The Issues

PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

What is Prosecutorial Misconduct?

When a prosecutor or district attorney (DA) behaves unethically or violates the law to win a case, it is not always immediately apparent. In many instances, the accused is afraid to complain for fear of retaliation or is already serving a sentence when he or she realizes that something went terribly wrong with their case.

Here are some of the ways in which prosecutors cross the line:

  • Failure to disclose exculpatory evidence
  • Padding indictments or falsifying evidence
  • Intimidation
  • False arrest
  • False confession
  • Police brutality
  • Racial profiling

Prosecutors abuse the power of their position and discretion in the following ways:

  • Plea bargaining abuses such as seeking testimony in exchange for leniency, which is often a precursor to perjury or falsified evidence.
  • Tainting of jury pools with public statements which are either inaccurate, exaggerated, or unsupported by evidence or could be inadmissible at trial.
  • Naming a host of unindicted co-conspirators in conspiracy¬†cases to intimidate potential defense witnesses with threats of retaliatory prosecution.
  • Using multidefendant trials to get defendants to turn on one another in the courtroom, as judges may be reluctant to allow separate trials in multi-defendant cases.

Corrupt prosecutors often go unpunished due to the fact that prosecutorial misconduct is viewed by judges as unethical, but not illegal behavior. Until new laws are passed which make willful misrepresentation of material fact to win cases illegal, the American criminal justice system will remain a broken set of procedures set up to disenfranchise those whom are most vulnerable.

MANDATORY MINIMUMS AND SENTENCING REFORM

Why Sentencing Reform Is So Important?

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. In fact, there are over 2.38 million adults currently serving sentences in prisons and jails across the country, while these facilities operate above capacity. According to the most recent data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 60 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses (i.e., drugs, immigration) and account for the majority of the U.S. adult prison population.

Due to mandatory minimum sentences, harsh criminal justice policy toward tackling the “war on drugs”, and the abolishing of parole in the federal system, prisons are overcrowded and prisoners are serving exorbitantly long sentences for nonviolent crime. Prison overcrowding endangers the lives of prisoners and prison staff, and leads to increases in the overall costs of incarceration. Criminal justice reforms such as early releases, shorter initial sentences, and alternatives to prison for nonviolent, low level drug offenses will ease overcrowding.

PRISONS FOR PROFIT

Why Private Prisons?

The growth of the private prison industry is attributed to tough drug laws characterized by mandatory minimum sentences, and lobbying on behalf of corporately owned prisons. In the U.S., the number of people serving sentences in privately-owned prisons has risen 354 percent over the past 15 years.

Private prisons gained in popularity during the mid-nineties to assist state correctional agencies in efforts to ease prison overcrowding. States contract with private prisons to lease bed space according to quotas which mandate minimum occupancy rates and when prisons operate over capacity, this means good news to private prisons. The privatization of prisons has created a billion dollar industry due in part to the direct link between lobbying and campaign contributions to elected officials.

The end result of privatizing prisons is treating those serving prison sentences as human commodity. As long as prison beds are filled, private prisons backed by Wall Street investors turn a profit; Thus, the incentive for locking up as many individuals as possible and federalizing the majority of criminal offenses.