During law school, I worked as fellow for the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). Throughout my time at OIP, I realized that prosecutors have a lot of discretion. This discretion gives them a lot of power in our criminal justice system. I found the wise words of Uncle Ben from Spider-Man coming to my mind when working on these innocence cases: with this great power, comes great responsibility. (These wise words should come to many prosecutors’ minds when working on their cases.)
Michael Sutton’s case ignited a fire within me. His case inspired me to become a social justice warrior and fight for indigent people. Michael’s innocence claim showed me that social justice work is more than innocence work. His case taught me that everyone needs an advocate. And, for that, I will be eternally grateful to Michael.
My final blog post for the UC Social Justice Blog was recently published. It’s called, With Great Discretion Comes Great Responsibility. I am sharing some excerpts from it with you all. I hope it inspires you to look into Michael’s case and help us fight to bring him home.
Brady, in a nutshell.
“In our justice system, prosecutors have a large amount of discretion. This means that they have the ability to either pursue charges or not. In our justice system, the prosecutor has all the power. However, with great discretion comes great responsibility. When any one person holds a position of power, our society places checks and balances. These checks and balances are in our workplace, our local government, our judiciary, and our President. The same applies to our prosecutors. And, the Brady rule is only one of those checks. But, why have Brady?”
With great discretion, comes great responsibility.
“First, the United States is one of few countries that presumes the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Our justice system requires prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is one of the highest burdens in our legal system. A jury cannot convict the accused if that burden is not met. But, why have such a high burden? The answer is simple: someone’s liberty is at stake. If found guilty, the accused is convicted and sentenced. That is why the accused is entitled to all the evidence collected against them, which includes written and oral statements made by all police officers involved in the investigation.
Second, anyone accused has a constitutional right to confront all evidence presented against him or her. Our federal constitution guarantees this right under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. This right allows the accused to have a fair trial. But, why do we have this right? The answer is simple: someone’s liberty is at stake.
Finally, American citizens rely on prosecutors to serve justice and protect the public. We expect the prosecutors to do so by following the rules and laws placed upon them. When Brady violations occur, our trust is broken. Regardless of the accused’s guilt or innocence, the public’s trust is very important. We expect our protectors to serve justice fairly – not sneakily. Knowledge is power, but withholding knowledge keeps that power intact. In criminal cases, prosecutors have a lot of knowledge which gives them a lot of power. But when the public is lied to because crucial information was not shared, the belief in our justice system crumbles. Why do we care about prosecutorial conduct? The answer is simple: someone’s liberty is at stake.”
How to bring Michael home.
Right now, the only way to bring Michael home is by sharing all information about his case. If enough awareness is spread, then we can hope that the judge will make the just verdict – exonerating Michael Sutton.
While analyzing the criminal justice system, please keep Uncle Ben’s words in mind. (I am always thinking about Spider-Man, so I expect the same from my readers.)
Click here to read my entire blog post and to learn more about Michael’s case.
That’s all for now. Thank you for your time!