A Supreme Court ruling back in March involving a falsely convicted man, John Thompson, continues to evoke criticism as retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke last Monday urging Congress to pass legislation to hold District Attorneys liable for prosecutorial misconduct.
In Connick v. Thompson, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling to award $14 million to John Thompson, an innocent man who spent over eighteen years in prison for murder – and fourteen years on death row – because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that would have cleared him. The prosecutorial misconduct in Thompson’s case was particularly egregious, including failure to disclose that the main informant had received money from the victim’s family, and that blood samples found at the crime scene didn’t match Thompson’s blood type. Thompson had sued the former Orleans Parish, Louisiana, DA Harry Connick, Sr. for failure to train prosecutors about their legal obligation under Brady v. Maryland to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.
The Court was split 5-4, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinion. The decision has seen widespread criticism, with Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick calling it “one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions ever.” Stevens, who served from 1975 to 2010, said of the case that “the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office committed repeated and flagrant violations of their duty to turn over exculpatory evidence to the accused.” He continued that holding DAs liable for single violations of Brady v. Maryland would be “a simple potential change in a federal rule of law that would have salutary effects on the administration of justice.”