Criminal Justice

Santa Clara DA Boycotts Judge Who Ruled Against Her

|

Last month, California Superior Court Judge Andrea Bryan ordered the release of convicted child molester Augustin Uribe due to "numerous acts of misconduct" by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Uribe's conviction was overturned in 2008 after a videotape taken during a physical examination of the alleged victim called into doubt whether she had actually been assaulted. The video was never handed over to defense attorneys. The alleged victim has since recanted her accusation.

Shortly after Judge Bryan's decision, Santa Clara County DA Dolores Carr put out a press release announcing her office would be boycotting Judge Bryan's courtroom, a move a San Jose Mercury News editorial called "extreme, highly unusual, and broadly criticized by experts in legal ethics as a direct challenge to the independence of the court."

Carr, who was elected in 2006 on a platform promising to reform the DA office's win-at-all-costs mentality, lost sight of that objective rather quickly. I wrote a short piece last July about several related incidents:

In 2007 the San Jose Mercury News revealed that Deputy District Attorney Jaime Stringfield of Santa Clara County, California, had introduced a fake DNA report into evidence in a sex abuse case. In February, responding to the revelation that the district attorney's office had failed to turn over thousands of videotaped interviews with suspects, many of which contained exculpatory information, the county public defender's office announced that it would review 1,500 sex abuse cases for possible wrongful convictions. Later that month, a state bar judge suspended Deputy District Attorney Ben Field's law license for four years based on misconduct in four criminal cases dating back to 1995. And in March, the Mercury News reported that in hundreds of cases, officials at the county crime lab didn't tell prosecutors or defense attorneys when their experts couldn't agree on fingerprint matches…

At a February meeting of county prosecutors, Carr vowed that none of her staff would be "thrown under the bus" as a result of the scandals. Immediately after the state bar's decision to suspend Field's license—the harshest penalty imposed on a state attorney in 20 years—Carr announced that Field would continue working for her office while he appealed the ruling. She also vowed to help limit the ability of the state bar to punish prosecutors for misconduct.

Since that piece ran, the number of tapes the DA's office should have turned over to defense attorneys but didn't has risen to more than 3,300.

I've written before about how rarely bad prosecutors are disciplined for their mistakes, even when those mistakes send innocent people to prison. It's probably not surprising, then, to see some who hold the position come to view that lack of discipline as an entitlement. Carr seems to have lots of invective for the people who want to hold her deupties accountable, but little for the prosecutors who actually broke the rules.

Unfortunately, the political process doesn't appear capable of holding Carr acountable, either. She's favored to win reelection this year.

NEXT: Radical Life Extension and the Problem of Malthusian Hells

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The witch hunt continues. Delores Carr is playing the Cotton Mather role in Santa Clara County.

    Sometimes I think the American public is stark raving mad.

    1. Generally, “witch hunt” does not mean that the witches are doing the hunting.

  2. How can a prosecutor boycott an independent judiciary? Not show up for hearings? The judge has the power to discipline attorneys who do such things. She can also dismiss cases and rule on motions in the state’s absence if the absence is intentional, I imagine.

    1. Let’s hope the judge orders the DA to appear for hearings brought by her office, and jails her if she refuses.

      1. I simply adore constitutional crises. Even small ones.

    2. How much do you want to bet that Judge Bryan had been reassigned from criminal to civil or matrimonial court, making Carr’s “boycott” a safe but meaningless gesture?

    3. The DA can “paper” the judge. When a case is sent to that judge for assignment the DA files an affidavit stating they can’t get a fair hearing. Both sides get to do this once in every criminal case.

  3. I’m surprised there aren’t more dead prosecutors.

    1. That is what we need, just as Jews needed more dead SS from 1941 to 1945.

  4. She’s favored to win reelection this year.

    Of course! She’s not the one releasing convicted child molesters! Duh.

  5. The US has the world’s (not the developed world’s, just the world’s) largest prison population. Detaining innocent people for decades at a time is a necessity if it is to retain that ominous distinction.

    1. I’ve always found that claim to be highly dubious. Isn’t it more likely that we’re accurately reporting the total number of incarcerated when compared to (most obviously) China?

      A better statement is that the U.S. has by far the largest prison population of the free world. That way, the lies of totalitarian states don’t come into play.

      1. But they say we lie. Dogs and cats. Democrats and Republicans.

        1. I know the NY Times is not the most reliable news source, but here are the ins and outs of the claim:

          http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04…..gewanted=1

      2. You have to take into account that the PRC officially executes thousands of people a year, so that cuts down on the prison population too.

        1. Say, that’s a good idea. Kill off all the felons, and we’ll be able to say that we have only a small percentage of our population in prison. Take that, Europe!

    2. The US has the world’s (not the developed world’s, just the world’s) largest prison population. Detaining innocent people for decades at a time is a necessity if it is to retain that ominous distinction.

      Well, if you don’t include “re-education camps”, I suppose that is true.

      But I believe North Korea has to be given the honors for highest per capita prison population with 99.9% of the people living in conditions worse than the worst jail in the US.

      1. “We’re second to North Korea” is nothing to be proud of. And I thought people at Reason despised the insane “War on Drugs” (how does one wage a war on a noun?) and Obsessive Compulsive judges that sentence jaywalkers to death by Judas cradle.

        1. There is no way that China is better in this respect than the U.S. None.

          But we suck on this issue in comparison with the rest of the free and freeish world.

        2. Nitori

          I do agree with you that the WoD is wrong and I apologize if I gave you the impression otherwise.

          The role of people like Carr in building the police-prision complex should not be excused.

          However, the key point here is not that people are going to prison, but that fundamental justice is being perverted, primarily for political ends.

          1. Sure, I agree with that. There are countries in the world in which slavery and paedophilia are legal (usually thanks to local religions) and places where alcohol is illegal. I never conflate crime with morality and I’m not saying that Americans are immoral in contrast to those squeaky clean Europeans and Asians. Morality is the branch of philosophy that deals with right and wrong, law is based upon the whims of government. Quite a contrast. And I can imagine that the US prison population would more than half if the government stopped policing what chemicals people are allowed to insert into their own bodies. As that NY Times article points out this prison boom is most likely the result of that pinnacle of government insanity: the War on Drugs.

            1. No doubt, the WoD is far, far worse for our society than the underlying D.

        3. How can you have a war on anything but a noun?

          1. OK then Sir. Pedantic: how do you wage a war against a non proper noun that doesn’t denote a country? Or: how do you wage a War on Drugs?

      2. I think it’d be more reasonable to say 100% of North Korea is imprisoned. That country is a prison.

        1. I was trying to allow for the tiny cadre around the Kim family that subjects the rest to its whims.

          1. I don’t think even that’s true. I know little about North Korea but I do know that the small cadre around a deluded psychopathic dictator, even his closest family, often have it worse than the enslaved citizens. Read the Bomb in My Garden.

  6. We need to start exporting our bad prosecutors to Australia.

  7. I sincerely hope that Delores Carr is someday soon accused of breaking the law in Maricopa county, AZ while she happens to be passing through.

  8. I’ve written before about how rarely bad prosecutors are disciplined for their mistakes, even when those mistakes send innocent people to prison.

    I don’t think they should be penalized for actual mistakes. After all, we don’t penalize judges for being overruled by a superior court even if their original judgement denied someone their rights. There are a lot of grey areas in the law, a lot more than we’d like to think.

    However, they should be criminally penalized for criminal misconduct.

    The only ones can really hold DAs accountable are the judges themselves. DAs are officers of the court and are under the discipline of the court when they try cases. If they do something like withhold evidence from the defense, they are really withholding evidence from the court itself. Judges have the authority by both common and explicit law to hold any corrupt attorney accountable.

    Judges need to get off their asses and haul out the big guns. Judges through out cases based on the fruit of poisoned tree premise expressly to control the executive branches behavior. They need to lower the boom on corrupt DAs the same way.

    If a few DAs spend a few nights in the pokey for cutting corners, that will get their attention.

    1. “”I don’t think they should be penalized for actual mistakes.””

      I could agree with that, but the devil is how “actual” gets defined. I’m sure they can learn how to make their worst behavior look like it was just a mistake.

    2. I don’t think they should be penalized for actual mistakes.

      I could go along with that, if “But officer, it was a mistake!” was a defense available to the population generally.

    3. I don’t think they should be penalized for actual mistakes.

      Penalize the hell out of them. When there are personal consequences to your actions, you tend to make a greater effort to get things right. And when you’re fucking with other people’s lives, you need to get it right. Every time.

  9. If she does not show up for hearings, then the judge will only hear the side of the defense.

    1. That doesn’t sound right. If the prosecution fails to show up, the case should be dismissed. The state must prove guilt. If they don’t show up to prove their case, the defense is not needed.

  10. Full disclosure: Santa Clara County resident, and attorney.

    I’m persuaded that Dolores Carr is an ethically-compromised bag of crap, and that the county DA’s office is something of an Augean Stable. Nevertheless, if the San Jose Mercury News editorial board said that the sky was blue, I would check out the window just to be sure.

  11. How in the hell can a DA boycott a judge? Isn’t it the courts that assign the cases?

    -jcr

    1. Pretty hard to do, what with that whole separation of powers thing and all.

  12. Carr, who was elected in 2006 on a platform promising to reform the DA office’s win-at-all-costs mentality, lost sight of that objective rather quickly.

    When marching in the street to depose a tyrant, the person next to you may be marching because the tyrant didn’t go far enough.

    1. When marching in the street to depose a tyrant, the person next to you may be marching because the tyrant didn’t go far enough.

      For some reason, I’m reminded of the ending of the unfortunately too-obscure movie Crisis.

      (At least the movie has been released to DVD since I blogged about it by the TCM Vault Collection.)

  13. Whoops, pretty sure I voted for her the last time around. Choosing a prosecutor is usually such a crapshoot.

  14. cheap NFL jerseys are only the beginning in terms of what you can expect to find online now.cheap nfl jerseysDiscount NFL merchandise is available in all sorts of categories and products,mlb jerseysand you’ll love the selection that you can have access to for each and every time. Besides other apparel like t-shirts, hats and jackets, you can find many other products like NFL Fatheads.You can purchase cheap NFL jerseys if you action as well.

  15. cheap NFL jerseys are only the beginning in terms of what you can expect to find online now.cheap nfl jerseysDiscount NFL merchandise is available in all sorts of categories and products,mlb jerseysand you’ll love the selection that you can have access to for each and every time. Besides other apparel like t-shirts, hats and jackets, you can find many other products like NFL Fatheads.You can purchase cheap NFL jerseys if you action as well.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.