Nino Lyons was convicted of drug trafficking after a trial that lasted a week in 2001. The jurors heard testimony from witnesses about how they made enormous drug buys from Lyons. One said Lyons hired him to murder drug suppliers.
What the jury didn’t hear was that the witnesses were convicted felons who were given promises of early release from prison for their testimony. One witness who claimed to have made drug purchases from Lyons had trouble identifying his photograph.
Nino Lyons was sentenced to three years in prison. Now, in 2010 the judge who presided at Lyons’ trial has overturned his conviction. Not only that, he has declared that Lyons was innocent.
The Justice Department has offered no explanation for a false prosecution that cost Lyons his home, his businesses and nearly three years of freedom. They investigated the prosecutor in Lyons’ case, Bruce Hinshelwood, but refused to say whether he suffered any consequences. An state ethics panel ordered him to attend a one-day ethics workshop.
Asked about the judge’s ruling exonerating Lyons, Hinshelwood said only, “It is of no concern to me.” But it is of concern to Atlanta criminal defense attorneys, and increasingly to judges.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Presnell savaged the Justice Department in a written order for “a concerted campaign of prosecutorial abuse” by attorneys who, he wrote, covered up evidence and let felons lie to the jury.
A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice, not just “score” convictions. But a USA Today investigation has discovered that prosecutors repeatedly have violated that duty in courtrooms across the nation. Prosecutorial misconduct has put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions. The abuses even threaten constitutional protections guaranteeing defendants a fair trial.
USA Today’s story found 201 criminal cases that followed 1997 reforms that were intended to rein in abuse, in which judges determined that prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules.
Judges blasted federal prosecutors for “flagrant” or “outrageous” abuse. Prosecutors were found to have been lying to courts and juries, hiding evidence, and breaking their word on plea bargains.
USA Today’s investigation, using state bar records, found only one federal prosecutor who was barred even temporarily from practicing law for misconduct during the past 12 years.
Source: USA Today “Prosecutors’ conduct can tip justice scales” 9/23/2010