Just as criminal defense attorneys are required to abide by specific legal and ethical standards, so are prosecutors. Most people who are charged with a crime don’t have any idea whether a prosecutor is engaging in misconduct or even what it would entail. Criminal defense attorneys, however, are trained to understand this phenomenon.
There’s no question that there has been a growing number of high-profile exonerations in recent years, wherein people convicted of serious crimes who have served years in prison have been released because evidence came to light proving that they weren’t guilty. Righting wrongful convictions aren’t always a matter of prosecutorial misconduct, though. New DNA evidence may be located or an eyewitness may admit that they lied. Yet, if a prosecutor deliberately withheld (“suppressed”) evidence that would have been advantageous to a defendant or even proven their innocence, however, that’s likely a clear case of prosecutorial misconduct.
Key violations of rules of professional conduct for Texas prosecutors
Texas, requires high standards of prosecutors that extend beyond withholding evidence. Under the state’s rules for professional conduct for prosecutors, the following would be considered prosecutorial misconduct:
- Interrogating an accused person when they haven’t been reasonably assured that the person has been read their rights
- Trying to get an “unrepresented accused” to waive their rights, whether before, during or after trial
- Prosecuting someone for an offense without probable cause (or not prosecuting them when there is probable cause)
- Not providing timely disclosure to the defense and the court all evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and…all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor”
- Taking “reasonable care” to prevent employees from making any “extrajudicial statement” about a defendant or case that the prosecutor is prohibited from making
For a prosecutor to face disciplinary action, it must be shown that they intended to violate the rules – for example, that they intentionally withheld evidence that would have helped the defendant.
Those in the justice system typically report prosecutorial misconduct
Most violations of these infractions and other instances of prosecutorial misconduct are reported by people outside the state’s disciplinary system who are involved in a case and/or a trial. These include defendants, defense attorneys, judges and even other prosecutors.
By seeking experienced legal guidance throughout as you present your defense, you will have someone on your side who can recognize and report instances of prosecutorial misconduct. This may or may not affect the ultimate outcome of your case. However, it can help to ensure that you get a fair trial.