A veteran law professor and a civil liberties lawyer clashed sharply with district attorneys yesterday over the extent of prosecutorial misconduct in California and what, if anything, should be done about it, says the Los Angeles Times. “Prosecutorial misconduct occurs with some frequency in this state and prosecutors are rarely disciplined for their misconduct,” Santa Clara University law professor Cookie Ridolfi said. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the California District Attorneys Association said the state’s current rules of professional conduct are an adequate safeguard against prosecutorial excess.
The debate occurred at a hearing of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which is studying problems in the criminal justice system that have put innocent people in jail. Ridolfi, of the Northern California Innocence Project, said judges had found prosecutorial misconduct in 443 of more than 2,100 California cases over the last 10 years. Ridolfi said that figure was just “the tip of the iceberg,” because almost all criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains. Michael Schwartz, a prosecutor in Ventura County, said a close look at the available data shows that prosecutorial misconduct occurs in less than 1 percent of all cases. Natasha Minsker of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “The question for the commission is not whether misconduct is rampant or rare, but whether there are systemic problems and do we need systemic solutions. Our answer to both questions is yes.” Three bills are before the state legislature based on the commission’s work, including false confessions in custody, jailhouse informants, and the use of lineups in witness identifications.