Four years ago, the State of North Carolina saw something more rare than a wild polar bear in Florida: the actual disbarment of a prosecutor for withholding exculpatory evidence and then lying to a judge about it. While it was morally satisfying to see a lawbreaker like Mike Nifong get at least a tiny bit of comeuppance for his crimes, apparently the other prosecutors in North Carolina got nervous.
Never fear. This week, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill ensuring that prosecutors, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brady decision, can withhold exculpatory evidence indefinitely. (Notice that the information is barely mentioned in the news article, but it definitely has major implications, as I see it. This article has a bit more information.)
Now, prosecutors no doubt will claim that it is not their fault if the police withhold information that is vital for the defense and do so without the knowledge of prosecutors, and if something is put into those terms, I can understand their point. However, my sense is that situations in which exculpatory evidence is withheld rarely, if ever, involve police mishandling of evidence or even police misconduct in absence of the knowledge of prosecutors.
Anyone familiar with how criminal law works knows that police and prosecutors work closely together. The notion that police are going to treat prosecutors the same way they treat defendants and defense lawyers truly is a howler, but that is what prosecutors want us to believe.
So, what is likely to happen as a result of this new law? I have no doubt that prosecutors simply are going to make sure that a lot of exculpatory information somehow remains in police files and doesn't make its way to the courthouse. The police will be able to claim that they "just forgot" and prosecutors will be able to claim that they had no clue this stuff existed.
As outrageous as this law is, I doubt it could have saved Mike Nifong's skin in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case. First, Nifong took over the investigation from the police and was involved in a number of details, including overseeing the "lineup" from which Crystal Mangum picked her alleged assailants. In fact, this very point is why he is able to be sued, given he went outside the normal scope of his duties.
Second, while Nifong in his response to the North Carolina State Bar (after it filed charges against him), first claimed no recollection of being at a meeting with Brian Meehan, whose DNA lab had found the results which ultimately led to Nifong's downfall. His only hope would have been that the police had not turned over the relevant exculpatory information, but given that he and Meehan actually planned strategy at that meeting, his "I don't recall being there" defense was seen for the sham it was.
I have no doubt at all that this new law will lead to more wrongful convictions in North Carolina, a state that already is known for a bad criminal "justice" system. Furthermore, I suspect that most legislators voting for this abomination knew just that, but really didn't care. And prosecutors now have been handed yet another weapon to destroy innocent people.
As I further develop the case narrative and look into the conviction of Bradley Cooper, I can see this mentality at work. The police (as we shall see) destroyed a key piece of exculpatory evidence and then lied about what they did. Was this done with collusion with prosecutors? Who knows. All I know is that the legislature and Gov. Bev Perdue have handed police and prosecutors the opportunity to destroy and hide even more evidence -- and it all will be perfectly legal.
All in a day's work, I suppose.