The Zeal Deal: Prosecutorial Resistance to Post-Conviction Claims of Innocence
59 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2005
This Article analyzes the institutional and political factors deterring prosecutors from accepting the possible legitimacy of post-conviction innocence claims and formulating creative responses to them. Specifically, the institutional culture of most prosecutors' offices treasures convictions; an attorney's conviction rate may serve as a barometer of that person's stature within the organization and a key factor in determining that person's chances for internal advancement. This professional incentive for prosecutors to obtain and maintain convictions may be bolstered by profound psychological and personal bases for believing in the soundness of the verdicts and pragmatic reasons for discounting the possibility that there may be some creditable claims within the heap of post-conviction filings. Likewise, there are a series of political incentives for prosecutors to resist post-conviction innocence claims, even potentially meritorious ones, with zeal. Candidates vying for the office of chief prosecutor typically campaign on a general tough-on-crime platform, strewn with references to their overall win-loss record and reminders about specific successes in high-profile cases. Appearing "soft" on criminals, such as by accepting the possible validity of a prisoner's innocence claim, detracts from that tough-on-crime rhetoric and is largely anathema to prosecutors. The major exceptions to this general rule are when political considerations suggest that openness to the innocence claim may be advantageous, which is of little consolation to the prisoner whose claim happens to surface at a time when the political stars are not so perfectly aligned. This Article concludes by mentioning a series of potential reforms designed to help rehabilitate the ideal that prosecutors are obliged to do justice in the post-conviction arena.
Keywords: Criminal law, criminal procedure, prosecutor, post-conviction, innocence, wrongful conviction
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