DA Jan Scully’s wrongful convictions

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully claims rate of wrongful convictions is “infinitesimal,” in spite of report noting 80+ in her county alone, resulting from withheld evidence, perjury, and use of perjured testimony by prosecutors and law enforcement….

On 10 June 2012, Foon Rhee, Associate Editor at the Sacramento Bee, wrote an excellent article for The Conversation: “How the innocent end up in prison.”

Among other things, the article discusses “common problems that cause the vast majority of false convictions: mistaken identifications by eyewitnesses, unfounded accusations and misconduct by law enforcement” and 2) “inexpensive solutions that could prevent many wrongful convictions, such as videotaping interrogations, changing identification procedures and improving training for police and prosecutors.”

The article notes that “Many of the fixes have the support of the International Association of Chiefs of Police” and that attorneys and activists for the wrongfully accused and convicted “call for police, prosecutors and defense lawyers to work together to reduce false convictions.” According to two such activists interviewed, “That doesn’t seem too much to ask. Yes, we have an adversarial system of justice, but all sides should be able to agree that these miscarriages of justice are doubly devastating,” said the interviewees. “Innocent people lose years of their lives and the guilty go unpunished.”

All very reasonable, all very open-minded, all very intelligent.

At this point in the article, however, reporter Rhee asks Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully for her thoughts on these matters. True to form, Scully replies in her usual dismissive and defensive posture (see other articles on Jan Scully) while simultaneously underscoring the weaknesses of her own arguments:

    District Attorney Jan Scully, Sacramento County’s top prosecutor for 18 years, says while such efforts are “laudable,” they are also misleading because the rate of wrongful convictions is “infinitesimal,” given how many criminal cases are filed each year. She worries that such reports can undermine public confidence in the justice system’s integrity.

In particular, she disputes that two of the three Sacramento County cases cited in the report are really exonerations, as the average person would understand the definition.

• Case No. 1: Among “group exonerations” – not counted in the registry total – the report mentions the 2010 dismissal of drunken driving and other charges against 79 defendants because former Sacramento Police Officer Brandon Mullock is alleged to have mishandled the DUI stops and falsified reports.

Scully, however, doesn’t consider those drivers to be “exonerated” because they were in all likelihood guilty. She just couldn’t make the charges stick without a credible witness. [EC: Indeed. See “Sacramento ex-cop faces 34 charges of lying, perjury,” also in the Sacramento Bee. ]

• Case No. 2: Gloria Marie Killian was found guilty of first-degree murder in a 1981 home invasion in Rosemont. In 2002, after 16 years in prison, she was granted a new trial by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that a prosecutor used perjured testimony and withheld evidence. [Emphasis ours.]

Scully declined to put Killian on trial again, mainly because she was already eligible for parole and because key witnesses had died. But that doesn’t mean she was innocent, the district attorney says.

Of course, beginning at the time of Killian’s re-trial, Killian became innocent, as one is legally innocent until proven guilty and Killian was not proven guilty–precisely because of the gross misconduct by a prosecutor from none other than the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

DA Scully: “My whole office is an integrity unit.”

The article continues:

    Like some other district attorneys, Scully also keeps a confidential list of law enforcement officers whose credibility is in question because of past transgressions. Senior staffers decide what to do when a case involves an officer on the list, which now includes 46 current and former officers from nine different agencies. Depending how crucial that officer’s testimony is, Scully’s office can decline to file charges, dismiss a case or disclose the issue to the defense and proceed.

With those safeguards in place, Scully says she doesn’t need a formal “conviction integrity unit” like those in some places, including Santa Clara County. “My whole office is an integrity unit,” she says.

To her credit, however, Scully is thanked by “Virginia Hench, a University of Hawaii law professor who … credits Scully’s office for admitting it made a mistake” in one case.

Yes, one case is certianly a step.

Infinitesimal, next to missteps known and unknown in the DA’s office. But a step.