Monday, November 8, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Butt Ugly: DA Edition

This will be the first in a series of similarly titled posts. I think I'll try to post one per week, on Monday. I already have thoughts in mind about the Judge Edition, Public Defender Edition, and Defendant Edition. This week, we'll look at district attorneys.

The Good: Craig Watkins

Craig Watkins was re-elected as Dallas Country District Attorney last Tuesday, by a narrow margin. Not everyone is happy with him for his penchant of searching out and freeing those wrongfully convicted.
One of the closest races of Tuesday night came down to slightly more than 5,200 votes. Democrat Craig Watkins narrowly beat Republican challenger Danny Clancy to be re-elected as Dallas County District Attorney, according to unofficial results from Dallas County's election division.
The night started with Clancy ahead 51 percent with heavy support in early voting, but turned later in the evening when more Democratic precinct numbers began rolling in.
The race was contentious from the start, with both candidates pointing fingers at each other and allegations of racism flying.
Candidate Clancy's car was even vandalized early last month, raising questions from his camp whether Watkins supporters were to blame.
Back in 2008, Radley Balko interviewed Watkins and reported that interview in Is This America's Best Prosecutor? My takeaway question and answer from that interview: 
Balko: You talk about the mindset of winning convictions at all costs. The legendary law-and-order Dallas prosecutor Henry Wade, who held the job you now hold for many, many years, embodied that philosophy. He’s known to have actually boasted about convicting innocent people -- that convincing a jury to put an innocent man in jail proved his prowess as a prosecutor.
Watkins: Oh yeah, it was a badge of honor at the time -- to knowingly convict someone that wasn’t guilty. It’s widely known among defense attorneys and prosecutors from that era. We had to come in and clean out all the remnants of that older way of thinking.
The Bad: Henry Wade

You probably have heard of Henry Wade, even if you didn't read the interview segment above. Henry Wade was the Wade in Roe v. Wade. He was the person sued by Norma McCovey (aka "Jane Roe") over Texas' abortion laws.

Henry Wade was also the person who was going to prosecute Lee Harvey Oswald. After a bad break in which Jack Ruby killed Oswald before Wade could get a chance, Wade had to settle for trying to kill Jack Ruby. Unfortunately, Ruby died of cancer before he could be executed by Texas. It was pretty much a bummer all around for Wade.

It is not, however, because of Roe v. Wade or Texas v. Ruby that causes me to list Henry Wade as "The Bad." I award him the title because of Randall Dale Adams, and Vernon McManus, and Clarence Bradley, and John Skelton, and Lenell Geter, and James Lee Woodard, and Eugene Henton, and James Waller, and Greg Wallis, and James Giles, and Billy Smith, and the scores of others that Wade wrongfully put behind bars and wrongfully exposed to the gurney.

Crag Watkin's office has corrected, best they can, some of the harm done during Henry Wade's tenure. There is no chance, however, that all those wrongfully convicted by Wade and his prosecutorial hacks have been identified and released. It's likely many of them only gained their freedom at the end of a needle.

The Butt Ugly: Henry Wade

I do not grant this award based on appearance, but on character. Henry Wade bragged about convicting innocent people. He was proud of his  personal 100% conviction rate, and wouldn't have it tarnished even if the defendant was actually innocent. Regarding the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams, Wade was reported to have said "Any prosecutor can convict a guilty man. But it takes someone really good to convict an innocent one."

Once again, Wade was butt ugly wrong. Prosecutors convict innocent people all the time. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence is overwhelming that it's not a particularly difficult thing to do.

After initially posting this as a one-time, throwaway post, I decided to convert it to a short series of posts. I changed the name of the title accordingly, added a brief introduction, and this addendum. I also modified the initial paragraph under "The Bad."

I have an afterthought regarding Wade's claim that it takes a really good prosecutor to convict an innocent person. When working with a former Assistant U.S. Attorney during her first case as a defense attorney, second chair thankfully, I remember her off-hand comment when things were getting intense: "Wow. Being a prosecutor was easy."

Overall, I don't sense that being a defense attorney is substantially easier or more difficult than being a prosecutor, with one exception. I think it is substantially more difficult being a defense attorney when you are defending an innocent person charged with a heinous crime.

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