Friday, January 27, 2006

Jail the Innocent or Free the Guilty

Those are the options that Patricia DeAngelis and the Rensselaer County District Attorney's office leave us with in far too many cases.

Today's Albany Times Union lead editorial calls for DeAngelis to step down...

Enough, Ms. DeAngelis

The Rensselaer County district attorney could serve justice by stepping down.

In an article Thursday the Times Union reported that yet another case prosecuted by the Rensselaer County D.A.'s office has been reversed.

A county judge, in a stern rebuke of the office of District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis, vacated the conviction of a man serving 25 years for sodomy saying prosecutors purposely withheld crucial evidence about the victim from the defense.

In his ruling Judge Patrick McGrath said:
... prosecutors should be "admonished" for their shortcomings.

"Even considering their contention that the information was not Brady material, which the court has ruled to the contrary, there was no valid legal reason why the information should not have been disclosed prior to trial for the court to make the decision," McGrath wrote. "The only reason not to divulge it would be for the people (prosecutors) to gain some tactical and unfair advantage that clearly violates the people's professional responsibility."

McGrath ordered that Hunter get a new trial.

While DeAngelis argues that Ken Bruno and not she was the District Attorney at the time this case was tried, it was DeAngelis that handled the case through pre-trial and another attorney, Mark Protin no longer with the office, that tried the case. The Times Union article then points out the recent track record of DeAngelis and the Rensselaer County D.A.'s office:

Three times in past two years, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court has reversed convictions obtained by DeAngelis or her office for reasons of prosecutorial errors or misconduct. DeAngelis was admonished by the court system's Committee on Professional Standards for inappropriate courtroom behavior.

In their subsequent editorial they ask:

When does it end? Only when Ms. DeAngelis steps aside as district attorney.

At the polls last November DeAngelis was soundly rejected by the people in an ill-conceived attempt by Republican party bosses to solve the problem in the D.A.'s office by moving her into a newly created Judgeship. Her term as D.A. continues until 2008. The Times Union is correct that the situation has gone too far. It is time for DeAngelis to step down and for Gov. George Pataki to step up by appointing a replacement of unquestionable qualifications with a proven track record of competence and understanding of law.

In multple cases now either guilty men have been set free due to the misconduct and incompetence of the D.A.'s office or innocent men have been wrongly prosecuted and railroaded into jail by them. Neither option is very pretty for the residents of Rensselaer County any one of whom could be the next victim (one way or the other) of the D.A.'s misconduct or incompetence.

As the editorial concludes:
How much longer must the people of Rensselaer County put up with such ignorance of the law in, of all places, the district attorney's office? The same voters who so wisely rejected Ms. DeAngelis' candidacy for a judgeship of her own last year remain stuck with her as county prosector.

"The prosecution has a duty to seek justice and not merely convict," notes Judge McGrath.

The County Executive and the Governor have a duty to ensure the safety and well being of the people of the county. The innocent have no such assurances in Rensselaer County today.

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