Monday, November 18, 2013

Jail Time for Prosecutorial Misconduct

Early last week, I called for the jobs of police officers and prosecutors who manipulate or withhold evidence. ("A Decade Behind Bars for Innocent Missouri Man.") Beckoning for incarceration, I thought, might be a bit too bold. Then I reencountered the case of Michael Morton, who spent almost two and half decades in custody thanks to a Texas prosecutor’s lies and deceit. (I actually wrote a short piece about the case months ago, for a different blog. That post touched on one I’d written years earlier. At least for a criminal law blogger, prosecutorial misconduct is the gift that keeps giving.)

The prosecutor in question was Ken Anderson, the District Attorney for Williamson County, Texas from 1985 through 2001. After his career as a prosecutor, he became—you guessed it—a judge. But back in 1987, he hid evidence in order to secure Morton’s murder conviction. Among his transgressions, Anderson concealed the only eyewitness account of the killing, which happened to exonerate the defendant. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that DNA testing proved Morton’s innocence.

Although Anderson’s career flourished after his loathsome actions, justice (such as it is) finally caught up with him. He didn’t get a mere slap on the wrist, which is about the most one can expect for the average prosecutor with this kind of ethical composition. Believe it or not, he actually got jail time.

Having resigned from his judicial post in September amid both civil and criminal proceedings for his misconduct, Anderson pleaded guilty to criminal contempt earlier this month. Included in his sentence were 10 days in jail. That’s approximately .01 % of the time that Morton did.

I guess reform has to start somewhere.