Erie District Attorney: The Real Problem is Wrongful Acquittals

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

 

24 thoughts on “Erie District Attorney: The Real Problem is Wrongful Acquittals

  1. Frank

    Clowns like this who have suck power and arrogance are a major reason why I have no faith in what is laughingly called our “justice” system.

  2. Lee Keller King

    Wrongful acquittal? Does such a thing actually exist? I would laugh at Mr. Sedita if it was not such a serious subject to those whose liberty has been taken away by over-zealous prosecutors.

  3. SHG

    The only way a “wrongful acquittal” could exist is if one presumes guilt rather than innocent. Or, one thinks himself incapable of being wrong. Pick ’em.

  4. Kathleen Casey

    “Presumption of innocence” is pronounced gil-TEE, a old joke among defenders, some of us, in the hinterlands. But it’s not funny is it?

    Thank you Scott.

  5. Kathleen Casey

    You took it to the 100 yard line with the other side of the story, about, let’s see, the 99%. An analogy.

    I hoped you would pass it on to Squawk who I doubt would want to miss it.

  6. David

    It at least used to, in the “Good Ol’ Days” in the South, where clearly those civil rights workers shot themselves, oh my yes, it couldn’t have been that nice chap in the white robes. But that’s why infringing civil rights was made a federal crime.

  7. John Neff

    If I understand this correctly a false acquittal is when a judge or jury thinks the prosecution has failed to prove the defendant is guilty. Sounds like self-serving BS to me but that happens.

  8. SHG

    If it could exist, it would present a definitional conundrum, as no one is guilty unless convicted, making a wrongful acquittal a conceptual impossibility.

  9. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, “Dirty Sedita” might have learned this new and improved deflection tactic (Krapola) via participating in those mandatory Vegas District Attorney Conferences or simply mixed up his old fart meds.

    Despite any excuses, we are witnessing history in the making due to a D.A. going public with his bucket list ‘blaming’ juries for dropping the Guilty Ball. Declaring himself and his predecessor friggin heroes when they refused to pick it up is downright Erie. Please consider updating on an as needed basis for this certainly isn’t his last hoorah look at me moment. Thanks to everyone and especially the Bullshit News.

    *I’m afraid to ask what Mr. “Dirty” thinks about the un-exonerated, the un-exoneratable and his plea bargain stats re: those on probation at time of arrest, for his head would explode. Since we are making up words, I’m entering “wrongful probation” & “wrongful parole” to the mix.

  10. Jamie

    Bah humbug. Wrongful acquittals are my focus at least half* of the time – with correct (rightful?) acquittals making up the balance.

    *OK, maybe 75-85%, whatever.

  11. Jamie

    No, unfortunately for some (me) and fortunately for others (everyone else) they are all true. It just took a while for Hell to get a decent internet connection.

  12. Appellate Squawk

    Actually, Appellate Squawk was the author of that editorial. “DA Sedita” is one of our imaginary characters like Judge Wool and Officer Thumbtack.

  13. Nigel Declan

    What disappoints me is that there does not appear to be anyone with both the authority and the courage to step up and say that intentional Brady violations are completely anathema to the system of justice that so many of the DA’s that objected so strenuously to Marvin Schecter’s comments claim to believe in. Someone needs to step in and say that prosecutors who knowingly violate Brady disclosure will be immediately terminated (like Ms. Rice said, all the while effectively denying that such things happened), stripped of civil and criminal immunity because such actions are clearly outside the scope of their functions as officers of the Court (and even DA offices should potentially have their immunity from liability stripped) and immediately recommended for suspension or disbarment. Obviously no single person or office can accomplish all of this, but some people need to take the courage to say that “innocent until proven guilty”, “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “tried by a jury of one’s peers” are what makes the judicial system work, rather than impediments to prosecutors who “know” that people are guilty putting them in jail.

    Until some courageous prosecutors, DAs, lawmakers, judges and the like can come along and purge the system of the Jason Petris, the Tracy Clines, the Harry Connick Srs. (but not Jrs.), followed by fools like Frank Sedita III and Robert T. Johnson who defend egregious Brady violations and lack either the intelligence or the integrity to admit that such conduct is, frankly, against the law they claim to uphold.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Sedita will likely get praised by many for his mind-numbingly stupid rant as someone who believes in “getting tough on crime” and who is “doing it for the children”. No amount of wrongful conviction exonerations or, as other websites like to call them, bench-slappings by judges and courts of appeal seem likely to have much of an effect on the desire of many prosecutors to win-at-all-costs.

  14. Nigel Declan

    Until those courageous folks appear, I will be unable to properly conclude the sentence in the second paragraph, it appears. Pity.

  15. Greg Lubow

    Acquittals ‘usually’ occur because of ‘technical procedural issues’ – the cops and the prosecutors couldn’t follow their own simple rules; or because ‘the court suppresses key prosecution evidence’;
    Reducing the Constiution to a mere techincality goes a very long way to explaining why cops and some prosecutors view those few scraps of parchment as nothing more than Charmin. And it is always charming the way those knee jerk liberal judges just pick out ‘key prosecution evidence’ to suppress whenever the mood suits them. Must happen every day out in Erie County.

  16. Chicky

    I read Sedita’s editorial 3 times in an effort to make sense out of his rant. For those outside of Western NY, I can only venture a guess that it is the result of his office losing a lot of high profile cases that they should have won recently if the DA’s office were (1) more competent, (2) less self-assured, (3) more determined, or (4) all of the above.

    He also has an ongoing lawsuit with a former Deputy DA whistleblower who was fired for pointing out that Sedita failed to prosecute a political operative in his own campaign (see http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/2009/09/28/mark-sacha-on-das-failure-to-prosecute-steve-pigeon).

    One should be warned to not believe the statistics that Sedita flings out. The productivity measures of the DA’s office since he took over have been abysmal, but like your typical politician, he plays fast and loose with statistics (see http://artvoice.com/issues/v11n23/week_in_review/considered_but_rejected).

    All points posted by SHG are well made. Mr. Sedita continually lashes back at anyone who implies that he has ever done anything wrong. Despite his poor record, he will go unapposed in this year’s election, mainly because of it being a massively Democratic county, and it being a Presidential election year.

    I knew that he has a gargantuan ego, but to see that he fails, to this degree, to understand the point of view of the acquitted is very disturbing.

    [Ed. Note: Links allowed despite rules this time. Get over it.]

  17. Kathleen Casey

    Get the photo and the caption beneath it. Funny but it really isn’t how true.

    And the rest of the story, a recent one, including the 2nd last paragraph alleging the DA’s state of mind. Concededly hearsay from an unnamed attorney but according to the allegation courtroom tactics make it plain. I hope it is not true. He and his assistants could learn from acquittals and get past them. Like we do with convictions. So many more of those.

    http://artvoice.com/issues/v11n33/week_in_review/nate_in_balance

Comments are closed.