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In Search of Prosecutorial Ethics

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

downloadI am reading about legal news out of North Carolina, but perhaps not the legal news you’re expecting. Rather, I am reading Radley Balko’s Washington Post blog in which he discusses a proposed rule for North Carolina prosecutors and the State Bar’s bizarre resistance to it:

[Attorney Brad Bannon, of the North Carolina Bar’s ethics committee] wants North Carolina to adopt a rule recommended by the American Bar Association, requiring prosecutors to come forward if they find “new, credible and material evidence” that an innocent person is serving time. Thirteen states have adopted the post-conviction rule. North Carolina isn’t among them.

The State Bar rejected the rule several years ago but recently appointed a committee to reconsider.

That this rule is controversial may be surprising. Prosecutors are required to turn over exculpatory evidence before or during a trial, so why not after a conviction? Only cynical responses come to mind, since the practical arguments against such a rule are woefully lacking. Balko writes:

The only argument I’ve seen anyone try to make against such a rule is that it’s unnecessary, because prosecutors — being dutiful public servants and all — already do this. But even if that’s the case, it really isn’t a convincing argument against having a rule. There’s little cost to having a rule. Its existence doesn’t require any funding. It merely exists as a way to possibly punish the prosecutors who don’t follow it. If they’re all already following it, nothing changes.

But of course they aren’t. Which means that opposing the rule is essentially saying that prosecutors who fail to turn over credible evidence of innocence shouldn’t be punished.

The stance against this rule represents the subversion of justice, and, to me, is untenable. Prosecutorial ethics are about achieving the right result, not about victory at all costs. If the personnel don’t reflect those ethical standards, then the rules clearly have to.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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2 Comments to “In Search of Prosecutorial Ethics”

  1. Tucker Cox says:


    But, I am not surprised, in light of the bizarre rules and laws the state legislature, overwhelmingly manned by attorneys, passes.

  2. William Eaton says:

    North Carolina’s — and the 36 other states’ — refusal to adopt such a rule shows, at the very least, remarkable cruelty. Not to take even simple steps to make sure innocent people are not imprisoned. One can’t help feeling whispers of a policy of “we want to keep certain types of people in prison whether they’re guilty of crimes or not”. Is it worth noting that, with such policies, North Carolina, and the others, show how little interested they really are in the teachings of Jesus Christ?

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