Donald Trump is now officially our new president-elect. Leading up to this election, Hillary Clinton and Trump spoke here and there about prison reform. But not once did the issue of wrongful convictions become a topic. That's strange given that, for the last two years, we have witnessed record numbers of innocent prisoners being exonerated--137 in 2014 and 149 in 2015. Were the candidates really less interested in repairing our failing criminal justice system than in emails and videotapes?
Back to the topic at hand, there are many ways innocent people wind up being falsely convicted. This serious problem is simply not being addressed. While a tremendous amount of money is poured into our criminal justice system, public defenders and court-appointed attorneys are embarrassingly underfunded. This has led to mass wrongful convictions. A perfect example of this was the case of recently acquitted Anthony Wright. Mr. Wright spent twenty-five years in prison on first-degree murder, robbery, and rape charges. Mr. Wright's court-appointed trial attorney was paid $1,800. How in the world was he supposed to receive the effective legal representation that our Constitution guarantees? This is taking place all over our country.
Brady v. Maryland (1963), a U.S. Supreme Court decision, requires prosecutors to disclose all evidence favorable to the accused. But in 75 percent of the cases resulting in exoneration in the last two years, prosecutors were responsible for the wrongful convictions. Unlike public defenders and court-appointed attorneys, prosecutors have endless funds and resources at their disposal. Yet, some of them have no regard for human life. As one of many innocent prisoners, I've been affected by prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors in my case withheld evidence of my innocence for 18½ years. And it did not stop there -- once they partially turned over that evidence, I was blamed for not finding it sooner.
Prosecutors operate under absolute immunity. That is, they are not held responsible for anything they do. Laws needs to be enacted holding prosecutors fully responsible when they are found responsible for malicious prosecutions that led to innocent people being falsely convicted. Just as there are mandatory minimums for certain crimes, there should be mandatory minimums for knowingly convicting innocent people.
Innocent people shouldn't have to suffer from underfunded attorneys. These attorneys need to be fully funded to be effective for those who cannot afford counsel. As for the prosecutors behind our wrongful convictions, I say: sooner or later you will not be able to hide behind your absolute immunity. Recently exoneree LaMonte Armstrong was awarded $6.42 million for his wrongful conviction. Greensboro, North Carolina taxpayers will bear $3.15 million of the cost directly and a private insurance company that covers part of the city's liability will pay the other $3.36 million. My question is: why do taxpayers have to foot the bill for wrongdoing by government officials? So yes, our paths to justice are very distorted.