“High-profile cases show a pattern of misuse of prosecutorial powers”

September 23, 2013

The Washington Times on September 22, 2013 released the following:

By Jeffrey Scott Shapiro

“It’s hard to imagine the U.S. as a place where citizens have to fear overzealous prosecution, but last week’s reversals in the cases of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and five New Orleans police officers are part of a troubling pattern reminiscent of the Soviet criminal justice system — a system in which the state is always right, even when it is wrong.

In both cases, the judges who overturned the original trial-court verdicts cited instances of prosecutorial overzealousness and abuse of power, making the two cases the latest high-profile trials to run aground on the basis of misconduct by the state’s attorneys.

The high-profile cases in recent years run the gamut from the ancient offenses of murder and rape to increasingly esoteric details of campaign finance and contractor law.

In 2008, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, was charged by federal prosecutors with failing to report gifts. During the campaign season, Barack Obama said Stevens needed to resign “to put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, moved to have Stevens expelled.

Stevens lost the election, but three months later, FBI agents accused prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence that could have resulted in the senator’s acquittal. Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asked the court to vacate Stevens‘ conviction, but the damage already had been done.

The prosecutors’ misconduct destroyed Stevens‘ reputation and political career and affected the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in favor of Democrats.

Circumstances were not entirely different in the prosecution of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was accused by local Democratic prosecutor Ronnie Earle to influence state elections with corporate money.

Mr. DeLay was convicted in 2010, but the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals overturned his conviction last week, saying the charges were based on “insufficient evidence.” Mr. DeLay called the indictment “an outrageous criminalization of politics,” but again, a Republican had been run out of politics. Mr. DeLay said he would “probably not” run for political office again.

Washington lobbyist and power broker Jack Abramoff is not as sympathetic a figure as Stevens or Mr. DeLay, but some reports indicate that the Justice Department intimidated Mr. Abramoff into a confession, and his case also revealed how the “honest services fraud” law gives federal prosecutors almost unchallengeable power.

Technically, the law lets prosecutors charge people when they “deprive another of honest services,” but it has been used as a catchall charge when the state is looking to secure an indictment from a grand jury but has exhausted all other options.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually had to narrow the statutory meaning of the honest services fraud law, enacted in 1988, to avoid striking it down for unconstitutional vagueness.

William L. Anderson, an economics professor at Frostburg State University, once wrote of the law, “Have you ever taken a longer lunch break than what you are supposed to do? Have you made a personal phone call at work or done personal business on your employer’s computer? Have you ever had a contract dispute with an employer or client? All of those things can be criminalized by an enterprising federal prosecutor.”

In another case, five police officers were accused of murder in the fatal shootings of two men on a New Orleans bridge amid the chaos after Hurricane Katrina.

The officers were white and the victims black, and racial tensions were running high. Federal prosecutors turned to civil rights charges in accusing the officers.

Despite the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy prohibition, federal civil rights statutes enable U.S. prosecutors to pursue felony charges against a defendant in limited instances even if they have been acquitted of underlying state crimes.

Evidence in the New Orleans case was compelling, and the officers were convicted, but U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered a new trial last week, saying the government “engaged in a secret public relations campaign” by anonymously making extrajudicial statements against the defendants on a New Orleans news site.

“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system,” he wrote in his order.

“Unfortunately the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers. The government’s actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecutor, wherever it should occur in this country.”

The Duke University lacrosse players’ case is one of the most notorious of selective prosecution designed for political gain. North Carolina prosecutor Michael Nifong made numerous public statements incriminating the team and turning the media against the defendants.

Despite the accuser’s history of falsely reporting incidents and lack of evidence, Mr. Nifong pushed the politically popular case in the midst of his re-election campaign. State officials took over the case, dismissing all charges, taking the unusual step of declaring the defendants innocent — not merely “not guilty” — and Mr. Nifong was ultimately disbarred.

Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that “you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.” The same could be said of how fairly a judicial system prosecutes its accused defendants. Arrogance, not ethics, is emerging as criteria for prosecutorial discretion, and the result is a society based on fear, not freedom.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

Federal Crimes – Detention Hearing

Federal Mail Fraud Crimes

Federal Crimes – Appeal

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Prosecutors also have stake in Edwards’ trial verdict

May 22, 2012

Myrtle Beach Online on May 21, 2012 released the following:

“By Anne Blythe

GREENSBORO — John Edwards might be the one with the most to win or lose with the jury deliberating his fate, but the U.S. Department of Justice has a lot riding on his case, too.

When the eight men and four women return to the federal courthouse in downtown Greensboro Tuesday morning, they will begin their third day of deliberations in a case that also has put the Justice Department’s small public-integrity section under scrutiny.

Edwards’ trial came almost four years after the unit’s federal prosecutors bungled a corruption case against Ted Stevens, the U.S. senator from Alaska accused of failing to properly report more than $250,000 in gifts.

Stevens was convicted, , but the verdict was appealed and later vacated after it was revealed prosecutors and FBI agents had conspired to conceal and withhold evidence from the defense.

An investigation was launched into the integrity and professional practices of prosecutors in the public-integrity division. A scathing report from that investigation was released earlier this year, showing that prosecutors had “repeatedly ignored the law” and the ethical standards of their profession.

The Public Integrity Section was set up to root out corruption through the prosecution of elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government.

The section has exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of federal judges and also supervises the nationwide investigation and prosecution of election crimes.

New chief for federal unit

Since the Stevens case, the unit has a new chief, former New York-based federal prosecutor Jack Smith. The Justice Department also has ordered training to make sure prosecutors disclose key evidence to defense attorneys.

Attorneys who have attended Edwards’ trial have commented throughout that the prosecution as well as the defense has a lot at stake in the case.

Edwards, a former two-time Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator who branched into politics after achieving success as a trial lawyer, was indicted last June on six counts related to violations of campaign-finance laws. The violations allegedly occured during Edwards’ campaign for the 2008 nomination, when two wealthy Edwards’ supporters gave more then $900,000 used to help hide Edwards’ extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy.

Each of the six counts Edwards faces carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. However, Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor from Raleigh who sat through the trial, said Edwards – if convicted and unable to successfully appeal – would likely recieve a concurrent sentence and serve no more than five years.

Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and co-author of “The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption,” said Monday that a not-guilty verdict would be “a black eye” for the justice department.

“It would call into question their decision even to pursue the case,” Henning added.

But he added that he had seen no surprises from the prosecution, and that ultimately the questions that arise from the trial might be those raised by rulings made outside the jury’s presence by Judge Catherine Eagles, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

Eagles prohibited a former Federal Election Commission chairman from offering his opinion to the jury on whether the money from billionaires Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Fred Baron would typically be classified as a campaign contribution or gift. Scott Thomas, who had more than 30 years with the FEC, testified while the jury was out of the courtroom that he thought the money that went from Mellon and Baron to other people was used for personal expenses that did not need to be publicly reported or subject to campaign limits.

The jury, during its first two days of deliberations, has asked for many exhibits related to testimony about the $925,000 in checks issued by Mellon in 2007 and 2008.

Though only the 12 people on the jury know what is being discussed behind closed doors, the first two counts on the jury verdict sheet are related to the Mellon money.

Toward the end of the trial, the jurors sounded as if they were a collegial group, laughing and talking as they walked into and out of the jury box.

On Monday, the second day of deliberations, the jurors were quieter and somber-looking, barely looking at prosecutors or Edwards as they waited for the judge to answer questions or release them for lunch or the evening break.

As many await the verdict inside the federal courthouse in downtown Greensboro, national political organizations are seeking answers and raising questions outside the tense atmosphere.

Objections to judge’s instructions

On Monday, the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative group that promotes the deregulation of U.S. elections, harshly criticized the final juror instructions issued last week in the trial, particularly sections about the definition of “influencing an election.”

“If Edwards goes to prison, we will have an Alice in Wonderland world where conduct that would not be punished by a civil fine can result in jail time,” Allison Hayward, vice president for policy of CCP, said in a prepared statement.

The organization’s spokeswoman pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1976, the landmark Buckley v. Valeo case, which states that under “due process” a person of ordinary intelligence must understand that his actions could be considered illegal.

“There is no legislative history to guide us in determining the scope of the critical phrase ‘for the purpose of … influencing,’ ” Hayward further stated.

“The Supreme Court said the phrase ‘for the purpose of influencing’ is so vague and broad that it cannot be constitutionally applied to define campaign spending.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Congress Must Act to End Prosecutorial Misconduct

April 11, 2012

Huffington Post on April 11, 2012 released the following:

By: Ginny Sloan

“When federal prosecutors charged the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) with failing to report more than $250,000 in illegal gifts and home renovations, they knew the stakes were sky high. Stevens, after all, was only the 11th senator in history to be indicted while in office. In 2008, the prosecutions succeeded in convincing a Washington, DC jury to convict Stevens. A month later, Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator in history, was defeated in his bid for re-election by fewer than 4,000 votes; most observers think the conviction helped to sway the election. Stevens died two years later in a plane crash.

Thanks to a two-and-a-half year independent investigation ordered by the judge in the case, Emmet Sullivan, and finally released several weeks ago, we now know how prosecutors won Stevens’ conviction: they cheated. They violated his constitutional rights by intentionally concealing evidence that they knew would have supported Stevens’ claim that he intended to pay for all work performed on his house. They hid documents and they allowed a cooperating witness to testify falsely to the jury. The investigators’ 514-page report is a chilling reminder that not even the most powerful leaders in the nation are safe when federal prosecutors ignore their duty to seek justice, and instead pursue victory at any cost.

Sadly, the Ted Stevens case was not an isolated incident. Although the failure to disclose evidence is a constitutional violation that by its very nature often goes undiscovered (anything that the government chooses not to disclose to the defense generally remains unknown), we still know it occurs with disturbing frequency. For example, a 2010 USA Today investigation documented 86 cases since 1997 in which judges found that federal prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that they were legally required to disclose. A number of organizations have reached similar conclusions about the frequency of these violations.

I have tremendous respect for the men and women who serve as federal prosecutors and believe that the vast majority of them act in good faith to fulfill their constitutional and legal obligations. However, it is difficult for even well-meaning prosecutors to understand what exactly those obligations entail in the face of murky rules and conflicting standards. When violations are occurring by even those prosecutors who intend to seek justice, something must be done.

Legislation offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) gives Congress the opportunity to address this serious problem. Senator Murkowski’s “The Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act” is a bipartisan proposal that would require federal prosecutors to turn over to defendants all evidence favorable to their cases, and would provide appropriate penalties when they fail to do so. Passage of the bill would ensure that defendants receive all information to which they are constitutionally entitled, and would create greater consistency in federal prosecutions by eliminating jurisdictional disparities.

The Constitution Project has long been dedicated to protecting constitutional safeguards in the criminal justice system, and the Murkowski bill is an important step towards doing just that. Its safeguards are the bedrock of our system and absolutely essential in protecting the public from abuses of the government power to deprive individuals of their liberty and even their lives.

We recently released a statement from 140 criminal justice experts from across the political spectrum calling on Congress to adopt legislation to address the problem highlighted in the Stevens case — legislation that is consistent with the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act. More than 100 former federal prosecutors are among those joining the call, including: Stuart Gerson, former Acting U.S. Attorney General under President Clinton; Larry Thompson, former Deputy Attorney General during President George W. Bush’s first term; former FBI Director William S. Sessions; and famous author Scott Turow.

These experts point out that federal courts, the Department of Justice and other entities have for years tried to fix the problem, only to articulate inconsistent or inadequate standards, making it difficult for individual prosecutors to determine the scope of their obligations to disclose information. The group concluded, “Only federal legislation can adequately address these continued violations by federal prosecutors, creating a uniform standard for what must be disclosed and what remedies will exist for non-disclosure, and sending a strong message to the DOJ that there will be consequences when federal prosecutors violate their discovery obligations.”

Congress has the power to prevent another injustice like what happened to Senator Stevens from occurring. It should act swiftly to pass the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, creating clear standards for what information federal prosecutors are obligated to disclose to the defense and providing appropriate remedies when prosecutors fail to do so.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.