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Hidden Hazards

Hidden Hazards Report

Prosecutorial Misconduct Claims in Pennsylvania, 2000 - 2016

The report analyzes the varied allegations and findings of prosecutorial misconduct in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania – in addition to revealing a lack of transparency, challenges with access to information, and a lack of functional accountability mechanisms and deterrents throughout Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system.

View the Full Report [PDF]
hidden hazards report


4,644 opinions containing 7,207 separate claims of prosecutorial misconduct in Pennsylvania over a 17-year period. 


Of the 5,432 claims that were addressed, courts found prosecutorial misconduct in 204. 


A substantial percentage of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct go unaddressed by courts. Of the 7,207 identified claims of prosecutorial misconduct, courts allowed 1,775 (25%) to remain unaddressed.  


Prosecutorial Misconduct was a contributing factor in 45% of known wrongful convictions in Pennsylvania.


The report identified the considerable challenge of “invisible” prosecutorial misconduct and outlines multiple systemic factors that cause the true extent of prosecutorial misconduct to elude comprehensive quantification and analysis.

A systematic reliance on guilty pleas, and the lack of any requirements to provide discovery to defendants prior to pleas, prevents the evidence in the vast majority of criminal cases from ever being reviewed by neutral factfinders.

Additionally, appeals are rare and published opinions even rarer, there is only 1 published opinion to every 567 criminal cases in Pennsylvania. These factors combine to prevent any meaningful scrutiny of the majority of prosecutorial conduct.

View the full report [PDF]

 “Prosecutors have a sworn obligation to uphold justice, accuracy, and fairness. Any suggestion that a prosecutor could abandon his or her obligation to justice to secure a specific result – whether intentionally or accidentally – is deeply troubling. Even accidental mistakes can be hugely consequential to the crime victim, family members, and the defendant and greatly undermines public confidence in our judicial system.”
- Hidden Hazards

Recommendations for Change

Preventative Measure 1

Require open file discovery

Accountability Measure 1

Require automatic reporting of prosecutorial misconduct when it is identified

Preventative Measure 2

Adopt rules 3.8(g) & (h) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct  

Accountability Measure 2

Eliminate absolute immunity for prosecutors in Pennsylvania  

Preventative Measure 3

Require prosecutors to certify compliance with Brady prior to plea or trial 

Accountability Measure 3

Create a civil tort remedy for individuals who are harmed by intentional or grossly negligent prosecutorial misconduct  

Preventative Measure 4

Enhance and expand prosecutorial self-regulation and reporting  

Accountability Measure 4

Consider a criminal statute specific to intentional suppression of evidence and apply other statutes relevant to prosecutor misconduct 

Preventative Measure 5

Formally review cases of prosecutorial misconduct 

Accountability Measure 5

Establish a prosecutorial oversight commission to identify and address prosecutorial misconduct