Prosecutors

New York Sets Up First Statewide Panel to Investigate Prosecutorial Misconduct

District attorneys rarely ever get punished for misbehavior that puts innocent people behind bars. Is that about to change?

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Ann Parry/ZUMA Press/Newscom

New York will be the first state to establish an independent commission to investigate claims of misconduct by county-level prosecutors. Or rather, it will, unless the prosecutors use the courts to stop the law from taking effect.

On Monday, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would create a commission to investigate claims of misconduct by prosecutors within the state. The panel is based on a similar panel in the state used to evaluate judges. It would have the authority to investigate claims of improper behavior by the state's 62 district attorneys (and their subordinates) and can censure them or even go so far as to recommend to the governor that the prosecutor be removed.

The timing of this bill connects well to the most recent report of exonerations in the United States. Last year, dozens of people were release from prison after misconduct by various government officials was uncovered. All but two out of 13 exonerations of prisoners in New York last year involved official misconduct in some capacity (this could include police and judges, not just prosecutors).

Prosecutors are rarely ever punished for misconduct when it's caught. Matt Ferner at The Huffington Post tags a report from 2013 showing that less than two percent of prosecutors found to have engaged in misconduct have been sanctioned in any way for misbehavior between the years of 1963 to 2013. In New York, only three prosecutors have been punished in 151 cases of misconduct from 2004 to 2008.

District attorneys are nevertheless resistant and are planning to file suit. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York is trying to stop it, saying the measure is unnecessary and unconstitutional and is telling prosecutors to resist appointment to the commission to try to keep it from actually operating (prosecutors will be assigned to four of the 11 seats). The association complains that only the governor can remove prosecutors. Cuomo's signature on the bill comes with a condition that it be amended to fix any constitutional concerns before the commission actually gets to work.

The district attorneys also point to existing grievance committees in each appellate division to handle complaints. One such committee disbarred a former district attorney over the summer for misconduct. But opponents point to those stats Ferner mentioned. Prosecutors are rarely ever punished for misbehavior, even when it results in innocent people being imprisoned for years.

The Innocence Project praised Cuomo for signing the legislation. As Policy Director Rebecca Brown notes in a statement, "while most prosecutors respect their ethical obligations, far too many innocent people have been wrongly convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, and until today there was no effective means for holding those who commit bad acts accountable. We hope other states will follow New York's lead and address this serious problem plaguing the criminal justice system."

Read the bill here.

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  1. *All NY prosecutors hardest hit

  2. …and is telling prosecutors to resist appointment to the commission to try to keep it from actually operating (prosecutors will be assigned to four of the 11 seats). The association complains that only the governor can remove prosecutors.

    Sounds like he’s got a list of names to remove right there.

  3. It would have the authority to investigate claims of improper behavior by the state’s 62 district attorneys (and their subordinates) and can censure them or even go so far as to recommend to the governor that the prosecutor be removed.

    Holy shit! Not the censure! That’s like a stern lecture or even a severe reprimand, it’s fucking inhumane!

    Now I could get behind censering them, I’ve got a whole list of government employees I’d like to see stuck in a thurible.

  4. Is that about to change?

    No.

  5. Wow! One of them lost his job! It’s almost like perjury and fabricating or withholding evidence is some sort of crime!

  6. (prosecutors will be assigned to four of the 11 seats)

    And then they just need a couple of their buddies to have a majority. Sounds like they really don’t want to be thrown into that briar patch.

  7. Will it also investigate misconduct on the part of the Governor?

  8. This would be more interesting/important, if the panel actually had any teeth.

  9. Only the whitest of washing will be done.

  10. It’s a start, but to really put a dent in the misconduct, prosecutors would have to start going to prison.

    1. Hey now, they don’t get put in jail…they put people in jail!

  11. Whom will guard us from our guardians?

  12. Do they get the same punishments they planned for their victims?

  13. The governor who has no regard for The Constitution in a state that has the big city of the same name that has no regard for The Constitution? The place where the Mafia thrived thanks to corruption in police forces and all those above them? The city where Joseph Lozito did the police’s job while those police hid in safety until the killer was subdued? The very same police were called heroes and Joseph Lozito had to pay for all the stitches he needed? That city, that state? There has been misconduct and innocents have been sent away? No way. Really?
    Sacrifice a few and feel better about your New York selves but you will never rid yourselves of the stink that exudes from your soulless skins. Read The Constitution again. It is the Law of the Land and gives government power but no Rights. The last part guarantees citizen’s Rights will be protected and gives the citizens power over those they elected. Understandable why New York guv wants to squash the NRA, it is about Rights that endanger him and the corrupt history. New York is the very face of every kind of corruption: bigotry, racism, brutality that many think is a Southern tradition which it is not, it is a New York state of mind -and body…

  14. If the panel they set up is comparable to the panel they have set up for errant judges, then we will see and equivalently tiny number of prosecutors ever being found guilty of anything.
    The Judicial Review Board of NY, very rarely even looks into allegations, and when they do, rarely sanctions anyone.
    Either we have some very many upright judges and crazy mad complainants, or there is some corruption of the written standards by the Review Board.
    Yes, it is the former.

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