September 24, 2013
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.
Hmm. If only we could find a common factor here. Meanwhile, the tribunes of the press are acting more like party organs: Networks That Touted Tom DeLay’s 2010 Conviction Now Silent About His Acquittal. Love the Stephanopoulos pic.
But if you want to rein in prosecutorial misconduct, I have some suggestions.