The First Monday in October is the first day of the United States Supreme Court’s new term. It is also a traditional day of legal education and community involvement. This year, on Monday October 1, from 5 – 7 pm, The Pennsylvania Innocence Project and the Matthew H. Ryan Law and Public Policy Forum will host the Pennsylvania stop of a national tour to address the issue of prosecutorial oversight in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Connick v. Thompson. That case granted prosecutors almost complete immunity even for intentional misconduct. Every law school in the Philadelphia area and a growing number of professional legal organizations (see full list below) are joining to support this event and contribute to the growing national dialogue.
Prosecutors have a special duty to all of us; to prosecute criminal offenders, and protect our communities. In carrying out this duty, prosecutors are required to provide certain information to the defense before trial. There is a growing movement in prosecutorial offices around the country to allow the defense access to all information in the prosecutor’s possession — commonly referred to as “open file” discovery. Among the reasons behind this development is to prevent prosecutorial error that could lead to convictions of innocent people.
John’s case involved intentional acts by prosecutors to deny him a fair trial. But innocent people can be convicted even where prosecutors simply make a mistake and fail to provide all the evidence they should to a defendant. Panelists from all aspects of the criminal justice system will discuss possible policy solutions for preventing prosecutorial error and making prosecutors and all members of the criminal justice system more accountable.
About the Program:
The program will feature John Thompson, the plaintiff/appellee in the Connick v. Thompson case. Mr. Thompson was one month from being executed when his counsel, including J. Gordon Cooney, Jr. and Michael L. Banks from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, uncovered previously (and intentionally) withheld physical evidence which exonerated him from a robbery that served as the aggravator enabling the State of Louisiana to seek the death penalty for an unrelated murder. Mr. Thompson was judicially exonerated from the robbery charge, and found not guilty of the homicide after a retrial. At that time, he had already served 18 years in prison (14 on death row). After his acquittal, it became evident that the District Attorney had withheld even more exculpating evidence. While Mr. Thompson won $14.5 million in punitive damages in a Section 1983 action against the District Attorney’s office, the United States Supreme Court reversed the verdict, finding that the District Attorney enjoyed immunity from suit. Mr. Thompson now serves as the Founder and Director of Resurrection After Exoneration and Voices of Innocence, and devotes his life to raising public awareness of the issues related to his conviction, particularly to prosecutorial oversight.
Other Speakers Include:
- The Honorable William R. Carpenter – Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County; and
- Thomas G. Wilkinson, Jr. President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and Partner, Cozen O’Connor.
- Anne Bowen Poulin, Professor of Law, Villanova University School of Law
- Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia
- Philadelphia Bar Association, Public Interest Section
- Pennsylvania Innocence Project
- Pennsylvania Prison Society
- Temple University Beasley School of Law
- Rutgers University School of Law – Camden
- University of Pennsylvania School of Law
- Villanova University School of Law
- Widener University School of Law
- Witness to Innocence
Monday, October 1, 2012
5:00 to 7:00 PM
Justice Roberts Room
Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP
123 South Broad Street, 28th Floor
Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
The event is free and open to the public. No RSVP is required.
The program will be simulcast at www.prosecutorialoversight.org.
For more information, contact Villanova Law School Professor Anne Poulin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more info at the Prosecutorial Oversight website.