Who Guards the Guardians? On Prosecutorial Misconduct & Prosecutorial Immunity

Courtroom One Gavel

Andrew Talevich / flickr

Today, Daniel Ford and Bernard Baran are both free men. While Ford sits on the bench of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Baran is content sitting anywhere but his prison cell, his home for almost 22 years.

In 1985, Baran, then a 19-year old high school dropout, was convicted of molesting and sexually assaulting five children at a Pittsfield Daycare. An employee at the center, Baran maintained his innocence. Ford, at the time an assistant district attorney, led the prosecution of Baran.

A review of the evidence against Baran, including unedited videotaped interviews of the children, raised serious questions about its veracity: the children were often asked leading questions, sometimes even promised prizes for responding with the “proper” answers. More troubling is that this evidence, potentially material in asserting Baran’s innocence, was withheld at trial—and appears to have been knowingly withheld from Baran’s own defense team as well. Once this, along with issues with the incompetency of Baran’s own counsel, came to light, Baran was released from prison in 2006, his convictions vacated soon thereafter.

In the intervening time, despite the strong likelihood of prosecutorial misconduct, neither Ford nor other members of the prosecutor’s office were officially sanctioned or otherwise held accountable. This is largely a result of the immunity prosecutors’ offices enjoy.

The circumstances surrounding Baran’s case represent an important juncture for examining the nature of prosecutorial immunity vis-à-vis the need for a judicial system that should itself not be above reproach.

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Updates related to Harvey's
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