The Wages of Sin Are….Nothing Much

Generally speaking, prosecutors are protected from lawsuits even if they break the rules. And generally speaking, this is probably a good thing. The level of prosecutorial abuse that judges routinely tolerate is outrageous, but still, a wave of lawsuits against prosecutors from everyone ever jailed wrongly probably isn’t something we need.

But certainly there are limits. How about this, for example?

Prosecutors in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had intentionally hidden a blood test that would have unraveled the criminal case against [John] Thompson. By a stroke of luck, a young investigator scouring the crime lab files found a microfiche copy of it. Thompson’s blood type did not match. That single piece of evidence led eventually to Thompson being declared innocent of murder.

This came after 14 years on death row and one month before Thompson was scheduled to be executed. A New Orleans jury awarded him $14 million when he sued, but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. So how did things go?

But oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the fall suggest he may not see a nickel of it. The high court has taken a dim view of suing prosecutors, and in Thompson’s case, the court’s conservatives led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. questioned whether the district attorney’s office should be held responsible for the misdeeds of a few prosecutors.

This isn’t even fancy DNA evidence. Prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence that Thompson had the wrong blood type and blithely sent him to death row. And yet Sam Alito is disturbed at the idea that the district attorney’s office should be held responsible for the misdeeds of a few prosecutors. Jesus Christ.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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