Thursday, July 8, 2010

Special Challenges in Major White Collar Crime Prosecutions

This post is about another example of special challenges faced by federal prosecutors in handling major fraud, or other white collar crime, investigations. As many of you know, before I became an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I was a federal prosecutor for over 20 years. Today, I want to describe how lengthy federal investigations can really stress a federal prosecutor out! The real problem is that, in a lengthy federal criminal investigation, you can't get any real "closure," or sense of accomplishment, for a long, long time.
1. How Lengthy Federal Investigations Can Wear You Out!
Most criminal cases, especially on the state court level, are relatively simple to prepare and try. Even most murder cases involve just ten or so witnesses and a handful of exhibits. You try them and, win or lose, you put them to bed and go on to the next case. But it is really different when you are tasked with putting together a super-sized federal criminal investigation. For example, on one fraud and public corruption case, my team of agents and I interviewed several hundred witnesses over many months. Also, I nearly wore out my eyeballs by reading approximately a million pages of documents.
2. Lengthy Federal Investigations Are Also Like "Ground Hog Day!"
But the real problem with handling a really big case involves much more than just the tiredness and tedium inherent in dealing with so many witnesses and exhibits. The real challenge is that you also have to deal with the same case and the same problems, over and over again, every day, for many months, or even years. It's the repetition, and dealing with the same problems, and the lack of closure that can get to you. As a federal prosecutor, you sometimes feel like Bill Murray in "Ground Hog Day." For instance, if you have personality clashes with agents in your investigative task force, you might as well learn to simply live with them, because you will be seeing each other and working together on the same old stuff every day. In short, as the federal prosecutor in charge, you must deal with the problem that you won't get any "closure," or sense of accomplishment, for many months in the future, when the case is finally finished. And, at the beginning, you have no idea as to when that might be. In contrast, when you only prosecute small criminal cases, you can get them resolved, for better or worse, in just a few weeks, or months, and go on to frying other fish. But the psychology and stressors are much different when you have only one case to work on and there is no clear finish line in sight. I worked on some of my largest cases for a couple of years. So, the point is that I had to learn to cope and deal with the same problems and issues for that long, too.
3. So, Which Is Better: Prosecuting the "Big Fish" Or Prosecuting A Lot of "Smaller Fish?"
In short, learning to cope with the special problems inherent in big cases is one of the biggest challenges which a federal prosecutor must learn to face. Would you enjoy being a federal prosecutor, prosecuting the big "paper cases," and locking up the "big fish?" Or would you prefer to be a state prosecutor and handle a lot of "small fish?" Or, better yet, would you prefer, instead, to simply find another, less stressful, line of work!?

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