By now, you’ve likely heard of the exoneration of Michael Morton. He spent 27 years behind bars, wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. Over those 27 years, he lost his personhood and the years with his son, who eventually stopped visiting him in jail.
What, at least in my view, is almost is shocking is that the prosecutor in the case was actually held at fault for withholding evidence, which if disclosed before trial, could have lead to Michael’s acquittal. For the prosecutor’s wrongdoing, he received 10 days in jail and a $500.00 fine.
If you don’t live in the world of criminal defense, you would probably assume that the prosecutor should get substantial jail time for causing an innocent man to go to jail. The irony is most of the non-criminal-defense people I have discussed this case with believed the prosecutor should have gotten more time. They are also the very same people who ask me, “James, how can you do what you do – how can you defend criminals?”
Michael Morton’s case is the prime example of how important criminal defense is to our judicial system. If left unchecked, the government can certainly be overbearing. And in cases such as Michael’s, where there is truly a possibility of innocence, it’s not so rare that a prosecutor can overstep his or her bounds.
If you’re surprised by the prosecutor’s light sentence, you’ll probably be surprised that my first reaction was “well at least someone was punished for withholding evidence, finally.” The truth of the matter is, even in absolutely wrongful convictions, an over-bearing prosecutor (at least in Virginia) has little fear of blow back for improperly withholding evidence. Simply put, this is the first case that I’ve heard of where a prosecutor was actually held criminally liable for withholding evidence.
What is more, in Virginia, prosecutors are only required to disclose minimal information prior to trial. Most prospective clients ask me we do I get to see the police report in their case? Except for a few counties, the truth is seeing a police report or a prosecutor’s file is simply not going to happen. And that’s because Virginia law does not require them to produce such documents.
Check out the article about Michael’s case below. If you have any questions feel free to send me a message or give a call.