Society views a courtroom as a place where justice is administered by agents of our criminal justice system. Since 1989, there have been almost 2000 exonerations and counting. In 2014, a record-setting 137 exonerations took place–only to be outdone in 2015 with 149. The statistics for 2016 will be coming out any day.
Should society view exonerations as mistakes that were corrected? In 75% of these exonerations, prosecution misconduct was the cause of the wrongful conviction. Considering wrongful convictions as mistakes is like saying that fish don’t live in water. You don’t get large numbers of wrongful convictions without significant misconduct by prosecutors.
California has recently started taking this problem seriously. California Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D) introduced bill (AB 1909) which makes the withholding or falsifying of evidence by prosecutors a felony in the state. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed it into law late last year. This law came about because of the corruption scandals that rocked Orange County. These scandals consisted of numerous cases of corruption by the prosecution office using tainted and false evidence to convict people. In one case, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals found the Orange County District Attorney’s conduct so bad that he barred their entire office from the case. When you have California making it a felony for prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence of innocence or favorable to a defendant, that’s when you know this misconduct is a serious problem.
I’m one of many innocent prisoners who commend California for not only recognizing this epidemic, but doing something about it. Are the rest of our states ready to follow California?
When special bills have to be implemented to keep prosecutors honest in their work, we have to ask: how did we get here? Like the record numbers of exonerations, laws like California’s affirm the misconduct that has been taking place for a long time in the prosecutor’s office. Are all prosecutors guilty of misconduct? No, not at all. But when other prosecutors have knowledge of these “bad apples” and do nothing about it, what does this say about their integrity?
Which brings us to this fact: Having prosecutors police themselves is like having a hungry fox guard the henhouse. In almost all of the cases of exoneration in recent years, prosecutors have fought tooth and nail to maintain these false convictions knowingly and intentionally.
The average exoneree spends between 13½ and 15 years in prison. Why? Because as we fight year after year to show our innocence, these prosecutors use their unlimited resources to maintain our convictions by any means necessary.
Without criminal repercussions, misconduct by our government agents will continue, unfortunately. The prosecutors I speak of have no one to answer to, giving them free rein over anybody they choose to violate repeatedly. I’ve been a victim of continued misconduct while my appeal process has been “slow walked” by prosecutors who have known I was innocent from day one.
I will close by saying that when a police officer is found guilty of misconduct they are immediately labeled a disgrace to our country. This is not the case at all with prosecutors. All we ask as innocent prisoners is to have fair criminal proceedings from start to finish. We shouldn’t have to spend decades in prison for crimes we never committed, while the people responsible continue to represent our criminal justice system.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.