Saturday, April 11, 2009

`Win-at-all-cost' behavior

From today's Miami Herald:

Accusing federal prosecutors of knowingly and repeatedly violating ethical guidelines in a high-profile narcotics trial, a Miami federal judge Thursday reprimanded multiple assistant U.S. attorneys who took part in the case -- and fined the federal government more than $600,000.

While prosecuting Shaygan, the U.S. attorney's office began a secret, undisclosed side investigation of Shaygan's legal team, citing a suspicion of witness tampering on the part of the defense.

No evidence surfaced that the defense team was manipulating witnesses. On the contrary, defense attorneys rejected bribery invitations floated on tape from government informants...

Prosecutors later called the same informants to the stand as key witnesses in their case against Shaygan, while saying nothing of the recordings. The government falsely introduced those informants -- former patients of the doctor -- as impartial, neutral witnesses.

Jurors, and the judge presiding over the case, found out about the tape recordings by accident, when one of the informants blurted out their existence while testifying.

Wouldn't you have loved to have seen the look on the prosecutor when the snitch blurted out the existence of the tapes and implicated the prosecution? Talk about being "hoisted with your own petard."

On a related note, yesterday Attorney General Eric Holder "told assistant US attorneys for the District of Columbia that they must respond to negative perceptions of federal prosecutors by doing "the right thing."

"Your job as assistant US attorneys is not to convict people. Your job is not to win cases. Your job is to do justice. Your job is in every case, every decision that you make, to do the right thing. Anybody who asks you to do something other than that is to be ignored. " Any policy that is at tension with that is to be questioned and brought to my attention. And I mean that."

A nice idea. However, as I frequently tell my clients, judges are going to believe their eyes and not their ears so the question is whether Holder's words will truly change actions, and stop tape recordings of defense lawyers conversations.

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