Bill Montgomery's Actions Argue in Favor of Ethical Rule He Opposes
At the beginning of August, I wrote about proposed new ethical rules for Arizona prosecutors, in a petition currently pending before the Arizona Supreme Court.
Opposed by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, as well as numerous other county, state and federal prosecutors in Arizona, these amendments to Ethical Rule 3.8 would require prosecutors to reveal to defense counsel or a court any "new, credible, and material" evidence that creates a "reasonable likelihood" a convicted defendant did not commit the crime in question.
Under the suggested guidelines, a prosecutor must "make reasonable efforts" to look into the matter or have the "appropriate law enforcement agency" investigate the new evidence. And if there is "clear and convincing" evidence of a convicted person's innocence, the prosecutor must work to "set aside the conviction."
The changes were suggested two years ago by the Arizona Justice Project, a non-profit group that works to free the wrongly convicted. The proposals are based on more stringent language adopted in 2008 by the American Bar Association.
Since, I first blogged about the amendments, comments from the public have been reopened by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, and will remain open till October 25.
Concerned citizens can make their views known, either online after registering with the court's rules forum or by snail mailing a letter to: Clerk of the Arizona Supreme Court, 1501 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007.
That the proposed changes are necessary in Sand Land, should be self-evident to anyone who's been paying attention.
Prosecutors are supposed to be "ministers of justice" in America's legal system. But all you have to do is call to mind a scoundrel such as disbarred, disgraced ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, a minister of injustice if there ever was one, to know that not all prosecutors act ethically.
Writing for the Arizona Justice Project, Larry Hammond offers the following, compelling reasons why Arizona should adopt these new requirements:
We now know, for certain, that innocent people are sometimes sent to prison, even death row. If we look only at DNA-testing cases, there have been 265 exonerations to date [nationally], and the vast majority of those wrongfully convicted are minorities.
With the famous cases of Ray Krone and Larry Youngblood, Arizona is the home of perhaps the two highest-profile exonerations in the nation. Unfortunately, these are not the only exonerations in Arizona. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that as of October 27, 2010, there had been 138 exonerations of death row inmates. Eight of those inmates were from Arizona, with Arizona ranking sixth highest among the states for the number of death row exonerations.
Since these cases were exposed, the problem of wrongful convictions has not been miraculously cured. Perhaps obviously, there is universal agreement that such travesties of justice are just that--travesties--and any means to mitigate such travesties should be taken seriously.