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Do Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?

by TChris

Last month, TalkLeft reported that former Wisconsin district attorney (and unsuccessful Republican candidate for state attorney general) Joseph Paulus is being prosecuted for accepting bribes in drunk driving cases from a former prosecutor turned defense attorney. New information reveals that Paulus was the kind of prosecutor who, blinded by his own ambition and sense of righteousness, would do anything to secure a conviction, even if it meant sending the innocent to prison.

The prosecutor who replaced Paulus has asked the state's Department of Justice to review twenty cases in which Paulus withheld evidence from the defense. In one case, Paulus withheld DNA evidence that proved a rape suspect hadn't committed the crime. In a murder case, he withheld evidence that the victim's death may have been accidental. When his employees questioned his integrity, he fired them; when they tried to reveal his wrongdoing, he publicly attacked them.

Paulus apparently made records disappear that would reveal his wrongdoing.

[The new prosecutor] said his office also has asked the state to look into why numerous court, police and prosecutors' records in questionable cases are now missing. Among the lost records: Sheriff's department reports from the early 1990s in which Paulus was accused by his former wife of stalking her.

Questions about Paulus' integrity had surfaced repeatedly over the years, but nothing happened until he was caught accepting bribes. Yet the bribery caused far less harm than the pattern of disregarding rules and rights in order to secure convictions. The larger implications of this story shouldn't be ignored.

The allegations surrounding Paulus should prompt state policymakers to "seize the moment" to determine what additional checks and balances need to be placed on district attorneys in Wisconsin, said Walter Dickey, a UW-Madison law professor and former state corrections secretary. "The fact of the matter is," Dickey said, "we have too much power in the hands of the prosecutor."

One reform is obvious: prosecutors shouldn't be allowed to keep any scrap of information secret. Everything should be turned over to the defense, in every case.

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