USA Today is out with another report critical of the actions of federal prosecutors. The newspaper found that, in at least 48 of the 201 cases since 1997 in which federal courts found that prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules, defendants were convicted but were given shorter sentences because of that misconduct.
In Washington, D.C., alone, court records show the Justice Department agreed to shorter prison sentences for at least eight convicted murderers during the past decade after judges and defense attorneys discovered that prosecutors had improperly concealed evidence that could have helped the defendants and their attorneys contest the charges.
Justice Department spokeswoman Jessica Smith said that the USA Today investigation “misleads readers by providing a statistically inaccurate representation of the hard work done by federal prosecutors … by cherry-picking a handful of examples dating back to the 1990s and confusing cases where attorneys made mistakes with cases where actual prosecutorial misconduct was involved.”
The newspaper said that the violations “tainted no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of cases filed in federal courts each year,” but said legal specialists said misconduct is not always uncovered and that the extent of the problem might never be known.
As we told you on Friday, a reported victim of politicization during the Bush administration was just put in charge of DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility, the office that handles accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. A previous investigation by USA Today found that federal prosecutors were unlikely to be fired even when investigators conclude that they committed prosecutorial misconduct. Attorney General Eric Holder has defended the work of the office, which has come under criticism from federal judges and the Justice Department Inspector General’s office.