While the city prosecutors try to harrumph their way through the Brady War, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III has launched an offensive in the Buffalo News.
“While no one can deny that wrongful convictions have taken place, their rate of occurrence has been obscenely exaggerated,” writes Sedita.
Wrongful acquittals are far more common than wrongful convictions
Of course, what Sedita calls “wrongful acquittals” others might call cases where the cop or prosecutor believes a person is guilty but has no evidence to prove it. And if they believe it, then, guilty they are, proof be damned.
Sedita’s editorial is fascinating, in that it reflects thoughts so bizarrely distorted as to make one wonder whether he could actually believe what he’s writing or thinks the readers so utterly ignorant that they won’t notice.
Our policy of critically and repeatedly reviewing cases at the pre-indictment stage has resulted in some cases being dismissed because the defendant is innocent. Since January 2011, my office has reviewed 4,764 potential felony cases for presentation to the grand jury or other disposition. Thirty-three of the defendants (0.7 percent) charged by the police were probably innocent. One such defendant was exonerated after indictment but well before trial. The remaining 32 defendants were exonerated before they were indicted by a grand jury.
None of the foregoing exonerations occurred after a wrongful conviction. None of the convictions obtained during my administration has been overturned because the defendant was innocent. My predecessor, District Attorney Frank J. Clark, served for 12 years (1997 to 2008) and none of the thousands of defendants convicted during his three terms has been exonerated as innocent.
Aside from the fact that exoneration only occurs after a wrongful conviction (though I hesitate to be critical of Sedita’s unfamiliarity of legal words; they’re pretty hard to understand for some folks, you know), his inability to comprehend that the absence of any exonerations isn’t proof that only the guilty were convicted, but the near-impossibility of the wrongfully convicted from obtaining relief. Yet, Sedita credits himself and his office with his moral generosity and near-perfect score card:
In reality, it is the prosecutor who usually exonerates the wrongly accused, often without prodding from a defense attorney, and almost always well before a trial. Indeed, a critical review of every felony case, by professional prosecutors and at the earliest practicable stage of the proceedings (i.e. before indictment), prevents wrongful indictments and thus, prevents wrongful convictions.
While most would view a bad bust by a cop, charges without evidence, as a negative, Sedita views these as a demonstration of professionalism: Aren’t we wonderful, tossing cases that are utterly without evidence of a crime or guilt? What a great guy! And despite his generous spirit, Sedita acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect.
While no one can deny that wrongful convictions have taken place, their rate of occurrence has been obscenely exaggerated. In reality, wrongful acquittals are much more common than wrongful convictions. I can point to at least four trials this year alone in Erie County that resulted in an acquittal despite overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. Post-indictment dismissals, usually because of technical procedural issues or because the court suppresses key prosecution evidence at the request of the defense, are more common still. Citizens are amazed to learn that under our legal system, the prosecution can rarely appeal a dismissal and can never appeal an acquittal.
Therein lies the kicker. Four trials in Eric County where the guilty walked. We know they’re guilty because Sedita says so, and since he’s the District Attorney, he couldn’t be wrong. The jury acquitted? Morons. Fools. Idiots. The evidence was overwhelming, The jury is only right when they convicted, because after all, if they weren’t guilty as sin, Sedita wouldn’t prosecute them, as he already explained how he “exonerates” the innocent. The rest of the system is just a way to squander the budget, confirming the obvious (except in the four cases this year alone where the jury blew it).
So the Erie County District Attorney concedes the system can make mistakes, but not the ones we think:
I agree that the system is flawed, but in a manner that benefits the accused. I can accept that. Our system presumes a man innocent until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Ours is the greatest criminal justice system ever devised and I am proud to play a role in it. What I cannot accept is deliberate deception heaped upon an unsuspecting public. In my view, these so-called legislative reforms, offered under the pretense of preventing an injustice, are not intended to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction but are instead designed to shield the guilty from any conviction.
Rarely has anyone had the chutzpah to publish such utter nonsense. The system is already stacked against the prosecution, artfully designed by scheming reformers to the disadvantage of the prosecution in order to shield the guilty from conviction.
Except somehow missing from Sedita’s absurd screed is any mention of Habib Wahir Abdal, convicted of rape in Buffalo in 1983, and exonerated by the Innocence Project via DNA in 1999 after serving 16 years in prison. Or Anthony Capozzi, convicted of two rapes in Buffalo in 1987, and exonerated by the Innocence Project via DNA in 2007, having spent 22 years incarcerated. Or any of the other 24 New York State exonerations obtained by the Innocence Project,
These are what Sedita calls “the pretense of preventing an injustice,” as we can just put our trust in prosecutors like Sedita, who will be more than happy to “exonerate” anybody they think is innocent on their own. And if they don’t, you can bet they’re guilty. After all, Sedita would never prosecute an innocent person. It just couldn’t happen in “the greatest criminal justice system ever devised.”
H/T Our hinterlands correspondent, Kathleen Casey