USA Today Series on Federal Prosecutorial Misconduct

USA Today has a series, Justice in the Balance, exploring 201 cases of federal prosecutorial misconduct.

A USA TODAY investigation has found that prosecutors have little reason to fear losing their jobs, even if they violate laws or constitutional safeguards designed to ensure the justice system is fair.

...The Justice Department consistently conceals its own investigations of misconduct from the public. Officials say privacy laws prevent them from revealing any details of their investigations. That secrecy, however, makes it almost impossible to assess the full extent and impact of misconduct by prosecutors or the effectiveness of the department's attempts to deter it.

Today's installment reveals that prosecutors rarely lose their jobs even after they recklessly break the rules. One example: the case of the wrongful charges brought against the parents of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg. AUSA Steven Kunz was admonished by the Florida bar (order here) and removed from handling criminal cases in Tampa. [More...]

The government dropped its case against Sabrina's parents, and paid defense lawyers nearly $1.5 million, the largest such sanction ever imposed against the Justice Department for its mishandling of a criminal case. And Kunz lost his position handling criminal cases for the U.S. Attorney's Office here.

Kunz then got a job as an AUSA in Tallahassee where he is assigned to criminal cases.

The database of the 201 cases of misconduct is here. The Justice Department responds here.

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    counterpoint (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 08:44:20 AM EST
    How many defense lawyers get disbarred if they "recklessly break the rules"?  If state bar associations are persecuting defense lawyers but not prosecutors, then maybe you have something here.

    The Problem I Suspect is... (none / 0) (#2)
    by ScottW714 on Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 03:04:25 PM EST
    ... once the misconduct has been revealed (in private), they worry that going public will allow nearly all the people incarcerated by the prosecutor to get get another stab at the apple.

    Which makes sense, but can't we have some sort of Federal controls for spot checking complaints that would have some power, including license revocation.  I would think the DOJ only steps in for very extreme instances.

    I find it very troubling that the various bar associations, the AMA, and other legal licensing groups rarely revoke the license, even after the above, and with the AMA even after a doctor is found to have committed gross errors in judgment.

    What's the point of the licensing associations if they don't monitor individuals who hold the license.  Right know it would seem they main function is to administer the license testing and continuing education, which basically means once the license is obtained, you are free to screw up all day long and still remain licensed.

    More information (none / 0) (#3)
    by jbindc on Fri Dec 10, 2010 at 03:47:11 PM EST
    This is a serious issue when any lawyer - prosecutor or criminal defense attorney - makes a mistake or deliberately abuses the rules and someone loses their liberty who shouldn't, as well as the emotional and financial toil it takes on them and their family.  Keeping in mind that no system is perfect, and there's no way to make it perfect, the legal profession should take every measure to police itself and more safeguards should be put in place to ensure the number of these types of cases remains small .

    Looking at the link provided, USA Today found 201 cases over last 13 years out of hundreds of thousands of criminal cases filed in federal court in that same time period (USA Today says "tens of thousands", but considering there were 76,655 criminal cases filed in 2009 alone, it stands to reason that the number they should be comparing to is hundreds of thousands -  the USA Today is either downplaying the numbers to make their analysis look better or they did sloppy reporting.