A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problem of an elected judiciary failing to properly curtail prosecutorial misconduct and ensure that criminal trials are conducted fairly. If you haven’t had a chance to read that article you can find it here. In the piece, I discussed an active federal habeas case called Baca v. Adams. This was the case where a man was convicted of murder based on the testimony of a “jailhouse snitch,” and it was later discovered that Deputy District Attorney Robert Spira had lied under oath about the lenient treatment the snitch received in exchange for his testimony. Subsequently there have been two interesting developments, and I thought a brief foll0w-up would be appropriate here.
The first update is that we now have a result in the Baca v. Adams matter. If you watched this video, you may remember that the 9th Circuit panel threatened to “name names” if the Attorney General failed to address the issue of Mr. Spira’s prosecutorial misconduct and continued to oppose Mr. Baca’s appeal. Subsequently, the Attorney General reversed course, decided not to oppose the appeal, and the court ordered that Mr. Baca be released from custody pending a potential retrial. You can find the 9th Circuit’s order here.
I don’t pretend to know the exact reasoning behind Attorney General’s sudden change of heart, but feel free to speculate. Most people would find it surprising that they reversed their position after they had fervently advocated for the appeal’s denial on five previous occasions. While it is certainly the appropriate, just decision on the Attorney General’s part, it seems almost shameful that public notoriety and a viral video were what was required to force the prosecution’s hand. There was no change in the facts or the circumstances of the case which the Attorney General might point to as the reason for the sudden change of heart. Their office spent years defending the gross prosecutorial misconduct, never once taking the opportunity to “do the right thing.” Only now, after an instantly legendary public shaming, do they reverse course completely.
Finally, you may be familiar with HBO’s excellent Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Two weeks ago, Mr. Oliver put together a tremendous feature segment highlighting some of the very same issues that I mentioned in my article. I have embedded the video below, and it is well worth the watch. While Mr. Oliver doesn’t go into great detail about the institutional effects an elected judiciary has on individual criminal cases, he does provide a broader background on this topic, a topic which has never really been touched upon by traditional media outlets. I think his take on the topic provides a perfect a bookend to my article, and can provide you with some good laughs along the way.