Should State Agents Be Held Accountable Only to the State?

Recently by William L. Anderson: False Convictions: Another Sorry Legacy of’Progressivism’

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court in Connick v. Thompson dismissed a $14 million judgment against the former district attorney of New Orleans although prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence in the wrongful murder and robbery conviction of John Thompson. Thompson spent 14 years in prison, mostly on death row, before being acquitted in a second trial.

In an eloquent op-ed in the New York Times Thompson wrote of the hellish experience with a legal system that protects its own. He, however, received a "miracle":

The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn't match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn't been turned over either.

This led to his exoneration, but the worst players here are unpunished. The courts have ruled time and again that state and federal prosecutors have "total immunity" from lawsuits if misconduct occurred while doing their "official" duties. While the court's logic here was not simply based upon the "immunity rulings," nonetheless this case still exists precisely because the authorities have been protecting their own.

Even if a prosecutor knowingly gets a wrongful conviction, the victim of the perfidy cannot sue. However, the courts claim that immunity does not mean dishonest prosecutors will be unpunished. After all, the state can bring criminal charges against them, and they can be disciplined by their state bars, and even be disbarred.

This argument is based on a view of the state that is the product of Progressivism, not reality, for it sees state agents as eager to bring discipline themselves, all in the name of nonexistent "good government." At the same time Supreme Court justices shut the door to any direct citizen action against government employees who deliberately harm others. Depend on the state to "discipline" the state, they say. Such "discipline," however, rarely happens.

I am familiar with the argument on the other side: If people can sue prosecutors, there will be a blizzard of lawsuits against these "public servants" and no one will dare prosecute anyone. The prosecutor will not "be free to do his or her job," as I have heard so many prosecutorial advocates tell me.

I believe that "doing their job" is a red herring. Last year, I covered the trial via blog in North Georgia (where I used to live) of Tonya Craft, who was falsely accused of child molestation and ultimately acquitted. The prosecutors lied and engaged in other massive misconduct, but at least the jurors saw through their actions.

When I spoke to a representative of the Georgia State Bar, she flippantly reminded me that Craft was acquitted and that the prosecutors were just "doing their jobs." I replied that Craft was forced to spend a million dollars in her defense and that the bar's definition of "their jobs" includes lying and subornation of perjury. She hung up the telephone.

The conversation spoke volumes to me. These prosecutors had openly violated their own state's rules of conduct, yet the very person who would recommend they be disciplined was cavalier about what they had done.

For all of the talk of "democracy" and "self-government" from the American political classes, what we have today is self-perpetuating "Progressive" government. We are supposed to assume we are governed by Wise People Who Know What Is Best For Us. Instead, we are governed by people who face few standards of accountability, and while they repeat the line that they can "police themselves," we also know that is untrue.

In its Connick ruling, the Supreme Court simply affirmed the "Progressive" canards that those "professionals" who govern us also can be trusted to govern themselves. That is a lie as bad as any lie that DA Harry Connick Sr.'s underlings told the jurors when they wrongfully convicted John Thompson of murder and sentenced him to execution.

May 2, 2011