Ted Stevens' Prosecutors Punished for Withholding Evidence

Yesterday the Justice Department announced that it has suspended two prosecutors who sat on evidence they were legally obligated to share with the lawyers representing Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who was convicted of failing to report gifts right before losing his 2008 bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate. The following April, the government withdrew all of the charges against Stevens (who died in a plane crash four months later), citing the withheld evidence, which included notes from an interview with a prosecution witness that undercut the government's claims about the value of renovation work on Stevens' home in Alaska—the alleged gift at the center of the case. While a special investigator appointed by the federal judge who oversaw the Stevens case concluded that the prosecutors at fault, Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goeke, "intentionally withheld and concealed" evidence, the Justice Department's report on the matter attributes their failures to "reckless professional misconduct." They were suspended for 40 and 15 days, respectively, without pay.

Light as those penalties may seem, they are a welcome reminder that defendants have a due process right to evidence that is "material either to guilt or to punishment." Although that has been the law of the land for half a century, prosecutors often seem to forget, and they rarely face consequences for that failure, aside from overturned convictions.

Another positive outcome from the Stevens fiasco: Two months ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, which would require federal prosecutors to share evidence "that may reasonably appear to be favorable to the defendant...without delay after arraignment and before the entry of any guilty plea." Evidence comes to light after then must be shared "as soon as is reasonably practicable." If the prosecution fails to do so, the remedies include "postponement or adjournment of the proceedings," "exclusion or limitation of testimony or evidence," "ordering a new trial," and "dismissal with or without prejudice." If the failure is due to "negligence, recklessness, or knowing conduct," the court may order the government to cover the defendant's legal expenses. Murkowski explained the motivation for the bill this way: 

What happened in the trial of Senator Stevens is unfortunately not an isolated incident, but most American do not have the wherewithal that he did to push back against prosecutorial misconduct.  While I do believe most federal prosecutors are adhering to the law, it's clear the rules in place are not preventing "hide the ball" prosecutions in cases across the country.  There are a few prosecutors out there willing to put a finger on the scales of justice to get more convictions—and this bill seeks to stop that. Justice should be blind, not blindly ignored.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What happened in the trial of Senator Stevens is unfortunately not an isolated incident, but most American do not have the wherewithal that he did to push back against prosecutorial misconduct.

    That's an understatement, when you consider the full resources of the federal (or state or local) government. Unlike defendents, prosecutors don't put up their own money or lose their personal liberty in the process. Prosecutorial misconduct should be met with the harshest of punishment.

  • niobiumstudio||

    They have the full might of our government and they need to cheat and lie to win... against an opponent with very limited resources, a majority of the time a public defender, sometimes working from within prison, and the criminal prejudice looming over their heads because they are in cuffs and labeled "Defendant"

  • VG Zaytsev||

  • Aresen||

    That's what they deserve for going after a member of the boss class.

    If it had been an ordinary peon, their promotion would have come through months ago.

  • ||

    Who cares why it gets done, as long as it gets done? We've often said on this site that if the WOD were waged against middle class America as it is waged against minorities and the poor, it would stop immediately. Wouldn't that be the same thing? And yet still be a good thing?

  • Aresen||

    Epi: Not sure where you are going with that.

    My point was more that they only got punished because their victim was one of the bosses, not because of what they had actually done.

  • niobiumstudio||

    While that may be true, it at least highlights the problem and makes people think "Wow, this happened to a SENATOR! What would happen to me?" Not that anyone will pay any goddamn attention...

  • ||

    I was merely saying that the reason that this legislation has been proposed was because one of the ruling class got screwed, but who cares as long as it passes? Because it protects all of us.

  • niobiumstudio||

    Yeah, it protects us from federal cases. It doesn't do jack shit for every other case. Those prosecutors still enjoy absolute immunity. They need to make prosecutorial conduct a serious offense... Sure, accidents do happen - and there needs to be a real remedy for that - but real prosecutorial misconduct needs to be a federal offense.

  • ||

    "...it protects all of us."

    You are kidding, right, Epi? That was sarcasm?
    There are already rules in place protecting 'all of us' from prosecutorial misconduct.

  • John Thacker||

    There are not enough rules actually in place protecting from prosecutorial misconduct. For example, this rule is not in place. And absolute immunity (Court invented) is in place.

  • John Thacker||

    Except that, for example, John Edwards is being totally railroaded for committing a crime that wasn't a crime until he did it, and no one cares because he's a total scumbucket.

    Though this Mark Steyn column makes the point more eloquently.

    As bad as Edwards's behavior is, the Justice Department's is worse. The urge to ensnare in legalisms every aspect of human existence — including John Edwards's rutting — will consume American liberty.

    as it ends.

  • niobiumstudio||

    What are the chances of ANYONE getting a fair trial when even US SENATORS can't get a fair trial without prosecutorial misconduct. They withheld exculpatory evidence that destroyed their case and were only suspended a few days without pay... While I am glad that there was actually some action done instead of "LOL absolute immunity, bitches," the fact it took a case against a senator crushes any hope that it was a step in the right direction.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Many legal reforms have been prompted by abuses which victimized the "boss class." The reforms in the treason law in 17 century england came after lots of rich aristocrats kept getting executed in dubious trials.

  • ||

    Those renovations to his house were no small deal. They lifted his house up and put a new ground floor in. And threw in a Viking range.

  • ||

    Viking. Typical. Should have gone Wolf.

  • R C Dean||

    You realize Wolf is owned by Viking, yes?

  • Lucretio||

    Lisa Murkowski might not please many reasoners, but I'd make the case that she's the lesser of two evils compared to the failed Tea Party insurgent Joe Miller. Her write-in victory after losing the nom has made her quite a bit less devoted to the GOP line. Alaska and the lower 48 have slightly less congruities in politics than most other states as it is, but the freedom of having bested Mitch McConnell and the GOP has opened her up to good things like this bill.

    "Berlin Wall" Joe Miller tried to sell good ideas about fiscal restraint, but got bogged down with the crazy stuff. Tea Party politicians have a scary tendency to be libertarian when dealing with poverty and statist in morality and war. Not good enough.

    My favorite Joe-related clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qikybk_6q8

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Better a clueless/incompetent/wacko outsider than a competent insider.

  • Syd Henderson||

    Christ, didn't these people ever see "My Cousin Vinny"?

  • sweeterjan||

    Berlin Wall" Joe Miller tried to http://www.vendreshox.com/nike-shox-r5-c-10.html sell good ideas about fiscal restraint, but got bogged down with the crazy stuff. Tea Party politicians have a scary tendency to be libertarian when dealing with poverty and statist in morality and war. Not good enough.

  • tom.darga||

    What they did was wrong.

    Stevens was still corrupt and got what he had coming.

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