Houman Fakhimi

Probe of Shoddy Convictions Could Extend to Prosecutors

Earlier this year, officials in New York City said they would launch a formal review of some 50 homicide convictions, all connected to one detecive, Louis Scarcella.

Years ago, at the height of the city's crack epidemic, Scarcella was praised for his innate ability to secure convictions in some of the toughest cases.

Today, our Santa Ana criminal defense attorneys have learned, there is a growing amount of intense public scrutiny surrounding his work, with allegations of misconduct beginning to surface. In many cases, it is believed that innocent men served decades in prison, some dying before release, when they were in fact innocent of those crimes.

As the probe continues, Scarcella has posited to reporters that he would have had to have been quite clever to get deeply flawed cases pushed through the justice system all on his own. But it is for this very reason that the probe might extend to the prosecutors, many of whom today are either partners at high-profile firms or senior officials at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. Some have even been elected as state judges.

The stakes are high for many of those involved. However, considering what may have been lost by those seemingly railroaded into prison cells, that seems fair.

Scarcella, who retired in 1999, was active in the agency at a time when there were hundreds of murders annually in the borough. His work had been highly praised - until a man who had spent two decades in prison for the murder of a rabbi was freed after a reinvestigation by prosecutors cast serious doubt on the initial evidence that had been used to convict him. There was no DNA evidence, but there was also no physical evidence at all linking the defendant to the crime. There is also new evidence that the detective directed the one witness who he should choose in a line-up. The review found gaps in police paperwork. There was no proof of a "confession" the detective claimed he had received. And a more logical suspect to the crime later became a prosecution witness.

The convict, now freed, is planning to sue the city for $150 million.

In the wake of that decision, officials in May decided to take a look at the detective's other cases. Among some of the more troubling findings they have made:

A crack-addicted prostitute apparently had a knack for witnessing homicides, testifying as an eye witness in a number of cases, some of which resulted in convictions, despite serious doubt even at the time as to the accuracy of her testimony. Later reports would surface that a number of drug-addicted prostitutes were paid $100 each by the detective for their testimony in murder cases.

He allowed drug-addicted convicts to be released from prison to smoke crack and spend time with prostitutes in exchange for their testimony against other fellow prisoners awaiting trial for murder.

A number of witnesses now say the were coached by the detective about what they should say before the jury.

In witness identification procedures, the detective reportedly showed witnesses a single photograph, rather than a line-up of photographs. And witnesses were often shown that singular photograph while in the same room together, so that they would all reach the same consensus.

The detective denies the allegations. But there is enough there to raise serious doubt about more than a few of cases. The next logical step is to analyze prosecutors' role in these cases as well.

All of this illustrates how just one individual in a case can have a profound impact on the outcome. You have to recognize that police and prosecutors are sometimes more interested in a conviction than anything else. We are here to advocate for you.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in Santa Ana.

Additional Resources

Watching the Detectives: Will Probe of Cop's Cases Extend to Prosecutors? June 21, 2013, By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica.