Craig Watkins, the Dallas County district attorney who has built a national reputation on freeing the wrongfully convicted, says prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence should themselves face harsh sanctions – possibly even jail time, reports the Dallas Morning News. Watkins, whose jurisdiction leads the nation in the number of DNA exonerations. “If the harm is a great harm, yes, it should be criminalized.” Wrongful convictions, nearly half of them involving prosecutorial misconduct, have cost Texas taxpayers $8.6 million in compensation since 2001. Dallas County accounts for about one-third of that.
Watkins’s ideas could not be more at odds with the win-at-all-costs philosophy that was the hallmark of legendarily hard-line Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade and, to a lesser extent, of subsequent administrations. “Most prosecutors would say, ‘No, no, no,’ ” said Bennett Gershman, a Pace University law professor who studies prosecutorial misconduct. It is rare for a prosecutor to advocate strict penalties for misconduct – even when it’s intentional, said Gershman, a former New York prosecutor. “I couldn’t give you five cases in the last 40 years of criminal charges against prosecutors,” he said. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, chief author of the Texas law that created the compensation system for wrongfully convicted inmates, said he, too, would support criminalizing the intentional withholding of evidence by prosecutors.