Law free essay: Prosecutorial, Judicial Misconduct and Ineffective Assistance by Criminal Defense Counsel
Prosecutorial, Judicial Misconduct and Ineffective Assistance by Criminal Defense Counsel
The perfect example of a case of prosecutorial misconduct involves abuse of the prosecutorial power of discretion, where failure is witnessed in exercising authority to determine which offenses to be brought before the justice system. A prosecutor decides which offenses are weighty enough to appear before the court and which to be disbanded on grounds of evidence. An illustration of such abuse was witnessed when Durham County Prosecutor Michael B. Nifong brought a case of rape before the court without investigating and North Carolina Attorney General moved in, dismissing rape charges leveled against members of Duke University lacrosse team. The victim of rape was an exotic dancer who gave contradictory statements against the defendants, which coupled with the lack of DNA or other incriminating evidence implied that the action of the prosecutor was contestable as the Attorney General found. The prosecutor apologized after the dismissal, admitting to have made errors of judgment that primarily direct prosecutorial discretion (Schmalleger, 2011).
In terms of protection of the prosecutor by the justice system in their exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the prosecutors enjoy some form immunity against liability. As observed in the matter of Imbler v. Pachtman, the Supreme Court outlined the prosecutors’ protection from the authorities for taking up the dirty role of deciding who must face prosecution on behalf of the state. It therefore implies that in any matter involving an individual and the prosecutor in his capacity as a court official, liability cannot be placed on the prosecutor. However, the extent of liability borne by the prosecutor changed in 1991 in the case of Burns v. Reed, where legal advice given by the prosecutor was found to cause elements of apportionable liability. In giving incorrect advice to the police to conduct hypnosis on a suspect, the prosecutor bore the responsibility of his conduct (Schmalleger, 2011, p328).
Ineffective Assistance by Criminal Defense Counsel
According to the standards set out in Stickland v. Washington (1984), the implementation of the Sixth Amendment about provision of an opportunity for defense counsel to the defendant must involve competent services to the defendants. The defendant must obtain sufficient assistance from the defense counsel officials, failure to which remedies can be sought on grounds of ineffective assistance. The matter of Stickland v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court made a ruling to the effect that the defense counsel must perform beyond objective standard of reasonableness that would dispel possibility of different outcomes if the performance of the counsel had been different. Performance must be competent and not below reasonable objective standard (competence prong) and the anticipated legal problems must be resolved in the best way that cannot be proved otherwise (prejudice prong) (West, 2010).
The defendant had earlier received a death sentence and appealed for the reversal of the sentence on grounds that the proceedings failed to follow the appropriate channel, since the defense counsel failed to carry out important duties, which eventually deprived him of a fair hearing. The Supreme Court spelt out criteria for determination of the question whether the defense counsel acted efficiently in assisting the defendant to launch the best possible case before the court. It was held that the defense counsel did not flout procedures of ensuring a competently presented case in the defense of their client.
An illustration of ineffective assistance by the defense counsel was witnessed in 1995 in the matter of State v. Hicks, 536 N.W.2d 487, where the assumptions of the defense proved too costly for the defendant’s case that was eventually reversed (West, 2010). In the case that required forensic investigation involving the various body materials, the defense counsel thought DNA tests on the defendant’s pubic hair was not necessary for his strategy, which had serology evidence, that pubic hair DNA would be inadmissible and that costs to conduct the test would be prohibitive. The court ruled that the action by the defense was ineffective to win the case since the defense knew that the hair test would have major issues on the case, that the assumption of dismissal was wrong and that the cost probation was never proved. As illustrated in Stickland v. Washington, the case would have been different if the assumptions made were correct on admissibility and usefulness of hair DNA alongside serological results and failure to call for the DNA test on unproven grounds of cost seem blatant inefficiency.
Misconduct cases of judges inside and outside the courtroom may impair the judges’ image as an impartial party to a case brought for adjudication. A case of judicial misconduct involves inappropriate behavior from the bench, where judges fail to follow laid down rules and code of conduct binding courtroom officials. An illustration of such a case inside the courtroom involves the 1997 unfortunate event when the presiding judge in Pleasant County circuit, Judge Joseph Troisi reacted angrily and assaulted the defendant in the case by biting his nose. Bill Whittens’ assault by the judge was serious such that he had to seek medical treatment and the Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the case. Judge Troisi was found to have overreacted after the defendant used derogatory language that was directed at him and was eventually forced to resign (Schmalleger, 2011). The responsibility of the judge to maintain order in the courtroom must always observe restraint during emotive sessions between the parties involved.
The conduct of the judge in the direction of the case may also be challenged on an accusation of improper conduct outside the court. This illustration involves a case of misconduct inside the courtroom directly affecting the judge’s image as an impartial official. A case of misconduct outside the case that directly affected the judge in court proceedings involved Phoenix Superior Court Judge, Philip Marquardt who was reportedly using the court’s mail system to purchase narcotics for personal use. In 1991, the judge was caught trying to purchase marijuana that he was abusing then and two defendants sentenced to death in the 1980s argued demonstrated in 2002 that the use of drugs affected the judge in his judgment. The judge resigned under pressure, consequently lost his practice license and later admitted to have used the drugs during his practice, which potentially affected his judgments (Schmalleger, 2011).
The cases of misconduct among judges have been reduced tremendously over the last few decades after states started to scrutinize academic, professional and accreditation profiles of candidates who want to become judges. Previous methods of hiring judges through elections without regard of credentials perhaps contributed to the relatively more numbers of misconduct cases before the new system. Judges undergo several training programs to sustain high competence levels across the US, and top judges are highly learned persons due to the responsibilities of the legal profession (Schmalleger, 2011).
Professional institutions, such as the National Judicial College, also provide specialized training for judges. However, there are cases of non-lawyer judges without high and specialized training in many states in the US. This fraction of judicial officers deal with minor offenses in lower courts, which reduce the burden of work pile on the judicial system. The level of involvement for these low class judges plays an important role to the justice system, and high personal conduct standards guide the authorities in lay judge appointments, which are usually done through elections. National numbers of lay judges continue to decrease, however, following targets of professionalization of the entire justice system.
Outcomes of Misconduct on Criminal Justice Models
By virtue of incompetence and inefficiency of courtroom officials as illustrated above, criminal justice cannot effectively offer crime control perspective in managing lawlessness. In the crime control model, crime and lawlessness cannot thrive in the society. It implies that the quality of service delivery by the criminal justice system officials determines the success of the model in controlling crime. In cases where the officials engage in blatant flouting of the expected conduct, the score of the judicial system in curbing crime falls below the social demand of the management of social ills. As observed above, firm decisions against lawbreakers in disguise of victims of mistreatment enables exclusion of bad elements from the society using vigilance at all levels of government (Banks, 2004).
In terms of the due process model, individual liberties and civil rights perspective dominates crime elimination arguments. Cases of government overemphasis on policies and laws that overstep constitutional provisions are brought before the court to adjudicate and protect individual liberties. When court officials fail in their discharge of duties, entrusted to them, they subject individual justice seekers to more trouble and trauma instead of assisting. Failure to protect the Sixth Amendment provisions, for instance, exposes individuals o impacts of constitutional mutilation providing protection against harsh treatment.
Banks, C. (2004). Criminal justice ethics: theory and practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.
Schmalleger, F. (2011). Criminal justice today: An introductory text for the 21st century (11th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson/Prentice Hall.
West, E. M. (2010). “Court Finding of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims in Post-Conviction Appeals Among the First 255 DNA Exoneration Cases.” Retrieved from http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/Innocence_Project_IAC_Report.pdf
 “….to the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused….I also understand that when someone has been wrongly accused, the harm caused by the accusations might not be immediately undone merely by dismissing them. It is my sincere desire that the actions of Attorney General Cooper will serve to remedy any remaining injury that has resulted from these cases….” (Schmalleger, 2011, p327)
“Hicks’ trial counsel understood that the hair samples were going to be a major issue in the case. But he has provided no reasoned basis for failing to pursue a testing process that he knew had the potential to provide exculpatory evidence on this major issue. We do not intend to suggest that failure to obtain DNA test results is always deficient circumstances of each case. …” (West, 2010, p5)