The gavels had fallen, the cases appeared closed:
Marsha Kay Esswein was found guilty of stabbing to death her 82-year-old husband in Riverside County.
Christopher James Lloyd was convicted in Orange County of knifing a man in a hotel room.
Roshawn Anthony Charles was found guilty in Los Angeles County of aggravated assault by a gang member.
Jonis Centeno was convicted in San Bernardino County of committing lewd acts on a 7-year-old child.
Except, it turned out, they weren’t closed at all. From 2010 through 2015 all of these convictions, and dozens more, were tossed out on appeal because of prosecutorial misconduct, that is, cheating by prosecutors to win in court.
Though it’s common for court cases to end with defendants or their lawyers claiming bad behavior by prosecutors, actual legal findings of prosecutorial misconduct — decisions reached by a judge and entered into the record — are rare. It is rarer still for justices — usually in the state Supreme Court or appellate court — to reverse convictions because of misconduct.
But a new study by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project shows Southern California ranks high in reversals in which misconduct by a prosecutor played a factor. And the embattled Orange County District Attorney’s Office has the state’s worst record based on population.
It’s not just Orange County prosecutors who run afoul of the law. The study found that Los Angeles County has the state’s second worst record and Riverside County ranks fifth, while San Bernardino and San Diego counties are tied for ninth.
Legal scholars say the study shows serious flaws in Southern California’s justice system.
“Reversals are an indication of a bigger problem. The case was so egregious that a court determines years later that it wasn’t a fair trial,” said Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law. “A high rate of reversals from a single office may be a sign of a problematic, overly-aggressive…