Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFKHR) stands with The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The New York Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, DKT Liberty Project, The Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, The Chief Defenders Association of New York, The New York State Defenders Association and Discovery for Justice as amici curiae in support of Defendant Carl E. Heastie’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment in Soares v. Heastie, No. 906409-18.
In March of 2019, Governor Cuomo signed a bill creating the New York State Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission. The purpose of the commission is to hold prosecutors accountable to the citizens they’ve sworn to serve by hearing any allegations of alleged prosecutorial misconduct, rendering a decision, and imposing sanctions if necessary. The panel is made up of appointments from the governor, legislative party members, and NYS Chief Judge.
Shortly after signage of the Bill, President of the NYS District Attorney’s Association, Albany Democrat David Soares launched the current matter against the NYS Assembly (Soares v. Heastie, No. 906409-18). In the current lawsuit Soares on behalf of the State’s 62 elected district attorneys claims that the creation of the commission violates the principles of prosecutorial immunity and usurps their ability to engage in prosecutorial discretion. However, the New York State Assembly has passed twice and the governor signed legislation creating the commission not to limit prosecutorial discretion, but instead create an oversight body to enforce existing laws governing prosecutorial misconduct should a prosecutor engage in such behavior.
When prosecutors engage in misconduct, they routinely go unpunished. Conversely, the consequences for wrongfully convicted defendants are dire resulting in loss of liberty, employment, and family separation often for decades. In fact, a 2013 ProPublica study found that New York City prosecutors had engaged in significant misconduct resulting in conviction reversals in over 24 cases and yet, only one prosecutor was disbarred, suspended, censured, or subject to punishment from superiors through internal disciplinary mechanisms.
Therefore RFKHR joins the Governor, NYS Legislature and advocacy organizations in full support of the creation of the Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission which will have the power to subpoena and interview witnesses in order to hold prosecutors accountable -- once and for all.