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The Problem With Prosecutorial Misconduct

Noura Jackson,29, was released Sunday, after being wrongly convicted of murder by a Tennessee court. Noura Jackson, who is now 29, has spent more than a decade behind bars for the accused murder of her mother, Jennifer Jackson.

Jennifer was a 39-year-old investment banker, who lived in an affluent neighborhood with her 18-year-old daughter Noura Jackson. Noura had recently connected with her father, who had divorced from her mother years before when she was 16.  A few years later he was murdered in a gas station in Memphis. His killer was never charged or located.

Noura Jackson was convicted in 2009,  with the had prosecutor, Amy Weirich wielding the belief that Noura was a hardcore drug addict and partier, and wanted free from her mother’s rules. Jackson’s case was made up of purely circumstantial evidence, and had no physical ties that could directly link Jackson to her mother’s murder.

Amy Weirich, a lead prosecutor in Shelby County, emerged during the time where prosecutor’s were rewarded for wins, and held tightly to the belief that, “everyone is guilty, all the time,” (quote from Emily Bazelon’s New York Times Article). 

Just five days after Jackson was convicted, an assistant prosecutor on the case, Stephen Jones, filed a motion to submit an omitted document that had been in the prosecutor’s hands since the early days of the investigation. A former witness and friend of Noura’s, Andrew Hammack, had written this letter that would have shed doubt on the case. In this document that he had originally submitted in a statement to police,  he admitted to using ecstasy on the night of Jackson’s murder.

Jackson’s conviction was eventually overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2014, and was again set for a new trial. Eventually Jackson settled on taking a plea deal, as the new trial would have led her well into her 30’s, after serving more than a decade. Even after signing her plea deal and promised release, she was held for an additional year because the prison system miscalculated her ‘good time’.

So, what went wrong? Brady v. Maryland can explain. Per the Brady v. Maryland decision, prosecutors have a duty to disclose exculpatory evidence even if not requested to do so.

Interestingly enough, the problem with prosecutorial misconduct, is that this type of behavior is not punished in the U.S., and often rewarded. Amy Weirich is now the District Attorney of Shelby County, the court in which Jackson was originally sentenced, and this has fueled her possible political career. (New York Times)

According to a Fair Punishment Project, which operates at Harvard University, Shelby County prosecutor Amy Weirich is ranked highest for prosecutorial misconduct in a study that was published in July 2017. (The Commercial Appeal)

The Fair Punishment Project researched cases that were involving allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in four states from January 2010 to Dec  2015.

“In the time period we reviewed, the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office had the highest number of misconduct findings—with more than a dozen—and the most reversals in Tennessee,”  their findings said. (The Commercial Appeal)

Thomas Law, P.A.