Featured Post

Homeland Security: The Sworn Duty of Public Officials

Homeland Security: The Sworn Duty of Public Officials     The United States has a unique position amongst the countries of the world;...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Prosecutal Immorality in Fixation: “I'm not going to let this die until they do”

Prosecutal Immorality in Fixation: “I'm not going to let this die until they do”
The Choctaw Three refers to three retarded defendants accused of murdering a baby. This case demonstrates what will happen when a prosecutor fails to meet the moral imperatives of the legal profession, especially his role as a prosecutor. In this case the DA did not protect the citizens from criminals, nor did he punish criminals. The case also shows the moral imperatives that judges operate under, in which they can mitigate the unethical actions of prosecutors.
The prosecutor in this case, Robert Keahey, was either well aware that Victoria Banks, the principle defendant, was
incapable of birthing the “murdered” baby, or he intentionally chose not to look at evidence that would exonerate her. According to the American Bar Association's (ABA) Standards of Criminal Justice, the functions of a prosecutor specify that “(b) The prosecutor is an administrator of justice, an advocate, and an officer of the court; the prosecutor must exercise sound discretion in the performance of his or her functions.” and that “(c) The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” (ABA, n.d., Standard 3- 1.2) The ABA also has standards regarding the treatment of retarded defendants; Banks had “an IQ of 40” (Luo, 2002, p.1). To begin with, there were conflicting medical reports about the state of Bank's claimed pregnancy; Habib, the initial doctor to examine her, “wrote his conclusion in his records: Banks was faking pregnancy to get out of jail”(Luo, 2002, p.2) Hensleigh, the second doctor to examine her while in jail, did not conduct a full examination, but found traces of a fetal heartbeat. In both doctor's visits, Banks refused to grant permission for an actual exam. Despite the discrepancy, the DA did not regard a need for actual physical evidence. Keahey later told Hebert that ''There was no need for a blood test or anything like that. You could look at her and tell.'' (Herbert, 2002, para 7) Indeed, after the Sheriff had detained Banks after noticing that her “pregnancy” had disappeared, took her back to Dr. Hensliegh; “the Sheriff escorted her to the office of the second doctor to visit the jail and who found a trace of a heartbeat.
This second examination determined that there was no evidence of pregnancy. “ (Sherrer, n.d.,para 4-5) So
despite the evidence that Banks had never been pregnant, had previously had a tubal ligation,and the lack of a corpse, Keahey decided to prosecute; “Not only have doctors confirmed that Victoria could not possibly have been pregnant in June 1999, but police also have not been able to find the infant's body. “ (Reynolds, 2002, para 3). The DA not only prosecuted Banks, but two additional people that suffered from retardation, Victoria's ex-husband Medell banks, and her sister.
“the prosecutor should then assure herself that she is morally certain that the defendant is both factually and legally guilty, and that criminal punishment is morally just.” (Gershman, 1993, p.522 ). Yet, as Keahey pressed on despite the lack of evidence of a crime, he based his case on the
testimony if three retarded individuals who stories conflicted and changed with every telling.”Slobogin 'police often underestimate how easliy retarded people become confused, how suggestible they are, how eager most are to please” (Luo, 2002, p.3) This became evident with the lack of credibility in the stories the defendants were telling; ““the three suspects were either terribly confused or bad liars. Nearly every account they gave...differed from the last” (Ibid). Their testimony also suffered from the interrogation methods used by police; “Investigators admitted that they had lied to Medell and that the interrogation was aggressive. “ (Possley, n.d., para 9). Despite the ABA standards in dealing with the mentally retarded, despite the lack of corpus delecti without physical evidence, and despite the lack of compelling testimony from the defendants, Keahey continued the prosecution in an appalling display of a lack of prosectutal ethics. How did his ethical behavior compare to the judiciary that participated in this case?
At the start, the
judiciary did not distinguish itself. “All three pleaded guilty to manslaughter in order to avoid possible death penalty. The judge accepted the pleas, even though he publicly doubted their credibility.” (Reynolds, 2002, para. 5). However, as the case progressed, judges reconsidered the case. At a hearing for Medell Banks centered on Dr. Steinkampf's medical exam of Victoria Bank's tubal ligation, Judge McPhearson considered that he “could give no weight to [Victoria] Bank's testimony”, but that Steinkanpf's test was “significant new evidence” (Luo, p.9). McPhearson did not overturn Medell's conviction for fear that a new trial might find Medell guilty, but lowered Medell's current sentence. Finally, as the appeals continued, “The appeals court last month ordered the guilty plea of Medell Banks thrown out, with three judges saying in written opinions that 'a manifest injustice has occurred in this case'." (Phillips, 2002, para. 4). From both a utilitarian viewpoint that prosecuting the innocent has nothing but negative consequences for society, and a deontological reflection on the duties of an attorney, the judges made the right decision. Medell and Victoria's sister were finally released, but Victoria Banks remain in prison. Her conviction for the “murder” of her baby was not overturned, but she was sentenced to serve time concurrently with time prison time she received for allowing her boyfriend to rape her daughter. So she suffers from the injustice of an invalid conviction, but is not serving additional penal punishment for it.
There is no evidence for a motive in DA Keahey's unethical prosecution of the Choctaw Three, so the question remains, why did he fixate on punishing these three? A person may suppose a motive from this quote from Keahey about the three defendants; I'm not going to let this die until they do” (Luo, p.10)
[T]he citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”
Robert H. Jackson, former prosecutor (Smith, 2001, p.1)

American Bar Association. (n.d.) Criminal Justice Section Standards Prosecution Function. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.americanbar.org/publications/criminal_justice_section_archive/crimjust_standards_pfunc_blk.html#1.2
Gershman, B. (1993). A Moral Standard for the Prosecutor's Exercise of the Charging Discretion. FORDHAM URBAN LAW JOURNAL Vol. XX. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1136&context=lawfaculty
Herbert, B. (2002, August 19). When Justice Is Mocked . The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/19/opinion/when-justice-is-mocked.html
Luo, M. (2002, July 7). Small town justice. Associated Press. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.livawards.org/pdf/2002/SmallTown.pdf
Phillips, W. (2002, September 20).Appeals Court Endorses Ruling. WTOK News Center 11. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.wtok.com/news/headlines/112367.html
Possley,M..(n.d.).Medell Banks. The National Registry of Exonerations. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3010
Reynolds, D. (2002). Where's The Baby? The Bizarre Case of The Banks Baby Murder. Inclusion Daily Express. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.inclusiondaily.com/news/laws/banks.htm

Sherrer, H. (n.d.). The Choctaw Three: Alabama. Worldwide Women's Criminal Justice Network. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://www.wcjn.org/Choctaw_3.html
Smith, A.(2001). Can You Be a Good Person and a Good Prosecutor? Georgetown University Law Center. Retrieved June 14, 2014 from http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1891&context=facpub

No comments:

Post a Comment