“This was an opportunity to look in the mirror and see how we as prosecutors could hold ourselves accountable for our actions,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, who chaired the panel making the revisions. “It gives everybody the playbook and roadmap they have to adhere to.”
Boston, who sits on the State Bar’s lawyer discipline panel, said she’s had unique insight into the complaints being filed against prosecutors statewide.
“If people are under the assumption no action is taken, that’s just frankly not true,” she said. But most often, any discipline in the way of a reprimand is done confidentially.
Now, using the same disciplinary process used for all lawyers, if the State Bar believes a prosecutor’s misconduct should result in disbarment, that would become public with the state Supreme Court making the final decision.
State Bar rules call for prosecutors to disclose in timely fashion exculpatory evidence to the defense and refrain from bringing charges they know are not supported by probable cause. They are also told not to make out-of-court statements that could heighten public condemnation of the accused.
A new provision recommended by the board of governors would allow prosecutors to face discipline if they do not promptly disclose newly found evidence that indicates a defendant was wrongfully convicted.
“This was very important to me,” Boston said. “This was an issue we as prosecutors needed to tackle.”
The revisions have the backing of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. “The unethical actions of a few tarnish the great work of the many serving honorably all over our state,” executive director Pete Skandalakis said.
Prosecutorial misconduct often leads to convictions being overturned. Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that former Brunswick Judicial Circuit prosecutor John B. Johnson III had withheld evidence he was legally required to share with the defense in a number of high-profile murder cases. In two cases, judges issued scathing rulings when throwing out the convictions.
Two years ago, legislation was introduced to create an oversight commission to investigate complaints of misconduct by state prosecutors. But it did not pass either chamber of the General Assembly.