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Should there be penalties for attorneys in a wrongly convicted murder case?

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In the most recent wrongly convicted case, Jonathan Fleming of NYC, once again a District Attorney walks away for the overturned conviction unscathed with no penalty. Should there be a law penalizing attorneys when they knowingly withhold evidence in order to more easily win their case? This should be a no brainer question; but is it?

Interesting facts in the Jonathan Fleming case presented by the AP:

  • Previous District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes ignored a key witness who recanted her testimony soon after Fleming's 1990 conviction; she said she had lied so police would cut her loose for an unrelated arrest, but Fleming continued to lose his appeals.
  • Defense investigators found previously untapped witnesses who pointed to someone else as the gunman, the attorneys said, declining to give the witnesses' or potential suspect's names before prosecutors look into them. The district attorney's office declined to comment on its investigative plans.
  • Prosecutors' review produced a hotel receipt that Fleming paid in Florida about five hours before the shooting — a document that police evidently had found in Fleming's pocket when they arrested him. Prosecutors also found an October 1989 Orlando police letter to New York detectives, saying some employees at an Orlando hotel had told investigators they remembered Fleming.
  • Neither the receipt nor the police letter had been provided to Fleming's initial defense lawyer, despite rules that generally require investigators to turn over possibly exculpatory material.

This kind of case, where the prosecuting attorney either withholds or simply ignores pertinent information, is unfortunately being heard of more and more these days. If a witness is to lie on the witness stand (under oath), they are guilty of perjury; yet what kind of actions happen when a dirty attorney twists and turns the facts? Being held in contempt of court is a plausible answer; however what if the dirty actions come to light twenty to thirty years later?

There does not seem to be a universal protocol on how to investigate and prosecute law professionals who are found guilty of knowingly (or with a doubt) sending someone to prison simply to close the case. How do these people sleep at night knowing that people they helped put away may truly not just be not guilty, but actually be innocent?

Every state that has had a wrongfully convicted person’s sentence overturned has or has had a member of the legal profession who should be held responsible. If it can be proven that the lawyer knew there was additional evidence but did not disclose it because it might have altered the chances of winning his or her case, then those individuals need to be held responsible for their actions and be prosecuted for sending a potentially innocent person to prison.

We would love to have you weigh in on this current cultural topic! Please feel free to wright in your opinion in the comment box below.

Learn more about the wrongly convicted at InnocenceProject.com

Make a statement and send your US Congress Representative a message about holding law professional responsible for knowingly deceiving a court of law.

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