Open Letter: "The Prosecutor Ought to Be a Minister of Justice; Not Merely Seek Convictions.”

March 24, 2016
 
Attorney General Roy Cooper
Hand-Delivered
Old Education Building
Raleigh, NC 27699-9001
 
Dear Attorney General Cooper:
                                                                                                                                
Today, Maundy Thursday, is a day in the Christian Tradition associated with repentance.  It commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, just before he was betrayed, wrongfully arrested and prosecuted, and then executed. This horrific act of injustice led to Easter morning, when hundreds of millions of people celebrate the reversal of the wrongful conviction and the resurrection of the innocent Jesus.
 
So it is fitting and proper that today we call on your office to do justice in the cases of Dontae Sharpe and Kalvin Michael Smith, two men who have spent over half their lives imprisoned unjustly.  It is in the power of the Office of the Attorney General to show leadership in these cases.  As officers of the court, you and your staff have the ethical responsibility of ministers of justice and not simply that of an advocate; your duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict.
Where credible cases of actual innocence are at issue, there is a special responsibility for each member of the bar, elected officials, police and sheriff departments, and fellow citizens and faith leaders. Where the state’s own actions—through misconduct by police or prosecutors—is implicated in the procurement of the false conviction, the state’s duty to act is a moral imperative. To ignore this injustice is to turn a blind eye to unearned imprisonment at the hands of and in the name of the state of North Carolina. 
 
Our State and Federal Constitutions, and the holy texts of the Great Faith Traditions raise high the obligation to release a prisoner serving another’s time. It is a matter of justice.  And it is a matter of public safety.
 
On behalf of the North Carolina NAACP State Conference and Branches, and in honor of the memory of a beloved advocate for justice, Exoneree Darryl Hunt, we call on the Office of the Attorney General and the North Carolina Department of Justice, operating as the representative of the state and the citizens, to take the following actions in the week following Easter:
 
(1)  Immediately stop defending an unjust conviction and instead Seek Justice in the Case of Dontae Sharpe by (1) Joining in a Motion to Vacate the Unjust Conviction or (2) if there is a conflict, appoint an Independent Special Counsel to allow the state to Join in a Motion to Vacate the Unjust Conviction.
 
(2)  Immediately stop defending an unjust conviction and instead Seek Justice in the Case of Kalvin Michael Smith by (1) Joining in a Motion to Vacate the Unjust Conviction or (2) due to conflict, appoint an Independent Special Counsel to allow the state to Join in a Motion to Vacate the Unjust Conviction.
 
(3)  Implement a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in the Department of Justice, with an independent counsel reporting directly to the Attorney General. The CIU may  investigate claims of wrongful convictions and develop policies to reduce future false convictions.[1] The NC Innocence Inquiry Commission does not obviate the need for a separate CIU, as its jurisdiction is limited and is not charged with issuing standards and other corrective measures to prevent wrongful convictions.  
                                                           
(4)  Until the CIU is functioning, appoint a Department of Justice Wrongful Convictions Taskforce to Review Cases and Amend Policies and Practices Contributing to Wrongful Convictions, including providing guidance on the role of the Department of Justice in Post-Conviction proceedings, Relevant Sheriffs Training & Standards; Criminal Justice Training and Standards; and the NC Justice Academy Standards.
 
(5)  In light of the overwhelming evidence of wrongful convictions nationally and in North Carolina, support a Moratorium on North Carolina’s Death Penalty today.
 
We cannot delay further. Dr. Darryl Hunt, a former employee of the North Carolina NAACP, committed his life to bringing about justice in the names of those ensnared in an unjust Criminal System. In his spirit and memory, we pray for your office and all bodies of government with power over this system to show leadership in making the end to wrongful convictions a policy, legislative, and moral priority in the year of 2016.  
 
We stand with your office in this fight and we are ready to celebrate together when these wrongs are made right and North Carolina may be seen as a model of integrity in our Justice system.
 
Yours in Truth and Justice,
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
President, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

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