Let’s prosecute some prosecutors

It’s time to put the brakes on one of the most egregious examples of just how evil government can become in asserting its power over the people. It’s time to curb the excesses of over-zealous prosecutors who are turning poor decisions by individuals into criminal acts. Too often, they convert simple negligence or civil blunders into crimes. It’s a far-left concept: “Somebody” must be held responsible for every bad thing that happens.

Two over-the-top final straws were recently heaped onto the camel’s back in America and Italy. Get this: Italian prosecutors convinced a court to convict six scientists for manslaughter because they failed to predict a deadly earthquake.

irsbuildibgAnd in the United States, Internal Revenue Service prosecutors were reversed and blown out of the courtroom when a federal appeals court reversed “conspiracy” convictions of two Ernst & Young employees. These men had given a favorable opinion for a tax shelter designed to avoid (not evade) paying tax on a gain from the sales of businesses. The court ruled there was no criminal intent.

But these are only recent examples in the sordid and escalating history of abuses by prosecutors. Our most basic liberty — the constitutional right to have a jury decide our guilt — is being eroded. Too much power in the hands of vengeful or politically ambitious “enforcers” can ruin reputations that have taken a lifetime to build and, worse, ruin lives. There are innumerable examples of prosecutors going on accusation sprees or trying invented cases in the press, with no serious personal downside to the prosecutor.

And there’s not much that’s more repulsive than the government regulator who abuses public power to siphon money from the private sector under the guise of “protecting the people.”

Aren’t convinced? Let’s review some egregious examples of prosecutors run amok:

  • Prosecutors nailed U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008, enhancing their reputations by bagging him on an ethics conviction two weeks before Election Day. He lost the race, of course, but a few months later, his conviction was set aside due to outrageous prosecutorial missteps.
  • Years ago, the big accounting firm of Arthur Andersen was forced out of business by criminal charges, a celebratory bloody scalp taken by the Justice Department. The U.S. Supreme Court later threw out the charges.
  • Psychiatrist Peter Gleason committed suicide before an appeals court vindicated him in 2011 on charges made in a Justice Department crusade against him.
  • Prosecutor Mike Nifong falsely accused Duke lacrosse team players of rape.
  • A couple of railyard workers were charged with insider trading by prosecutors because they correctly guessed their company would be sold.
  • New York Attorneys General Elliott Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo politicized their offices by attacking insurance giant AIG. Much later, a court tossed the convictions of five insurance executives.
  • The Manhattan district attorney was slammed in 2004 by a jury decision acquitting the general counsel of Tyco on charges of fraud and grand larceny.
  • A U.S. attorney’s conviction of banker Frank Quattrone was overturned.
  • The Justice Department wrecked the lives of two lobbyists in the Aipac case, then saw the case fall apart in court.
  • Steve Hatfill’s trial in the anthrax mail attacks ended in clear evidence that the FBI and Justice Department had tried the wrong man.

I am not lumping Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg with those prosecutors who abuse their power. There is no evidence Aronberg fits this mold, and, in fact, he appears to be a student of the abuses that other prosecutors have succumbed to.

scales-of-justiceClearly, we need the prosecutorial function in society to cull out true bad guys. But we don’t need prosecutors stretching and bending the law when lesser sanctions are fitting.

When a prosecutor charges someone with a crime, that person must spend a ton of his/her own money to defend the charge and suffer the anguish, whether the case results in guilt or innocence. In the end, many who are innocent may still face bankruptcy.

When prosecutors invent crimes, it violates not only fairness doctrines but also legal principles imbedded in American jurisprudence. Abusive prosecutors need to face penalties, and the entire area of prosecutorial powers needs review and reform.

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John R. Smith

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