Study ranks Shelby County DA as most overzealous prosecutor

Study ranks Shelby County DA as most overzealous prosecutor
Published: Jul. 13, 2017 at 3:54 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2017 at 5:59 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich engaged in the most misconduct of any prosecutor listed on a study from Fair Punishment Project, a Harvard Law School initiative designed to create a fair and accountable justice system.

Fair Punishment Project named Weirich as the 'most overzealous prosecutor' in California, Louisiana, Missouri, and Tennessee between 2010 and 2015.

Fair Punishment Project went through every available state appellate court opinion in those four states during that time frame and determined if the court found any prosecutorial misconduct.

The project said it identified four prosecutors who "repeatedly violated their constitutional and ethical duties, shattering the lives of the defendants and their families."

According to the study, Weirich was the most egregious of the four most overzealous prosecutors.

"This is a grossly inaccurate and incomplete account of these cases as seen through the eyes of a defense advocacy group," Weirich said. "I became a prosecutor to hold the guilty accountable and to protect the innocent in every case, and that is what I have tried to do throughout my career. I will never apologize for trying to seek justice for victims of crime."

Weirich has been Shelby County's DA since 2011, and she has been a prosecutor in the office since 1991. Fair Punishment Project found that Shelby County had the highest number of misconduct findings--with more than a dozen--and the most reversals in Tennessee.

Just City, Memphis's criminal justice watchdog, released the following statement on the study, saying the numbers are part of a chain of behavior from Weirich:

"This new report from the Fair Punishment Project is the result of months of exhaustive, independent research and examination of public data about the behavior of elected prosecutors across the United States. What they discovered clearly demonstrates that Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is one of the most problematic prosecutors in the entire country. Among her colleagues nationwide, DAG Weirich's office has more incidents of damaging misconduct and reversed trial outcomes than just about any other. 

"In the six years since DAG Weirich's appointment to this position, this amounts to more than just an appalling miscarriage of justice. Our criminal justice system has experienced significant delays and has spent millions of dollars as a result of this conduct. Victims and their families have been denied justice and the accused have spent years awaiting a fair determination of their guilt.

"To be clear, these are not isolated incidents or occasional instances of human error. This is a pattern of misconduct, ethical violations, and inappropriate behavior on the part of the top law enforcement official in Tennessee's largest county. DAG Weirich's long-standing and obvious record of misconduct is now becoming national news. This should embarrass and outrage our entire community, particularly the people for whom she is charged with seeking justice and the taxpayers who fund her office."

One well-known example of misconduct under Weirich's watch happened in the Noura Jackson case. Jackson was accused--and later convicted--of killing her mother, a crime for which she spent 11 years in prison. She was later released when the case was dismissed.

Tennessee Supreme Court's board of professional responsibility said Weirich and fellow prosecutor Stephen P. Jones failed to turn over vital evidence to Jackson's defense team.

Weirich was also accused of attempting to sway the jury by making inflammatory comments about Jackson's decision to exercise the Fifth Amendment's right to not testify.

Weirich later accepted a private reprimand for the misconduct in the case. She said she accepted the reprimand personally "to save my office and my family from a long, drawn-out hearing."

As a result of the study, some community advocates are calling for Weirich to step down.

"Especially with this study coming out, she should step down," community advocate Paul Garner said.

Garner said he's not surprised to hear Weirich topped the list.

"We've seen a systematic pattern of her conduct and abuse of her authority," Garner said.

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