Friday, 03 June 2011 00:00
The latest shocking revelation about Nassau’s shuttered police lab having problems as far back as 2003 substantiates more than just the need for a special prosecutor to take custody of all affected files and the need to notify all those accused during those years. Since the 1960s when the Supreme Court of the United States decided Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, it has been the law that prosecutors have an affirmative duty to turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants. In a subsequent case the Supreme Court went further and determined that prosecutors must use due diligence in finding, locating and revealing exculpatory evidence even though it may not be under their direct control. See Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419 (1995).
The American Bar Association Standards for the Prosecution Function (1993) also provide for the duty of expedited disclosure on the part of prosecutors. When prosecutors fail to disclose exculpatory evidence they are rarely subject to grievances or prosecutions. An exception might be the Duke University case where a prosecutor was disbarred for his failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.
Obviously, the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence such as deficiencies in a police lab affects thousands of cases where defendants pled guilty or were convicted after trial. Grand and petit juries were not informed of this exculpatory evidence. No doubt many wrongful convictions have occurred with permanent records or rap sheets for those affected and, in still other cases jail sentences, which should not have been imposed. Lives have been disrupted and careers destroyed.
The financial costs to Nassau and its taxpayers for the malfeasance of its Police Department and District Attorney are catastrophic for a County that is already on the verge of fiscal bankruptcy. More and more litigation will occur to vacate pleas. That will no doubt be followed by class action lawsuits for damages by those affected. This involves not only drug and alcohol cases but all other forensic evidence including, for example, autopsy, fingerprint and ballistic reports. At this late stage the integrity of evidence and the chain of custody involving it have been severely compromised. Time was of the essence but the Nassau District Attorney let it fleet away.
The unheeded letters of Chauncey Parker, a well-respected member of the former Governor’s cabinet, points to serious neglect bordering on criminality on the part of the Police Department and District Attorney. Mr. Parker has been credited in criminal justice circles with being a prime force in the revision of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. At the time that he wrote those letters in 2006 highlighting deficiencies in the lab, he was a former federal prosecutor. He is now a Chief Assistant in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Parker’s status and reputation should have caused the Police Department and D.A. Rice to pay attention to his letters. They ignored them and covered them up at their own peril. This is a disgrace and scandal of monumental proportions, unrivaled in the history of criminal justice.
The actions of the Nassau District Attorney require more than just her resignation and admission of neglect and a cover up. It requires the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to start presenting evidence to a Grand Jury for Obstruction of Justice and related charges.
Thomas F. Liotti
Garden City Attorney,
Westbury Village Justice