This is likely just the tip of the iceberg, said Emily West, IP research director, during a public dialogue on prosecutorial oversight last week at the University of Texas School of Law. Indeed, because 98% of Texas criminal cases are resolved through plea bargain, it is unlikely that we'll ever know the true extent of the problem – which includes withholding exculpatory or other evidence possibly favorable to a defendant. Of the 91 cases in which the courts agreed there was misconduct, 36 involved "improper" arguments during trial, 35 involved improper questioning of a witness, and eight involved a failure to disclose favorable materials, known as a Brady violation. That's exactly what Michael Morton says happened to him.
Exonerated last year, Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for the bludgeoning death of his wife before DNA evidence linked another man to the crime instead. Morton's conviction could have been avoided, he argues, had Williamson County prosecutors – chief among them former District Attorney Ken Anderson, who is now a district judge – had turned over evidence they had back in 1986 that suggested strongly that Morton was innocent of the crime. Anderson is now facing a rare "court of inquiry" (slated to begin Sept. 11), in which a court will determine if his actions (or inactions) violated criminal statutes. (If so, perhaps the IP will have to add a single hash mark to the "disciplined prosecutor" column.)