The Relationship Between Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions: Shaping Remedies for a Broken System

32 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2006  

Peter A. Joy

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Abstract

Prosecutorial misconduct is one of the leading causes, or contributing causes, of wrongful convictions. This paper contends that prosecutorial misconduct is not chiefly the result of isolated instances of unprincipled choices or the failure of character on the part of some prosecutors. Rather, prosecutorial misconduct is largely the result of three institutional conditions: vague ethics rules that provide ambiguous guidance to prosecutors; vast discretionary authority with little or no transparency; and inadequate remedies for prosecutor misconduct. These three conditions create perverse incentives for prosecutors to engage in, rather than refrain from, prosecutorial misconduct.

In order to reduce the number of wrongful convictions, it is essential to understand the institutional conditions that facilitate prosecutorial misconduct. This paper identifies and analyzes these institutional conditions and makes modest, concrete proposals to reduce the incidence of prosecutorial misconduct. The ultimate purpose of the proposals is to prevent wrongful convictions and not to impose unnecessary obligations or unrealistic expectations on prosecutors.

Keywords: ABA Model Rules, ABA Criminal Justice Standards, Criminal Justice Standards, actual innocence, ethics, ethical obligations, innocent, innocence, innocence commission, prosecutor, prosecution, prosecution function, prosecution ethics, prosecutorial misconduct, transparency, wrongful convictions

Suggested Citation

Joy, Peter A., The Relationship Between Prosecutorial Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions: Shaping Remedies for a Broken System. Wisconsin Law Review, Vol. 2006, p. 399, 2006; Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 06-11-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=948307

Peter A. Joy (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
313-935-6445 (Phone)

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