14 years on Death Row due to withheld evidence, SCOTUS refuses to prosecute DA

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#1
John Thompson served 18 years in prison -- 14 of them on death row -- for a murder and an armed robbery he did not commit. The prosecution's case was a house of cards: Thompson did not match the eyewitness description originally given of the murderer (although the most crucial witness against him did), and a blood test taken from the scene proved that he did not commit the robbery.

If the blood evidence should have exonerated him before either case went to trial, why did he come so close to being executed?

It happened, quite simply, because prosecutors withheld the critical blood evidence. Since the Supreme Court's 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland, suppressing evidence favorable to the defendant has been recognized as a violation of the Constitution (failures to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence are now known as "Brady violations"). Because of a series of lucky breaks, Thompson and his attorneys happened to find out about the illegal suppression of evidence, and after more than two decades of legal wrangling and a disgraceful attempt to retry him that resulted in an acquittal after only 35 minutes of jury deliberation, he was finally free. For obvious reasons, following his vindication, Thompson sued the New Orleans district attorney's office for violating his civil rights. A jury awarded him $14 million. Of course, no ending to Thompson's story could be happy, but he at least received substantial compensation for the gross violation of his rights.

But the injustice didn't end there. Earlier this week, a bare majority of the Supreme Court threw out the jury award. Speaking through Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court's five Republican appointees held that New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. was not legally liable for the criminal actions of the prosecutors under his supervision. According to Thomas, Thompson did not "prove a pattern of similar violations" that would make the D.A.'s office responsible for illegally suppressing exculpatory evidence.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's closely argued dissent pointed out, there was an obvious long-running pattern of misbehavior. The violations of Thompson's rights, she writes, "were not singular and they were not aberrational"; They resulted from prosecutorial misconduct over a nearly 20-year period. If this doesn't constitute a pattern for which the D.A. can be responsible, it's unclear what would, particularly given how hard it is to uncover evidence of Brady violations.

...

Viewed in the context of the Court's other jurisprudence on the responsibilities of prosecuting attorneys, Thomas' opinion looks even worse. Let's accept for the sake of argument the majority's position that the injustice done to Thompson was just the product of five bad apples and that Connick should not be held liable for them. Can't you go after the individual lawyers who withheld the evidence? No. There is a doctrine that gives prosecutors absolute immunity for their actions as prosecutors (although they can still be subject to liability for their actions as administrators or investigators, which is why Connick was not entirely immune). So by also making it exceptionally difficult to hold district attorneys accountable for the illegal acts of their employees, the Court has created a classic catch-22 in which nobody can be held responsible for rights violations.

Nor does it seem likely that the Court will revise its ill-advised grant of total immunity for prosecutors anytime soon.

...

Chief Justice John Roberts twice fretted about the alleged "chilling effect" on prosecutors of not maintaining absolute immunity for prosecutorial actions at trial. As Radley Balko pointed out, the argument is bizarre in its misplaced priorities: "We want prosecutors to 'flinch' before introducing evidence they suspect might not be true. In fact, we want them to not introduce that evidence at all. And there should be a chilling effect on misconduct as egregious as coaching witnesses to lie."

...


The treatment of John Thompson reflects poorly on the American criminal-justice system for another reason as well. He was, after all, nearly executed. And leaving aside the illegal suppression of evidence, the case against him was remarkably weak. His conviction "was based entirely on the testimony of four witnesses," all of whom received either cash rewards, plea bargains, or dropped charges in exchange for their testimony. The fact that an individual could receive a death sentence based on such thin and unreliable evidence is further evidence of a death penalty system that is indefensibly prone to error.


More here: http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=the_impunity_of_the_roberts_court


TL;DR: John Thompson spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors withheld evidence, but the Supreme Court refuses to hold them accountable.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#4
Well that's bloody stupid of them..
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everything that you've come to expect


#7
Disgraceful.
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#10
Quote by Tanglewoodguit
I hate how the 'greatest country in the world' has SO many flaws.

being great doesn't mean being perfect.

But this is completely ****ed up. Not only the part of the assholes not being brought to justice, but that such a horrible thing happened to the poor guy. 14 Million for almost 20 years in jail, most likely a quarter of his entire life? You can't undo that by throwing a couple of million at someone, then saying "we're not gonna do anything to the guys who did this to you, sorry lolz!". You cannot.

EDIT: also, enough with the death sentance already. this is the 21st century for fuck's sake, start acting like it.
Last edited by CoreysMonster at Apr 2, 2011,
#11
Quote by Kensai
Disgraceful.

As someone who has lived here for his whole life, I agree with you completely.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to puke. A man had his life destroyed because of prosecutors who don't care whether or not the person behind the other table is actually guilty, but instead they only care about their win-loss count.

Everyone involved should be immediately disbarred and should have to pay the $14 million to the man out of their pockets.
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#12
Quote by CoreysMonster
being great doesn't mean being perfect.

But this is completely ****ed up. Not only the part of the assholes not being brought to justice, but that such a horrible thing happened to the poor guy. 14 Million for almost 20 years in jail, most likely a quarter of his entire life? You can't undo that by throwing a couple of million at someone, then saying "we're not gonna do anything to the guys who did this to you, sorry lolz!". You cannot.

EDIT: also, enough with the death sentance already. this is the 21st century for fuck's sake, start acting like it.

He's not getting the money now anyway.


It's completely ****ed up that someone can be put to death or imprisoned on the basis of eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable even at the best of times.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#14
say he's melted now
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#15
Quote by CoreysMonster
what? why not?

A jury awarded him $14 million. Of course, no ending to Thompson's story could be happy, but he at least received substantial compensation for the gross violation of his rights.

But the injustice didn't end there. Earlier this week, a bare majority of the Supreme Court threw out the jury award. Speaking through Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court's five Republican appointees held that New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. was not legally liable for the criminal actions of the prosecutors under his supervision.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#16
that's disgraceful.

how come he's not getting his money as well? (sorry, only skimmed OP)
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#17
Quote by CoreysMonster
what? why not?

because they can't/won't find the DA's office liable for withholding the evidence.

If there's nobody liable, there's nobody to pay the guy $14m.
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Quote by element4433
Yeah. people, like Lemoninfluence, are hypocrites and should have all their opinions invalidated from here on out.
#19
This is pathetic on so many levels.
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#20
I accept the death sentence, but only in special cases. For instance serial killers need to be put to death, or in a top security prison for the rest of their lives. However, I think there should be a minimum requirement that there shall be no reason to doubt that the percecuted is actually guilty.

This case is disgracefeful and pathetic. There shall be a compromise between public security and the individuals' basic rights.
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Last edited by sfaune92 at Apr 2, 2011,
#22
Quote by sfaune92
I accept the death sentence, but only in special cases. For instance serial killers need to be put to death, or in a top security prison for the rest of their lives.

I fail to see why the second option is not good enough. There's no need for the death penalty.
Also, the assumption that serial killers can't be reformed is false.

However, I think there should be a minimum requirement that there shall be no reason to doubt that the percecuted is actually guilty.

That's already the minimum requirement for any criminal conviction.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#24
Quote by Kumanji
Welcome to the American legal system, which has imprisoned more people than any other civilisation in history.

As we can see from America's super low crime rate the warehouse prison system totally works, particularly when you let private companies run it.
Plus, if they don't lock so many people up then how can they disenfranchise them, and who'll make license plates?
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#25
Clarence Thomas does not grasp the concept of responsibility.
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#26
Quote by Jackal58
Clarence Thomas does not grasp the concept of responsibility.

That's one Clarence who won't be getting his wings anytime soon.
#27
Quote by Ur all $h1t
I fail to see why the second option is not good enough. There's no need for the death penalty.

Yeah, but some pople never get tired of escaping. The extreme cases need to be taken care of in an extreme extent. Indviduals, who's only mission is to end others' lives, doesn't deserve to live. When I think of extreme, I mean ones that have killed several people, and that has escaped from prison at least once, and then commited more killing.
Also, the assumption that serial killers can't be reformed is false.

Reffering to the part above. Attempting to get them back to "normal" must always be the first option.
That's already the minimum requirement for any criminal conviction.

Yeah, but it doesn't seems to be in this case. Eye witness testimonies should never solely be the reason for a sentence so fatal as the death penalty.

What would happen if this evidence never saw the light of day? The guy would be killed innocently. Even inprisoning an innocent for life or longer periods is unacceptable if the evidence isn't solid enough.
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Last edited by sfaune92 at Apr 2, 2011,
#29
Quote by sfaune92
Yeah, but some pople never get tired of escaping. The extreme cases need to be taken care of in an extreme extent. Indviduals, who's only mission is to end others' lives, doesn't deserve to live. When I think of extreme, I mean ones that have killed several people, and that has escaped from prison at least once, and then commited more killing.

I can't think of anyone like that, except maybe Ted Bundy, who hadn't been convicted upon his escape.
The only people who've escaped in Ireland have been people who got broken out by the IRA.

Reffering to the part above. Attempting to get them back to "normal" must always be the first option.
+1

Yeah, but it doesn't seems to be in this case. Eye witness testimonies should never solely be the reason for a sentence so fatal as the death penalty.

Ya but the Justice system will always be behind Psychology and science in general in this stuff, and in fact it's pretty much impossible to remove this with a Jury System, the Jury will always be swayed by eyewitness testimony, even when you tell them not to be or prove that the Eyewitness couldn't have seen what happened. We can't really get rid of Juries, a trial by your peers is important.
All convictions must be beyond reasonable doubt, but the Justice system isn't, and can't, be infallible, which it would need to be for the Death Penalty to work.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#30
Quote by sfaune92
Yeah, but it doesn't seems to be in this case. Eye witness testimonies should never solely be the reason for a sentence so fatal as the death penalty.

What would happen if this evidence never saw the light of day? The guy would be killed innocently. Even inprisoning an innocent for life or longer periods is unacceptable if the evidence isn't solid enough.

which is exactly why the death penalty should not be an option. The legal system puts these high standards on itself and they don't always prevent injustices. Why would putting even higher standards on itself achieve anything other than what we have now considering the 'higher' standard you're proposing is meant to be the system we have now?
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Quote by element4433
Yeah. people, like Lemoninfluence, are hypocrites and should have all their opinions invalidated from here on out.
#31
The fallacy here is applying the term "system". There is no "system" There are only people.
People are fucked up.
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#32
Is withholding evidence that is vital to the case not considered perverting the course of justice? Because the prosecutors let the poor guy rot in jail for 18 years despite having evidence to disprove his relation to the murder, which is quite frankly disgusting.
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#34
Quote by sfaune92
Yeah, but some pople never get tired of escaping. The extreme cases need to be taken care of in an extreme extent. Indviduals, who's only mission is to end others' lives, doesn't deserve to live. When I think of extreme, I mean ones that have killed several people, and that has escaped from prison at least once, and then commited more killing.


If the individual is escaping so much then maybe that says something about the facilities they're kept in? Surely it'd be better money spent raising security in these facilities than running through the extremely expensive process needed for an execution?
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#35
Quote by In The Mist
Why am I not surprised that Thompson is black.

Because of the fact that Black people are generally treated unfairly in the US justice system.
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#36
Quote by Ur all $h1t
Because of the fact that Black people are generally treated unfairly in the US justice system.


I think that's what he was getting at.
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#37
Quote by leeb rocks
I think that's what he was getting at.

I was answering his question...
"Why should we subsidise intellectual curiosity?"
-Ronald Reagan

"Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
-George Washington
#38
Quote by Ur all $h1t
I was answering his question...


Well it was obviously rhetorical you... pfft
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#40
The Supreme Court is a ****ing joke sometimes. Our whole damn justice system is a joke.

EDIT: If someone killed my whole family, I'd want them dead. But honestly, the death penalty does nothing and really should be abolished everywhere. We could use those prisoners to do a shitload of community service stuff.
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Last edited by BladeSlinger at Apr 2, 2011,
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