Roundtable discusses prosecutorial misconduct

A panel group of persons centrally involved in the criminal justice system recently discussed the matter of federal prosecutorial misconduct during a roundtable discussion on a PBS program with correspondent Tim O’Brien. Among those included was Joseph Digenova, a former U.S. attorney; Brendan Sullivan, who was the attorney for ex-Senator Ted Stevens in his infamous criminal case; James Cole, the Deputy U.S. Attorney General; and a number of U.S. Senators from both major political parties.

Federal criminal charges were brought against Stevens by the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleged wrongful conduct on Stevens’ part, coupled with subsequent lies to Congress to conceal it.

Stevens was convicted, but the case is well known for what O’Brien called “the botched prosecution” of Stevens. Notably, government prosecutors repeatedly withheld material evidence arguably favorable to the defense, a violation of a decades-old requirement imposed upon them to provide the defense with material evidence in the government’s possession that might be helpful to a defendant’s case.

The judge in the case stated that, “I’ve never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I’ve seen in this case.”

In discussing the case and others, Sullivan noted the “competitive spirit” of prosecutors that makes some of them want to win at all costs and take whatever risks they think are required to do so.

Digenova termed it a bit differently.”Career prosecutors believe that nobody can touch them,” he said. “That a very dangerous thing in a free society.”

Coles notes that, in the wake of the Stevens case, all U.S. prosecutors are now required to engage in yearly training that underscores and reminds them of their duty to share exculpatory evidence with the defense.

In every case involving federal or state criminal charges, an obvious and potent shield against prosecutorial indiscretion and excess is the strong advocacy of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Strong defense counsel levels the playing field and advances the interests of fundamental fairness and justice, fully promoting what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas deemed the goal of the criminal justice system.

As Douglas said, “The United States wins its point whenever justice is done its citizens in the courts.”

Strong defense counsel helps score that point.

Source: PBS, “Prosecutorial misconduct,” July 13, 2012