Even so, sloppy police or trial work rarely rises to the level of a crime. And while experts agree that there should be a way to hold the police and prosecutors accountable for unethical behavior — especially in the most egregious cases — they are almost never prosecuted in Brooklyn or anywhere else.
Complicating matters is the fact that most wrongful-conviction cases are sealed after defendants are released, meaning that the C.R.U.’s internal reports, laying out in detail the findings of who may be responsible, are almost never made public. That leaves so-called exoneration hearings — or occasionally, court papers — as the only public forums in which prosecutors are required to give their version of what went wrong.
Take the case of William Lopez, who served 23 years in prison after being convicted of murdering a man in a crack house before he was cleared by a federal judge in Brooklyn in January 2013. In his order freeing Mr. Lopez, the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis, noted that the chief trial witness changed her account of the killing three times and eventually confessed that her testimony was “a pure fabrication” made under duress from the police and prosecutors. Judge Garaufis also criticized Mr. Lopez’s lawyers and even the judge in the case, Carolyn E. Demarest, who, he said, made a string of bad decisions.
Judge Garaufis was scathing in his order, writing that the wrongdoing in Mr. Lopez’s case “ranged from an overzealous and deceitful trial prosecutor; to a series of indolent and ill-prepared defense attorneys; to a bewildering jury verdict; and to the incomprehensible Justice Demarest, who so regrettably failed time and time again.”
And yet a year later, when the Brooklyn district attorney’s office filed a formal motion to dismiss the case, it held no one responsible, and the language that it used was bloodless.
“The district attorney’s office has recently conducted a thorough re-evaluation of the facts,” the motion said. “As a result of that re-evaluation, the district attorney’s office has concluded that there is a sufficient possibility that Lopez is not guilty.”
Perhaps the best-known series of wrongful convictions in Brooklyn involves the retired detective Louis…