I know I can repeat myself at times. It’s a terrible habit, one I wish I could rectify by having more than a half-dozen ideas I recycle constantly. However, I’m getting too old to be taught new tricks, and I rationalize to myself that I retain these chestnuts because they’ve worked time and time again and, in my minds’ eye, have taken on the patina of being “the Classics”.
That said, I saw an article this week that got my blood boiling. It was about a prosecutor who, after engaging in a number of counts of prosecutorial misconduct, had finally been sentenced to jail. It was only five weeks, but it was one of the first times in memory jail time was a reality after a district attorney abused their position in the courtroom.
Over the past few decades, we as a society have been hell-bent on destroying our idols. The President of the United States is just a man, with flaws like you and me. Congressmen are not all Jimmy Stewart-esque – they’re vermin sucking off the public teat. Out movie stars aren’t that glamorous – it’s difficult to square leading man and woman mystique when the paparazzi has two dozen pictures of stars without makeup and picking their noses. But the district attorney – they always are seen as knights in shining armor, about to do battle with the forces of darkness. (With the exception of the late-stage Harvey Dent – he’s just evil.)
I have nothing but respect for government attorneys. They work very long hours for comparably not much pay. While all litigators like to keep track of their won-loss stats as a personal barometer, such statistics are terribly important to the state’s attorney; promotions, bonuses and even their jobs depend on a very healthy winning percentage. The pressure to win is usually overwhelming and all-consuming.
Because of this, there have been a slew of high-profile cases dealing with this very issue. The Duke Lacrosse Team matter comes prominently to mind, as does the subject matter in John Grisham’s “An Innocent Man.” We all know what happened to the prosecutor in the Duke case – he was disbarred. However, the DA in Grisham’s book got off scot-free.
In the current instance, the prosecutor trod the well-worn path that other state’s attorneys have taken. He discovered evidence that proved the defendant could not have been at the scene of the crime when said crime occurred. After he duly buried said evidence, he coached witnesses to falsify, spin, or omit parts of their testimonies so that their statements would agree with the prosecutor’s theory of the crime. Hey, if someone passed the smell test of being a criminal, had a criminal record and wasn’t a very nice person, he should go away on a state-sponsored vacation, right?
Because of this, an innocent man went to prison for a number of years, the attorney’s won-loss percentage ticked upward, and everything was fine for a while. Until the pro-bono attorneys appealed.
A significant problem with a prosecutor abusing their office is that they are all-powerful to begin with. The state (as we’re finding out more and more about) has unlimited resources to investigate the matter; to build evidence; find witnesses; depose everyone. Most of us, if we happen to find ourselves staring down the barrel of the state, don’t have anywhere near the money to match the opposition tit for tat – defense lawyers are expensive because they are, and they need a lot (if not all) of their fee up front – because they can.
There are rules that attorneys have to follow, regardless of what side they represent. If the defense ignores the rules, it does so at its own peril; eventually, the government catches up with you, and things for the attorney and client are very bad indeed. Up until now, if the government flouts the same rules, the worst that could happen was a fine or a license suspension. Certainly no day at the park, but not enough of a detriment to go all out against an opponent. We should all be grateful that the strong arm of the law has come down on this man.
Hopefully, as a result of this matter, we’re all on equal ground. For now.