklyn to defend his cousins in a capital murder case) decides to go hunting with the prosecutor, in the hopes of maybe sweet talking him into getting a peek at his files.  When Vinny returns from the trip, he proudly tells his girlfried (Marisa Tomei) that the prosecutor agreed to Xerox and send over every single file he had on the case.  Marisa Tomei is not impressed; the prosecutor has to give him the files … “It’s called discovery, #$%^&^$%!” she concludes.  (She won an Oscar for saying stuff like that … )

Actually, the fictional prosecutor in “My Cousin Vinny” was being generous, providing what is called “open-file” discovery.  According to a new report from The Justice Project called “Improving Prosecutorial Accountability”, most prosecutors in criminal cases don’t turn over all their files, but get to decide which pieces of evidence are relevant for the defense to see.  As you might expect this often leads to unintentional – or intentional – withholding of evidence that could have helped the defense, and is the most common form of prosecutorial misconduct

Prosecutorial misconduct is a big problem, affecting both capital and non-capital cases.  In addition to withholding important evidence, prosecutors have also presented false testimony, coerced witnesses, fabricated evidence, and false statements to juries. According to the report, a 2003 study revealed at least 2,012 cases where sentences were reduced, convictions reversed or charges dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.  But the report also cites a 2007 California study which found that “judges generally do not report cases of prosecutorial misconduct to the State Bar, despite a statutory requirement to do so.”

So where’s the accountability?  The report cites cases like the disbarment of the Duke lacrosse case prosecutor, and the current high-level investigation into the prosecutors of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, to illustrate how perhaps prosecutors should be held accountable, but also to demonstrate how they almost never are, because it’s rare for defendants to have the power or connections these folks had. 

The report makes several recommendations, both for preventing prosecutorial misconduct and for holding misbehaving prosecutors accountable.  For the many who have been wrongly sent to death row because of prosecutorial misconduct, and for all those wrongly convicted, this is a good start.  But we have a long way to go.

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6 thoughts on “It's Called Discovery

  1. Don't forget about the fact that former child actor Skylar Deleon (of the "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" fame) was condemned to die for the yacht murder of the Hawks couple, not to mention another related murder, in fact. It seems that the Hawkses are getting their vengeance in the form of justice satisfied by killing Skylar in spite of his mental and behavioral problems. They never forgot and they never forgave, and it's kind of easy to understand their pain, as well as the pain of the Deleons, that they are undergoing in losing their loved ones to all kinds of murder, including state-sponsored murder. My heart breaks for both families. :cry: And in other news, Florida is now seeking a death penalty for Casey Anthony for the murder of her daughter Caylee. The Anthonys have already lost their loved one, but now they're about to undergo another pain in losing another, and that's not nice. Haven't they suffered enough? Almost everyone STILL believes that the death penalty and executions "deter crime, protect society, are less expensive, bring justice, closure and peace to families of victims and honor the dead, innocent loved ones", without even knowing that the death penalty has too many flaws, including costly appeals that take forever and bring more suffering to both families, too much time, botched-up executions, flawed-up legal procedures, racial and ethnic bias, and risks that innocent people can be executed. My heart breaks more and more for families of the murder victims and of death row inmates, and I will continue to pray for them both as we work forward to abolish the death penalty (which penalizes both families of victims and of criminals). If the people get condemned to death for their crimes, and their time arrives to be executed, may God have mercy on their souls. I say this for death row inmates and their families and the families of murder victims in quoting the Fatima Decade Prayer: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy. Amen." :(

  2. Don’t forget about the fact that former child actor Skylar Deleon (of the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” fame) was condemned to die for the yacht murder of the Hawks couple, not to mention another related murder, in fact. It seems that the Hawkses are getting their vengeance in the form of justice satisfied by killing Skylar in spite of his mental and behavioral problems. They never forgot and they never forgave, and it’s kind of easy to understand their pain, as well as the pain of the Deleons, that they are undergoing in losing their loved ones to all kinds of murder, including state-sponsored murder. My heart breaks for both families. :cry: And in other news, Florida is now seeking a death penalty for Casey Anthony for the murder of her daughter Caylee. The Anthonys have already lost their loved one, but now they’re about to undergo another pain in losing another, and that’s not nice. Haven’t they suffered enough? Almost everyone STILL believes that the death penalty and executions “deter crime, protect society, are less expensive, bring justice, closure and peace to families of victims and honor the dead, innocent loved ones”, without even knowing that the death penalty has too many flaws, including costly appeals that take forever and bring more suffering to both families, too much time, botched-up executions, flawed-up legal procedures, racial and ethnic bias, and risks that innocent people can be executed. My heart breaks more and more for families of the murder victims and of death row inmates, and I will continue to pray for them both as we work forward to abolish the death penalty (which penalizes both families of victims and of criminals). If the people get condemned to death for their crimes, and their time arrives to be executed, may God have mercy on their souls. I say this for death row inmates and their families and the families of murder victims in quoting the Fatima Decade Prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy. Amen.” :(

  3. Also, I forgot to mention that over a week ago Nathson Fields became the 131st person exonerated from death row by acquittal for a double-homicide that he had been condemned to die for. Glad that God answered Nathson's prayer. :)

  4. Also, I forgot to mention that over a week ago Nathson Fields became the 131st person exonerated from death row by acquittal for a double-homicide that he had been condemned to die for. Glad that God answered Nathson’s prayer. :)