Sunday, June 26, 2011
The cosmetic self-serving bill that the Guv shouldn’t’ve signed into law
In the Saturday, June 25, 2011 issue of The News & Observer is an article by staff writer Craig Jarvis titled, “Perdue vetoes bill on lawsuits.” The article makes mention of some of the other bills that Governor Bev Perdue signed into law on Friday. One bill she signed was to “protect prosecutors if police don’t give them all the material they’re supposed to in criminal cases…” This is truly a joke and it’s the kind of thing that cements into the minds of countrymen and women that North Carolina is the laughing stock of the nation when it comes to criminal justice.
The bill is one without substance, offers no benefits to the majority of Tar Heelians, and at its worst is capable of debilitating court room justice. It is self-serving in that the General Assembly, which is comprised mostly of attorneys and individuals with law degrees, in passing it is merely protecting one of its flock from civil liability. This should not even be an issue because prosecutors enjoy immunity in cases which they are prosecuting… all attorneys except former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Because Nifong exhibited rare independence and refused to kowtow to the Power-That-Be and dismiss the Duke Lacrosse case charges, he was subjected to the most overbearing and devastating persecution by the state, including disbarment, and crucifixion in the media. The protection he was due as a prosecutor was stripped away to permit the unprecedented filing of civil suits against him. What makes this all the more tragic is that he prosecuted the case well within acceptable standards.
Other prosecutors, such as Tom Ford, who solicit and use perjured testimony, withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense, utilize hocus-pocus forensics, and have no qualms about holding “suspects” in jail for lengthy periods without bringing them to trial, are and have been protected by the laws already in place that provide them with immunity. They are protected under the umbrella of the law so long as they comply with the wishes of those in power… if not the consequences of their actions can be predicted by observing what happened to the independently thinking prosecutor seeking true justice, Mike Nifong.
With the Mike Nifong situation, the state merely bypassed the law that protected Nifong… acted as though it didn’t exist. Because the media had thoroughly poisoned the minds of the masses with its anti-Nifong reporting and opinions there was little reason to believe that the public would object this judicial indiscretion.
But, that is the way things work in the Tar Heel state. When people of privilege, power, status, and connections go afoul of the law, then the laws are bended or broken and they receive “a rare deal for the privileged.” When the disenfranchised, poor, people of color, and those who have incurred the wrath of the state bigwigs are involved in a controversy, then you can bet that the laws will be manipulated and molded in a way that is not to their advantage… a “rare deal for the not-so-privileged.” Bottom line is that this bill is totally useless. The courts and state will continue to use creative means when dealing with the law in order to obtain the results it desires.
The absence of civil lawsuits filed against prosecutors is evidence that this bill to protect them is superfluous. Prosecutor Tom Ford, who vindictively put Gregory Taylor, a man he knew to be innocent, behind bars for a life sentence is not being sued. Even though after serving 17 years wrongfully in prison Greg Taylor was exonerated and proclaimed “innocent” by a three judge panel. Prosecutor David Hoke who put Alan Gell on death row even though he possessed exculpatory evidence of his innocence, is not being sued. This, despite the fact that Alan Gell served ten years wrongfully incarcerated. These are but two of many cases where prosecutors exhibited egregious professional misconduct far worse than anything Mr. Nifong has been accused of and yet are not subjected to civil suits. This bill is unnecessary for protecting those prosecutors who tow the state’s line by following the tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”
What the bill does is divest prosecutors of responsibility for the cases they choose to prosecute. In this way, it is a major impediment for criminal defendants who are seeking justice. It is an out for the prosecutors, allowing them to put the blame of an ill-fated and wrongful prosecution on police and investigators. If crucial evidence, records, lab results, notes, and/or documentation are found to be withheld from the defense, then prosecutors can do as they have done in the past… which is to put the blame on the investigator, police, or lab tech. This bill allows prosecutors to say, loud and clear, “Hey, it’s not my fault,” whenever an innocent person has been found to have languished behind bars for years and decades due to a prosecutorial misdeed. If anything, this bill which was just signed into law, has the propensity to ramp up the number of bad acts by prosecutors. This is an outcome that is obviously not in the best interests of Tar Heelians.
A prime example of what I’ve stated comes from an article which appeared in The News & Observer titled, “Bill critics: Hold DAs accountable.” In the news piece, by AP writer Emery P. Dalesio, it discussed an Iredell County double-murder case in which the judge declared a mistrial and barred prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty against defendant Al Bellamy. This ruling from the bench was the result of prosecutors, who three weeks into the trial and having completed presenting their case, handed defense attorneys about 1,700 pages of interview notes taken by a former narcotics detective. Although the prosecutors’ case may be in slight jeopardy, the prosecutors themselves certainly are at no risk. In accordance with the PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong), the names of the prosecutors are not even mentioned. The bill newly signed into law would have absolutely no bearing on this case.
These Iredell County prosecutors will not face sanctions, punishment, or disbarment for withholding gobs of evidence from defense attorneys well into the trial, which is an abomination when one considers that the North Carolina State Bar, in large measure, disbarred Mike Nifong for allegedly not giving defense attorneys non-exculpatory lab results fast enough… a trial date having not even been set in the Duke Lacrosse case.
Final analysis: it is the people who need protection from prosecutors, not the prosecutors who need protection from the people. However, through obfuscation, Jedi mind-speak, spin, and fancy rhetoric, the General Assembly has been able to convince many of those who do not adequately exercise their gray matter that this new law to protect prosecutors will lead to fairer criminal justice outcomes. Hah. The laugh’s on us. Nothing could be further from the truth.