The state and federal governments in their many prosecutions have been caught breaking the rules. One of their favorite rules to break is one that can win them a conviction that should not be. Prosecutors like to hide or destroy evidence that would help acquit the accused. It seems natural that would naturally be the evidence they would want to keep away from the jury, but that is one of the biggest no-nos in the criminal justice system.
The prosecution is not supposed to put innocent people in jail. More strongly, the prosecution is not supposed to knowingly put innocent, or people of questionable guilt, in jail. That is why there are rules against it. Oklahoma City chemist Joyce Gilcrest put more than a dozen innocent men on death row. Isn’t that horrifying? Not to prosecutors.
Now the United States Government has done it again. In trying to trap one of the biggest possible fishes, a sitting United States Senator, the Department of Justice has gotten caught erasing evidence. In the trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the government prosecutors redacted (blacked out) information from FBI notes about an interview of witness Bill Allen. The Senator’s immediately demanded dismissal of all charges based on the government’s misconduct.
The trial judge, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, declined to dismiss, of course. The government rarely pays for its errors, and that is likely why such dirty tricks continue on both the state and federal level. The judge chastised the government severely, of course, but the government’s case stayed alive. The judge also ordered the original versions of all the other witness interviews associated with the case to be sure nothing else has been redacted. The defense will need four days to go through all that material.
The redacted notes are from interviews of Bill Allen, the government’s star witness against Senator Stevens. The defense had originally received only the redacted notes, and the defense says the new information, that which was redacted, directly contradicts Allen’s testimony earlier, namely that Senator Stevens never paid for any of the renovations to his home.
The newly revealed notes show Bill Allen told the FBI he did not send a bill to Stevens for the improvements to Stevens’ home, despite Stevens’ requests for an invoice, because Allen thought Stevens would pay the bill if sent one. Allen did not want Stevens to pay. This is the heart of the government’s case.
The trial judge was particularly troubled because someone for the government deliberately covered up this evidence. Referring to the section of the FBI that has investigated and brought the case to trial, Judge Sullivan asked, “How does anyone have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has any integrity? I don’t have that confidence.”
Senator Stevens is accused of accepting gifts totaling $250,000, including the free improvements to his home, and failing to disclosed them on the Senator’s annual Senate financial disclosure form.
“The trial is broken,” Robert Cary, one of Stevens’ attorneys said in asking the judge to declare a mistrial. However, in overruling the motion, the judge noted that much of the trial, including the cross examination of Bill Allen, had not yet taken place, so the defense could still use this ammunition in the trial. The defense countered that this new information changed their whole theory of the case, all the presentation of the case from the start, including opening statements.
Prosecutors are charged with the ethical duty, not only of prosecuting the guilty, but of seeking justice. This includes not prosecuting people they know or strongly suspect are innocent. The best known court decision on this point is Brady vs.Maryland , a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1963. Most prosecutors keep that in mind and stay above board, even if it means they will lose a case. That is the professional way. But it still happens too often that prosecutors do get caught hiding or destroying evidence. It continues to happen partly because of the competitive nature of prosecution, but also because the penalties are so light when they do get caught. If the penalties were truly heavy for such conduct, if the judges really had the courage to punish such behavior, prosecutors would be less willing to cheat.
Unfortunately, this leaves the accused in the position of fighting against unfair odds, and the need for an experienced, talented lawyer is absolutely essential. For someone facing a criminal charge I’ve provided educational information on my site at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to help you make critical decisions and I invite you to educate yourself to protect your rights.