Governor veto of prosecutor misconduct bill criticized

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by Carlos Alcalá

Sacramento – Assemblymember Tom Ammiano released this statement on Sept. 29 in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of Ammiano’s AB 885, a bill that would have created a modest sanction in the courts for prosecutors who try to win trials by withholding evidence.

“I’m not just disappointed at the governor’s veto of this bill, I’m angry,” Ammiano said. “We need so much more than this to balance the system and keep the innocent out of prison, as the writers of the Constitution intended. Most prosecutors are honorable, but we’ve seen too many cases where DA’s don’t play fair – hiding evidence or releasing it at the last minute.

Free at last! Obie Anthony, exonerated after 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, savors the news on Oct. 7, 2011.
Free at last! Obie Anthony, exonerated after 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, savors the news on Oct. 7, 2011.

“I recently met 40-year-old Obie Anthony, who has spent nearly half his life in prison because prosecutors hid evidence that would have pointed to his innocence,” said Assemblymember Ammiano. “A court has now completely exonerated him, but that exoneration has come 20 years too late.

“We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice. We can’t wait decades to free the innocent while the true perpetrators run free.”

The bill would have allowed judges to inform a jury when a district attorney has been found to have intentionally withheld significant evidence.

Although such non-disclosure of evidence is prohibited under U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the consequences for prosecutors are few and, despite the governor’s assertions in his veto message, rarely used. In Anthony’s case, he was only granted a 24-hour continuance in his trial.

“We need this bill to stop the few prosecutors whose zeal for convictions lead them to cut corners on justice. We can’t wait decades to free the innocent while the true perpetrators run free.”

Defendants can use that non-disclosure in appeals, but that can take years. Having this tool available to courts should have meant that all prosecutors would disclose all evidence – and that innocent defendants would have a fair chance to stay out of prison.

“AB 885 could have saved me from spending 17 years in state prison,” said Anthony, shortly after it passed the Legislature.

Carlos Alcalá, communications director for Assemblymember Ammiano, can be reached at Carlos.Alcala@asm.ca.gov.

 

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