Apr 07, 2009

Prosecute the Sen. Stevens Prosecutors?

The muck that increasingly envelops the U.S. criminal justice system has spread to prosecutors. In 2008, the government seemingly won a big victory by convicting former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens of corruption.  However, just a few months later, at the instigation of recently-appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, judge Emmet Sullivan (who presided over Stevens' trial) has dismissed all the charges against him

Prosecutorial misconduct led to the dismissal -- prosecutors failed to turn over documents to Stevens' defense lawyers that contained information that potentially could have undermined the credibility of government witnesses.  The mistake is inexcusable -- any law student who takes a criminal procedure course knows that prosecutors have a Constitutional duty to turn over potentially exculpatory information to defendants.  Judge Sullivan is now considering whether to file criminal contempt charges against some of the prosecutors. 

Ironically, in the recent case of Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that prosecutors are "absolutely immune" from civil damages claims for their mistakes. In Goldstein, Justice Breyer stressed the "public trust" that we place in prosecutorial offices.  But Goldstein will not protect Stevens' prosecutors against contempt of court charges.  If they abused their powers, they deserve to experience for themselves Judge Sullivan's wrath -- and his sentencing powers.