Critiques of the Judiciary
Charles Sebesta “Disciplined” for Prosecutorial Misconduct Anthony Graves spent 18 years in prison, including 12 years on death row, for murders he didn't commit.
In their zeal to obtain convictions, prosecutors sometimes resort to the unconstitutional practice of withholding exculpatory evidence, or worse, presenting false testimony to a jury and trial judge. The withholding of evidence is a crime for which prosecutors should be held to account, and victims of such misconduct who are wrongfully convicted should be fairly compensated for the state's strong-armedforfeiture of their civil rights. What makes the Graves' case unique (see video)is that the district attorney who prosecuted him was ultimately disbarred for malpractice despite rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that have upheld the doctrine of immunity for prosecutors, most recently in the case of Connick v. Thompson.1 Because immunity from the law breeds impunity to the law, the national outcry to end injustices perpetrated by errant prosecutors must continue until they are held accountable for their willful misconduct. Failing this, victims will continue to join the ranks of the Anthony Graves's and others whose lives waste away as they labor to be vindicated.
Texas prosecutor of ex-death row inmate loses law licenseMICHAEL GRACZYKJune 12, 2015
HOUSTON A former Texas prosecutor has been stripped of his law license after a panel of the State Bar determined he withheld evidence and used false testimony to win a capital murder conviction against Anthony Graves, a now-exonerated death row inmate.
A three-member evidentiary panel Thursday ordered the disbarment of Charles Sebesta, who spent 25 years as district attorney in Burleson and Washington counties, after finding he committed professional misconduct in his prosecution of Graves.
Graves was convicted and sent to Texas death row for the 1992 slayings of six people. A federal appeals court reversed his conviction in 2006. He was released from prison four years later, after serving a dozen years on death row, when a special prosecutor determined he should be freed and declared innocent.
"It takes great courage to say a prosecutor was so clearly acting against the rules of fair play that he should be stripped of his law license," Graves said Friday in a statement released by his lawyers. "But the panel did just that, and I appreciate it.
"I have waited 20-plus years for complete justice and freedom. ... No one who makes it a goal to send a man to death row without evidence and worse, while hiding evidence of my innocence deserves to be a lawyer in Texas."
Sebesta left office in 2000 after 25 years as prosecutor in the two counties about 100 miles northwest of Houston. He did not immediately respond to telephone messages Friday from The Associated Press. His State Bar profile lists him as retired.
He has said he continues to believe Graves is guilty and has posted extensively about the case on his personal website.
Texas has achieved notoriety as the nation's most active death penalty state, and prosecutors rarely have been punished for wrongdoing. Sebesta's disbarment comes about 18 months after another former district attorney, Ken Anderson, served four days in jail and forfeited his law license for the wrongful murder prosecution of a Central Texas man, Michael Morton.
Morton served nearly 25 years of a life prison term for the 1986 slaying of his wife but was freed after a special court of inquiry determined Anderson intentionally concealed evidence favorable to Morton's defense.
In Graves' case, another man, Robert Earl Carter, also received a death sentence for the killings and had testified that Graves was his accomplice. Carter subsequently recanted that testimony, including in the moments just before he was executed 15 years ago.
When a federal appeals court reversed Graves' conviction, it found Sebesta withheld that Carter told a grand jury that he committed the murders alone, and then allowed Carter and another witness to give false testimony.
Graves, in January 2014, filed a grievance with the State Bar. A year ago the organization's Office of Disciplinary Counsel found "just cause" to believe Sebesta had violated ethics rules, leading to a four-day disciplinary hearing last month. Sebesta invoked his right under State Bar rules to keep those proceedings private.
Besides his 12 years on death row, Graves spent two years awaiting his first trial, then another four in jail awaiting a second trial.
"The ordeal experienced by Mr. Graves is almost unimaginable," his attorneys, Kathryn Kase, Neal Manne and Charles Eskridge III, said in a statement Friday. "We are humbled and inspired by the grace and character he has shown throughout including when he shook Mr. Sebesta's hand after the hearing ended and wished him well."
Graves and Carter were convicted separately of the murders of Bobbie Davis, 45; Nicole Davis, 16; Denitra Davis, 9; Brittany Davis, 6; Lea 'Erin Davis, 5; and Carter's 4-year-old son, Jason Davis. Court records showed Carter was upset that one of Davis' daughters had named him in a paternity suit, a step toward seeking child support.
The six victims had been stabbed or shot, or both, and were discovered by firefighters responding to a blaze at a home in Somerville, about 80 miles northwest of Houston, in the early morning hours of Aug. 18, 1992. Evidence showed their killer tried to burn the bodies to hide the deaths.Copyright 2015, Hearst Newspapers, LLC
From: Michael Graczyk, "Texas prosecutor of ex-death row inmate loses law license," Associated Press, June 12, 2015, adahttp://www.chron.com/news/texas/article/Prosecutor-of-ex-death-row-inmate-disbarred-6323705.php, accessed 07/04/2015. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
Video adapted from: Andy Cerota, "Prosecutor in Anthony Graves case disbarred," Click2Houston.com, June 12, 2015, http://www.click2houston.com/news/proscecutor-in-anthony-graves-case-disbarred/33556452, accessed 07/04/2015. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
When prosecutors lie and falsify evidence,
“absolute immunity”protects them from justiceGLENN HARLAN REYNOLDSMarch 8, 2015
When you're charged with a crime, you're in a tough spot. As soon as charges are filed, you're faced with the necessity of either (1) negotiating a plea bargain, which means you'll plead guilty to something or other; or (2) going to trial, where you risk a much more serious conviction if the jury doesn't believe you. Facts are often confused. The prosecution has access to law enforcement for its investigations. You'll have to pay for yours.
It's a big enough challenge when everybody plays things straight. But what about when you've got a prosecutor willing to lie? Then things are worse. And given that prosecutors often face no consequences for misconduct, it's not surprising that some are willing to lie about it.
That's what happened in the California case of The People v. Efrain Velasco-Palacios. In the course of negotiating a plea bargain with the defendant, a Kern County prosecutor committed what the California appeals court called "outrageous government misconduct."
What prosecuting attorney Robert Murray did was produce a translated transcript of the defendant's interrogation to which he had added a fraudulent confession. The defense attorney got a copy of the audio tape of the interrogation, but it "ended abruptly." Eventually, Murray admitted to falsifying the transcript, presumably in the hopes of either coercing a plea deal, or ensuring a victory at trial.
When the trial judge found out, charges against the defendant were dismissed. Incredibly, the State of California, via Attorney General Kamala Harris, decided to appeal the case. The state's key argument: That putting a fake confession in the transcript wasn't "outrageous" because it didn't involve physical brutality, like chaining someone to a radiator and beating him with a hose.
Well, no. It just involved an officer of the court knowingly producing a fraudulent document in order to secure an illicit advantage. If Harris really thinks that knowingly producing a fraudulent document to secure an illicit advantage isn't "outrageous," then perhaps she slept through her legal ethics courses.
The California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District didn't buy Harris's argument, and upheld the dismissal of charges. That means the defendant went free.
On one level, that's fair: The prosecution should pay a price when it engages in outrageous misconduct. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that the defendant was actually guilty (sure, Murray was trying to railroad him, but you can railroad a guilty man) and now the charges against him have been dropped. If he's guilty, taxpayers are at risk for future crimes.
Meanwhile, Murray suffered no actual punishment for his wrongdoing. As a report in the New York Observer notes: "For reasons beyond comprehension, he still works for the District Attorney Lisa Green in Kern County, Calif." Murray does face the possibility of discipline from the California bar, but even disbarment would be a light punishment for knowingly producing a false document in a criminal proceeding.
Our criminal justice system depends on honesty. It's also based on the principle that people who do wrong should be punished. Prosecutors, however, often avoid any consequences for their misbehavior, even when it is repeated.
Worse yet, prosecutors are also immune from civil suit, under a Supreme Court-created doctrine called "absolute immunity" that is one of the greatest, though least discussed, examples of judicial activism in history. So prosecutors won't punish prosecutors, and victims of prosecutors' wrongdoing can't even sue them for damages.
That leaves courts without much else to do besides throwing out charges in cases of outrageous misconduct. But if we care about seeing the law enforced fairly and honestly, we need more accountability.
First, courts should sanction prosecutors directly and personally for misconduct. Second, legislatures need to pass laws promoting accountability and ensuring that prosecutorial misconduct is policed by someone other than the same prosecutors' offices that are committing it. Third, the notion of absolute immunity for prosecutors, which has no basis in the law or the Constitution, needs to be abolished.
In truth, I'm not terribly optimistic that we'll see any of these changes. Prosecutors are politically powerful, and neither judges nor legislators are interested in crossing swords with them in a big way. But until prosecutors are held accountable in the same way that the rest of us are, there will be no assurance that they're not breaking the law themselves. And that's no way to run a "justice" system.Copyright 2015, USA TODAY
From: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "When prosecutors lie and falsify evidence, 'absolute immunity' protects them from justice," USA TODAY, March 8, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/08/justice-honesty-government-prosecutor-column/24611623/, accessed 03/09/2015. Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a University of Tennessee law professor. Hyperlinks in the original article are omitted. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C.
§ 107for a non-profit educational purpose.
- Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. ____ (2011).
- Brian Rogers, "Prosecutor in Graves case disbarred in rare move," Houston Chronicle, June 12, 2015.
- 48 Hours: "Grave Injustice," CBS News, March 19, 2012, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/students-help-free-wrongfully-convicted-man-19-03-2012/, accessed 07/04/2015.
- Crimesider Staff, "DA disbarred for sending Texas man to death row," CBS/AP, June 12, 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/charles-sebasta-prosecutor-of-wrongfully-convicted-man-anthony-graves-loses-law-license/, accessed 07/04/2015.
- Tulanelink.com, "Prosecutorial Misconduct; Glenn Ford was freed after nearly 30 years in Louisiana's Angola Penitentiary."
- Tulanelink.com, "Deceptive Prosecutors Ruled Immune from Accountability
(Part 1); John Thompson spent 18 years in prison, including 14 years on death row, for a murder he didn't commit."
- Tulanelink.com,"Dishonest Prosecutor Receives Slap on Hand."
- Alex Kozinski, "Preface; Criminal Law 2.0," Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc., 44 Georgetown Law Review, 2015.
- Judge Kozinski speaks out on the origins and consequences of prosecutorial misconduct and the critical need for reform.
- "Qualified Immunity: Striking the Balance for Prosecutor Accountability," Center for Prosecutor Integrity, 2014.
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