The Ethical Obligations of Prosecutors in Cases Involving Postconviction Claims of Innocence
18 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2015
Date Written: Spring, 2002
Recent developments in forensic science, particularly in the area of DNA analysis, have generated a new body of law for defendants who allege that they were wrongfully convicted. These innocence-based postconviction review statutes, adopted now in thirty-three states, provide avenues for defendants to obtain "new" or newly available scientific tests of "old" evidence from their cases. These statutes are designed to avoid many of the procedural hurdles of traditional postconviction relief and to provide a comparatively simple mechanism for review. Despite this new body of law, the reality for such defendants is that obtaining this type of review is often extremely difficult. Defendants must litigate these new claims against prosecutors whose primary objective is maintaining the integrity of the convictions, who may themselves have custody or control of both the evidence to be tested and the information concerning the evidence, and who typically have superior resources. The promise of innocence-based postconviction relief is hollow unless prosecutors adopt new ethical obligations to guide their responses to such claims. We propose that when faced with an innocence-based postconviction claim requesting the application of "new" science to "old" evidence, prosecutors should promptly seek the fullest accounting of the truth, effect the fullest possible disclosure, and use the most accurate science. We outline the significance of these standards by reviewing the range of legal issues that can arise under these new innocence-based postconviction review statutes, a series of common counterarguments to the proposed standards, suggested responses to these counterarguments and reasons why adoption of such standards is in the interest of all members of the criminal justice system.
Keywords: Evidence, forensic DNA analysis, innocence-based post-conviction relief, post-conviction relief, post-conviction review statutes, prosecutorial ethics, wrongful convictions
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation