Prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria and syllabus and email messages of students who participated in Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project, which scrutinizes the work of prosecutors and police in death penalty cases.
The subpoena was issued in an investigation into the conviction of a murder that took place more than 31 years ago. The New York Times has full coverage of the back and forth between the University, who is fighting the subpoena, and the prosecutors who want to scrutinize the students’ methods.
NYT: Lawyers in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office say that in their quest for justice in the old case, they need every pertinent piece of information about the students’ three-year investigation into Anthony McKinney, who was convicted of fatally shooting a security guard in 1978. Mr. McKinney’s conviction is being reviewed by a judge.
Among the issues the prosecutors need to understand better, a spokeswoman said, is whether students believed they would receive better grades if witnesses they interviewed provided evidence to exonerate Mr. McKinney.
Northwestern University and David Protess, the professor who leads the students and directs the Medill Innocence Project, say the demands are ridiculously overreaching, irrelevant to Mr. McKinney’s case, in violation of the state’s protections for journalists and a breach of federal privacy statutes — not to mention insulting.
Read the entire article here.
There is no question that in investigating a potentially wrongful murder conviction, the state has a responsibility to review all available information. But the focus of that sentence, of course, is “available” information. The students, the article said, turned over their videotaped interviews and affidavits to the prosecution, but the prosecutors now want their notes, in addition to their grades.
The school has stated it will not turn over information it believes is protected by federal privacy laws or state laws protecting journalists. The prosecution, apparently, is arguing the students are not acting as journalists, but instead as an “investigative agency.”
“The school believes it should be exempt from the scrutiny of this honorable court and the justice system, yet it should be deemed a purveyor of its inadequacies to the public,” a legal brief from prosecutors said, according to the NYT.
The first thought of any defence attorney preparing a response to such a subpoena would be to say that this is a “fishing expedition.” The grades of the students, or how they received them, is irrelevant if nothing prevents the prosecution from retracing the steps of the students. The prosecutors are not bound by the students’ work. If they re-interview the people — and one assumes they will — and find the information provided to be without merit, so be it.
The students do not work for the state, nor should they be required to do its job. If the purpose of the investigation is finding out if there was wrongful conviction, the state ought to be able to do that without seeing the students grades, or even the already-provided videotaped interviews.
The justice in this case resides in finding out what really happened, and that truth exists outside the work of the students. The students potentially got the prosecution to a place they should have been 30 years ago — from a discovery standpoint, the state ought to be able to take it from here.
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