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Sometimes, It IS the Prosecutor's Fault

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USA Today is out with a lengthy article on prosecutorial abuse, in which it details appalling instances of prosecutors hiding exculpatory evidence.

One need not be a genius to figure out that the article is written with a certain bias, and that its author sought out "experts" sharing that bias.  This is typical of this sort of muckraking journalism.

But that's not the point.  The point is that those of us favoring an honest appraisal of the justice system need to take this seriously, biased or not, and not brush it off.  The prosecutor's profession cannot simply demand respect for wearing the white hat.  It has to earn respect by keeping faith with its creed.  For whatever our courtroom adversaries might think or do, and for whatever stunts they might pull, for us, a criminal case is not a "game" with "moves."  It is a search for the truth, let the chips fall where they may. 

 I thus agree with former AG Dick Thornburgh, who was quoted in the article:

"There are rogue prosecutors, often motivated by personal ambition or partisan reasons," said Thornburgh, who was attorney general under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.  Such people are uncommon, though, he added: "Most former federal prosecutors, like myself, are resentful of actions that bring discredit on the office."

Stories like this make the news for the same reason "Man Bites Dog" makes the news  --  they're uncommon.  There isn't going to be a story about defense shenanigans because no one expects defense lawyers to play it straight and devote themselves to finding the truth.  Generally the only sort of stories you see about the defense side hiding the ball concern outright witness murder.

But, again, today's story is not the occasion for focusing on misdeeds by the defense.  It's the occasion for prosecutors to remind themselves, in the words of the Marine song, to "keep our honor clean." 

1 Comment

I am proud to be a prosecutor because it is one of only a very few jobs on earth where my solemn duty is to come to work every day and do the right thing. Not the politically expedient thing, not the easiest thing, but the RIGHT thing. Therefore, I am personally offended and outraged on the (fortunately rare) occasions where prosecutors engage in conduct that is unquestionably wrong. As Bill points out, it makes us all look bad.

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