When an innocent defendant enters the criminal justice system, grievous mistakes can occur, even when prosecutors play by the rules. Gary Delsohn, a Sacramento Bee reporter, reached that conclusion after researching the wrongful murder conviction of David Jonathan Quindt by trial prosecutor Mark Curry, writes reviewer Steve Weinberg in the Seattle Times. Police arrested Quindt on the basis of an eyewitness identification. Curry had no reason to doubt the eyewitness, who lived at the home where the murder occurred.
It was only after Curry won the conviction that he received a call from a longtime informant who told him the actual perpetrators were still at large. Surprised, indeed shocked, at the information, Curry did what some prosecutors refuse to do – he admitted doubt. Re-opening the investigation, Curry uncovered new information to cast doubt on the eyewitness identification. He freed Quindt from prison, then prosecuted the actual perpetrators successfully.
Delsohn obtained special access to the Sacramento district attorney’s office while researching his book “The Prosecutors.” Delsohn’s detailed, insightful reporting on the Quindt case is typical of the entire book. His unusual journalistic access to a prosecutor’s office led to these insights, some supportive of the conventional wisdom, others counterintuitive:
• Prosecutors have chosen a career filled with difficulties. They deal with the dregs of society regularly; the witnesses and even the victims are sometimes as unpleasant as the defendants.
• “Inside the courtroom and, more often … outside the courtroom, they will exercise their extraordinary power and authority to alter lives forever.”
• It is human nature for some prosecutors to become emotionally involved in some cases, especially those involving what Delsohn calls “a righteous victim.” Delsohn says any prosecutor being honest with herself “will concede those are the cases they get the most worked up about.”
• In many divisions of a prosecutor’s office, career lawyers have accumulated expertise and power, making them as influential in some ways as the elected district attorney.