A CONVERSATION WITH THE JUDGE KNOWN AS 'THE COURT'S CONSCIENCE' Chicago Innocence Center interns Kelsie Stanhope and Cierra Strawder sat down with former Illinois Appellate Court Judge Dom Rizzi to discuss his time serving as judge and his experiences with prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Rizzi provided CIC interns with several examples of cases that had to do with wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Rizzi was instrumental in fighting unethical prosecutors, particularly in his action to make it illegal to exclude jurors based on their race. He provided suggestions for how to fight prosecutorial misconduct, such as naming prosecutors who had committed misconduct. It was truly an honor to meet with Mr. Rizzi and learn from his experience. The interview in full can be found below.
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM INTERVIEW WITH JUDGE DOM RIZZI
“What judges have to keep in mind, especially reviewing court judges, is that when they get these cases, each case has a number. Well, the case is more than the number. There’s a human being involved, not just a number. So you have to make sure that if you’re sending somebody to prison for forty years, that you better make certain that he deserves to go there.”
“[Prosecutors] rationalize [misconduct] because they think that a conviction is more important than justice. And that’s a violation of their ethical duty."
“One of the reasons why there are so many cases that go up for review involving prosecutorial misconduct is because the reviewing courts...do two things that I was...against, opposed to, as much as I could, as a judge...and that was admonishing the prosecutors and then affirming the conviction. Well, that doesn’t do very much. It accomplishes nothing, because in the real world, the State will get away with anything, will attempt to get away with anything they can get away with in criminal cases...And so if you just admonish them, it means nothing.”
“...many prosecutors become judges. So the history that, the experiences that they bring with them when they’re deciding the case is their own experiences as a prosecutor...And if you’re an accused, sometimes that could work to your disadvantage because they draw back on their own experiences as a prosecutor and, uh, the mindset they might have had about the importance of getting a conviction, sometimes that affects their decision as a judge...Because when you’re a judge, you cannot divorce your life experience from the things that cause you to make a judgment, one way or the other. You can state that you do, but the reality is you don’t.”
“I never really liked...using Harmless Error too much. Because...the error is only harmless if you are not the victim of it...the US Supreme Court said that even constitutional violations can be Harmless Error...It’s so important that they put it in the Constitution. How could you say a violation of that right is harmless? Makes no sense to me."