How Prosecutor Win Rates And Informants Drive Wrongful Murder Convictions

In the American criminal system, one primary purpose of constitutional protections is to achieve justice by convicting the right person for the right crime. But prosecutors whose bonuses, promotions, and sometimes election are tied to conviction rates and prominent “wins” have perverse incentives to instead score any conviction at all. Recent reporting by investigative outlet ProPublica adds to the evidence that this sort of prosecutor misconduct too often goes unpunished, meaning there is little risk in manipulating the evidence and great reward.

In more than two dozen instances in which judges overturned convictions in New York citing explicit attorney misconduct, disciplinary action was almost never taken against these prosecutors, and only one prosecutor was disbarred, suspended, or censured. ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien traces the trail of errors that plagued one such case by Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, whose murder conviction who was overturned after Jabbar Collins spent 15 years in prison. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office maintains Vecchione engaged in no misconduct, but the reporting, a civil lawsuit, and a criminal exoneration tell a different story. Vecchione, who refused to be interviewed for the article, submitted a sworn affidavit attesting that a former store clerk who worked nearby the scene of the murder had fled to Puerto Rico because he had been threatened by people involved in the case. Vecchione had never met or spoken to that former store clerk, Adrian Diaz, and Diaz later said he had never been threatened. Even more damning, Vecchione reportedly coerced the testimony of a witness who admitted he was drug-dependent and lying when he identified the perpetrator:

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