DOJ Bucks Trend on Protections Against Wrongful Convictions

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Bruce Green was quoted in a Law360 article about the prevalence of wrongful criminal convictions in the U.S. legal system.

Mounting awareness in the U.S. legal system of the prevalence of wrongful criminal convictions hasn’t stopped federal prosecutors around the country from fighting state efforts to codify the government’s duty to help right a miscarriage of justice.

Opposition to a post-conviction prosecutor rule was most recently on display in Michigan, but legal ethics experts said U.S. Department of Justice resistance has been a consistent, though not universal, reaction to moves by other state courts to expand prosecutor ethics rules.

Bruce Green, a legal ethics expert at Fordham Law School who supported the Michigan adoption, called the officials’ fears of statutory conflict “overstated.”

According to Green. the rule is a “minimal obligation” clarifying the well-understood principle that prosecutors should always seek justice, even if it means acknowledging the system convicted an innocent person. Moreover, federal prosecutors are already statutorily obligated under the federal McDade Amendment to comply with the at-times inconsistent ethics rules of all jurisdictions in which they practice, Green added.

U.S. attorneys “carry a lot of weight, and if they would say ‘We support this and here’s a revised version we could get behind,’ I think that would go a long way to seeing this adopted in more states as a basic ethical standard,” Green said.

DOJ resistance to the enhanced rule has not been universal. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan did not oppose its adoption in New York in 2012, while the state District Attorneys Association supported the addition and was involved in negotiating the language, according to Green and others involved in the adoption process.

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