This week the New York Times highlighted Michael Morton. Mr. Morton was released after spending 25 years in prison for killing his wife. The real killer was caught as the result of hard work by concerned citizens, but not until he had murdered another woman. The story of Mr. Morton highlights yet one more case of an exoneree who law enforcement hung out to dry as the easy target. Rather than conduct a thorough investigation, Mr. Morton, as the husband of the victim, was the convenient target. Twenty-five years and one more murder later, he’s no longer convenient.
ProPublica released part 2 of a story about Claude Stuart. Mr. Stuart was a New York City prosecutor. He has nothing to do with Mr. Morton’s case. There is no evidence Mr. Morton’s prosecutors were the dirty liars that Mr. Stuart has come to be known as. Nevertheless, Mr. Morton’s prosecutor’s owed a duty to him and to the people of Texas to get it right and they didn’t. Mr. Stuart has been fired and disbarred, but he only reaped what he sowed after years on the job.
I am here to call for the job of any prosecutor who gets it so wrong that an innocent person goes to prison. Prosecutors are the only type of criminal defense lawyer in Delaware who has a specific disciplinary rule directed at them. Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8 states, “The prosecutor in a criminal case shall not do any of the following: (a) pursue or prosecute a criminal charge the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause***.” The language of the rule is strong and designed to protect the prosecutors. In this world, how does one ever know anything? Nevertheless, they have nearly limitless resources to get it right, so to fail so miserably that a person goes to prison demonstrates languor, ineptness or malice. In any category, a minister of justice must not be allowed to continue to hold such a powerful position.
Mr. Morton’s attorneys had to fight for years to get the DNA tested. Why would a prosecutor fight against the truth? The reality is many incarcerated defendants must fight for years to obtain access to evidence that would exonerate them. Prosecutors and legislators cite the cost of granting access as a reason to deny access. But when the average cost to incarcerate a person was $31,307 back in 2010, how can states afford to not get innocent people out of their prisons?
The exposure of wrongful convictions began receiving media attention while I was in law school. The Innocence Project and other programs like it began popping up in the evening news. Maybe that’s why prosecutorial misconduct gets me so fired up. Maybe its because I hold my peers in the bar to such high esteem that I shudder to think of a lawyer putting personal career advancement over the freedom of an innocent person. All I know is that I put every ounce of that passion into each case in my office. If you’re innocent, call The Law Office of Brian Jones, and we will do everything within our power to make sure you do not become the next Michael Morton.