The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is seeking to void the 1997 murder conviction of Jabbar Washington. His case was one of those investigated by infamous former detective Louis Scarcella, retired, who was once renowned in Brooklyn for handling cases in the crime-heavy 80s and 90s.
Some 70 of Scarcella’s cases have been under review by the DA’s conviction review unit, although only 6 have resulted in action so far. This is the seventh, but it’s not clear Washington’s wrongful conviction was a result of Scarcella’s conduct alone. Instead, it appears that a former prosecutor failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.
The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland held that the prosecution has a legal duty to notify the defense when it has evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. This is called exculpatory evidence. To be exculpatory, it doesn’t have to prove the defendant’s innocence; it merely must be helpful to the defense.
The basic idea is that, in our justice system, prosecutors are supposed to find out the truth of the matter, not merely try to win every case regardless of merit. Convictions aren’t meant to be the result of trickery or surprise, but of an honest contest between the prosecution and defense.
Jabbar Washington was convicted of participating in the 1995 robbery of a so-called “crack den.” At least seven men shoved their way into the den, shot up the place and stole $1,500. One person died and five others were wounded in the fray.
In Washington’s case, an eyewitness had initially said she recognized him from the robbery. Later, she clarified that she recognized him from the building but could not actually implicate him as a suspect. The prosecution took note of that crucial nuance but did not share it with the defense as required by law.
Scarcella apparently testified in a misleading fashion at trial, resulting in Washington’s wrongful conviction.
If Washington is exonerated, he could potentially sue the Brooklyn DA, Scarcella and other defendants for misconduct.