California prosecutor errors go unpunished, Prof. says


By Merrill Balassone | The Modesto Bee    Oct. 2010

Hundreds of California prosecutors — including a handful in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — committed ethical lapses in the courtroom without being punished, according to a report released this week.

Of the 707 cases in which courts found evidence of misconduct from 1997 to 2009, just six prosecutors faced public sanctions by the State Bar. Researchers examined more than 4,000 appeals that alleged misconduct on the part of prosecutors.

“They’re simply not being held accountable,” said Cookie Ridolfi, director of the Northern California Innocence Project, author of the study and a law professor at Santa Clara University. “They answer to no one, and prosecutors are the most powerful people in the justice system.”

Prosecutors have absolute immunity against civil liability no matter how egregious the misconduct, Ridolfi added. The study’s cases ranged from failing to turn over evidence that could help a defendant, to asking witnesses improper questions during trial and presenting false testimony in court.

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager strongly denounced the report as a public relations campaign by anti-death penalty advocates. She called the term “prosecutorial misconduct” misleading and pejorative.

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