John Thompson spent 18 years in prison — 14 years of that on death row — for crimes he did not commit. Facing his seventh execution date, a private investigator discovered that scientific evidence of his innocence had been knowingly concealed by the New Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Think about that for a moment: While a man’s life hung in the balance, an agency meant to pursue only justice withheld evidence it knew could prove his innocence.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your state legislators and urge them to strengthen oversight of prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.
Thompson was eventually exonerated, and like anyone who has been so willfully and egregiously wronged, he sued the prosecutors’ office for what they’d done to him. And he won. A jury awarded him $14 million, one million for each year on death row. When Louisiana appealed, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the spring of 2011, in a controversial 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the prosecutor’s office could not be held liable.
With Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office is deliberately indifferent to its responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence.
It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent. Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.
The Innocence Project