Warren: Prosecutorial misconduct deserves serious attention

January 9, 2014 

Warren

— S.C. Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty has taken a lot of criticism for bringing up the subject of prosecutorial misconduct in our state. Apparently, that is not something you bring up in public as he did during a speech at a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach recently.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson of Charleston took offense when the judge cited two of her assistants who were disciplined.

Outside of our state, prosecutorial misconduct is a much discussed topic these days.

The Innocence Project has won exonerations of many people through DNA testing. For example, it proved that Ken Anderson, former prosecutor and later judge in Texas, withheld evidence that would have proven the innocence of Michael Morton, who instead spent 25 years in prison.

Anderson is the first prosecutor to be punished for misconduct. All other cases are overturned while the prosecutor is given immunity for misconduct. Anderson received disbarment and 10 days in jail. (Do you think there is justice in 10 days for 9,125 days?)

If you think it can’t happen here, I direct you to the book Anatomy of Injustice by Raymond Bonner (2012), with the story of Edward Elmore’s conviction for murder in South Carolina in 1982. The reader can follow injustice at work all the way up through the state Supreme Court.

Due to prosecutorial misconduct, Mr. Elmore spent 11,000 days (30 years) in incarceration. He was freed a year ago. Mind you, Elmore had to plead guilty to get out of prison. The solicitor in his case died in 1998.

Solicitor Wilson has formed a posse (13 of the state’s 16 solicitors) to bar Justice Beatty from hearing their cases, claiming that he is prejudiced against prosecutors. I think he was thoughtful to tell them that he is no longer going to turn a blind eye to the fact that the defense lawyers have been at a disadvantage for so long that it embarrasses the judge.

Is Attorney General Alan Wilson unaware of what Justice Beatty has observed?

Giving everyone on trial a fair break should be welcomed by all solicitors and defense lawyers.

George F. Warren

Isle of Palms

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