Misconduct IDed

Massachusetts justice


The New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) examined over 1,000 Massachusetts cases where prosecutorial misconduct was alleged and found that in at least 120 criminal cases since 1985, higher courts reversed prior rulings based "in part or entirely because of the prosecuting attorney's misconduct."

Eleven of those convicted were exonerated, and an additional 250 cases led to harsh rebukes of prosecutors by judges. Some involved prosecutors allegedly failing to disclose crucial evidence to the defense, misrepresenting evidence in closing statements, or withholding information that could reflect poorly on witnesses' credibility.

The authors of the report, Brooke Williams and Shawn Musgrave, said "the self-regulatory system meant to deal with lawyers' ethical lapses is unusually protective of prosecutors." They added that even when convictions are reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct, the bad actors are rarely named publicly or disciplined at all.

Williams and Musgrave argue that because many judges once worked as prosecutors, they often "sympathize with their heavy workloads" and "share a general cultural norm against snitching on colleagues." Thus, "they almost always omit the errant prosecutor's name" when throwing out a conviction or indictment.

The mild indignity of having a case thrown out hasn't prevented prosecutors with spotted records from rising in the ranks. Not a single prosecutor in the state has been disbarred for professional misconduct since the Board of Bar Overseers came into existence in 1974.