Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Charges Against Stevens Dropped

Last November in the following post:

I mentioned that there was significant prosecutorial misconduct in the case of Ted Stevens, the 85-year long time Sentator from Alaska who lost his bid for re-election last Nov in light of his conviction for lying on federal disclosure forms.

I expressed hope that he would win his appeal. As it turns out, it didn't even make it that far.

Today's NY Times article,

In a stunning development, Justice Department lawyers told a federal court that they had discovered a new instance of prosecutorial misconduct in the case and asked that the convictions be voided. There would be no new trial in the case.

Now some may say, "See the system works. Mr. Stevens has been exonerated."

But think about it. Mr Stevens, a distinguished Senator of 40 years (longest serving Republican in history), had his life's work and reputation ruined by a misguided prosecution. He has endured an invasive and embarrassing criminal prosecution, the threat of imprisonment, and millions of dollars in legal expenses (which he does not recover) for conduct that was not illegal.

(Some may say that his conduct WAS illegal but the prosecution just bungled the case and he got off on a technicality but as I read the article, the prosecution willfully distorted the testimony of the key witness who had in earlier interviews provided exculpatory testimony that indicated that Mr Stevens did not know what the prosecution alleged he did. I think he was completely innocent from the outset and the prosecution knew it.)

When you are the subject of a federal investigation and subsequent prosecution, you have already lost. It doesn't matter whether you are acquitted or not -- you have lost. There is no such thing as "winning" a federal case.... you either lose big (conviction and prison) or lose small (acquittal but bankruptcy and loss of reputation).

Fortunately, while small consolation to Mr. Stevens, "it appeared that the prosecutors who tried Mr. Stevens on ethics charges would themselves now face ethics charges."

Hmmm..... we'll see.


See this post at the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog:

My real-world translation [of the Attorney General's official statement]: "Though I have concluded we secured a constitutionally tainted conviction in the course of ruining Senator Stevens' career and legacy, I won't admit that any lawyers did anything wrong and I hope that by dropping this whole matter nobody will consider what this case reveals about our federal criminal justice system."

Though I am not a tort law or Bivens specialist, I cannot help but think about whether Senator Stevens might have a viable civil law claim for damages as a result of all the economic harm he has suffered as a result of his constitutionally tainted prosecution and conviction. At the very least, I would hope the feds might pick up some of his post-conviction legal bills.



Anonymous said...

Brenda Morris needs to get what she wanted Stevens to get. They need to comb through every one of her cases and see what she did. She was trying to get herself into a place where she could run for office as being "tuff" on crime.

You ~know~ she was toasting and drinking champagne when she won the conviction-- I hope she gets Time and fines and the public humiliation that she caused others.

I know-- it probably won't happen. Grisham needs to write a book as if it could.

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