28 September 2010
Reason's Radley Balko has a worthy piece on the insane incentives that motivate federal prosecutors.
The deeper problem is that we have a federal criminal justice system that can be so easily manipulated in the first place. The number of federal laws reaches well into the thousands, and it's growing. Many are so broadly written they allow prosecutors to ring just about anyone they please up on federal charges. This creates a system driven by politics, not justice. It makes criminals out of all of us, making actual enforcement of the law arbitrary and corruptible. Worse, every incentive for a federal prosecutor pushes in the direction of winning convictions, with little if any sanction for crossing ethical and legal boundaries in the process. It's a system that’s not only ripe for abuse, but that actually rewards it.
Of the 201 cases USA Today reviewed in which a judge publicly reprimanded a prosecutor, the paper found just one in which a prosecutor "was barred even temporarily from practicing law for misconduct." The Justice Department refused to tell the paper about which, if any, of the cases resulted in internal discipline taken against the offending prosecutors. Rather appallingly, DOJ cited the need to protect the prosecutors' privacy. Never mind that they’re public servants who have been reprimanded by a federal judge for abusing their power. Not to mention that said power is among the most serious we afford to a government official. Prosecutors have the power to take away a citizens’ freedom. Even in cases that don’t result in a conviction, a federal indictment or even investigation can bankrupt the target of the investigation. The idea that prosecutors who abuse that power should be escape public scrutiny out of concern for their privacy is not only preposterous, it's another symptom of a system with misplaced priorities.[...]
The only way to address this issue is to pierce the cone of infallibility we put around prosecutors. There’s a presumption that because they’re public servants, prosecutors should be given the benefit of the doubt, that even grievous mistakes should be assumed to have been unintentional, or that because they’re pursuing a goal most of us consider to be in the public interest—putting bad guys behind bars—even intentional infractions should be lightly sanctioned, or overlooked entirely.
Let's review fundamental common sense for a moment. The behaviors we subsidize we get more of. The behaviors we penalize we get less of, as a society. So if prosecutors are rewarded for convictions and laws are sufficiently broad to allow anyone to be a charged and convicted, then prosecutors will push ahead with flimsy charges. Like this one.
Via - Instapundit
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