Mass Law Blog

Who Watches the Watchmen?

by | Apr 2, 2009

“How does the court have confidence that the public integrity section has public integrity?”
Judge Emmett Sullivan, during the trial of former Senator Ted Stevens


Prosecutor: I already got no proof how the victim got hold of that heroin. Now you’re saying I can’t put Hodgins on the stand? Why?
FBI Agent: You don’t wanna know the answer to that.
Forensic Investigator: Why doesn’t she wanna know?
Prosecutor: As the prosecutor in this case, I’m obliged to share everything I know with the defense.
Forensic Investigator: [starts to explain…]
Prosecutor: Whoa! Goodnight!

From TV Show “Bones”


Prosecutors have a legal duty to provide criminal defendants with exculpatory evidence. Every criminal prosecutor knows this – it’s probably Rule No.1 for prosecutors: “YOU MUST GIVE DEFENDANT EXCULPATORY EVIDENCE.” This has been a constitutional right since the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland.

Rules 2 and 3 are, don’t forget Rule No. 1.

Today’s decision by the Obama Justice Department to dismiss criminal charges against former Senator Ted Stevens means that prosecutors at the highest levels of the DOJ forgot this rule (or disregarded it). This is an enormous embarrassment for DOJ, and a probably a career killer for the attorneys involved, who are likely to be sacked, at the very least. (Keep in mind that former U.S. Attorney General Roberto Gonzales has been unable to find a private law firm job 18 months after his resignation, apparently due to the stigma associated with the assistant AG firings and other controversies associated with his tenure. It’s a tight job market for lawyers these days, but not that tight.)

Vindication is probably small consolation for Senator Stevens, whose loss in the last senatorial election was almost certainly due to his conviction just before the election. At age 85 he may recover his reputation, but he’s not likely to recover his Senate seat.