Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Rules For Old Problems: An Update On The Secret Service Scandal

[Secret Service badge depiction from wikipedia]
Did you hear the latest news reports this past week about the Secret Service scandal in Cartagena?  A total of eight agents are now reportedly no longer with the agency.  The troubled agency is also reportedly implementing new conduct rules which, among other things, would prohibit agents from drinking alcohol on trips and forbid them from inviting any foreign guests back to their hotel rooms.  In addition, the agency will also reportedly assign chaperones to some foreign trips to make sure agents are acting appropriately!

What do you think about these new rules?  Do you believe the rules will really help?  Frankly, as a former federal prosecutor who has worked with Secret Service agents for many years, (see our law firm's website here), I don't believe the rules are necessary for most agents.  Again, as I have reported before, most Secret Service agents are highly trained and very professional.  In other words, they simply don't need any chaperones, or new conduct rules!  

In addition, in my opinion, I don't believe such rules will really help deal with the few "bad apples," who will always find ways to engage in such misconduct, no matter what the rules require.

What do you think? 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Prediction About the Verdict in the John Edwards Criminal Trial

[Photo of John Edwards from wikipedia]
As the trial of former Senator John Edwards actually begins tomorrow in a Greensboro, North Carolina federal courtroom, I just wanted to remind you of my prediction about his fate, last year, shortly after Edwards was indicted on six federal felony charges.  You will recall that the criminal charges involve his alleged concealment of over a million dollars in campaign contributions which went toward covering up his affair with Rielle Hunter.  My prediction was here.

I still stand by my prediction!  But will I be right!?  In other words, laying aside whatever you might think of Edwards, personally, what do you think a jury will do in this criminal case?

As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I maintain that, generally, the best defense in a criminal case is to essentially admit the act, but deny the intent, or guilty knowledge.  It will be interesting to see if a variation of this defense works in this case.

What do you think?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The U.S. Secret Service Cartagena Bombshell

[Secret Service Badge Depiction from wikipedia]

As a former federal prosecutor, for over 20 years, I had the good fortune to work with federal agents from a wide range of agencies, including the I.R.S., F.B.I., A.T.F., and the Secret Service, (among many others).  Based upon my experiences, no agency has more professional, "straight-arrow" agents than the U.S. Secret Service.

So, you can imagine my surprise to hear that, this past week, up to eleven Secret Service agents were sent home from Cartagena, Colombia, based upon reports that someone allegedly refused to pay for the services of a hooker!  Really!?  The agents were reportedly part of the advance team sent down to prepare for President Obama's Latin America diplomatic visit.  Now, a major investigation of the agents (and agency) is under way.

Look, no matter how this investigation turns out, I still maintain that the Secret Service is one of the finest, most professional, law enforcement agencies in the world.  I have seen their work!  They not only protect the President, and other federal officials, but also they are the federal law enforcement agency responsible for investigating counterfeiting and a host of other federal crimes.  So, we need these guys!  Here's hoping that the Secret Service, which was created by President Lincoln in 1865, will soon overcome this embarrassment and continue their tradition of professionalism and  fine work!  What do you think?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Prosecutorial Misconduct, the Michael Morton Case, and Lessons Learned

[Photo of Lady Justice from wikipedia]
Did you see the C.B.S. 60 Minutes segment last week about a wrongly convicted man named Michael Morton?  Well, you should have seen it! This story was incredible! This poor man has recently been freed from a Texas prison, after serving 25 years for a crime he did not commit.  The horrible crime was the murder of his wife. His liberators included criminal attorney Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, which helped clear Morton through DNA testing which was unavailable when he was convicted. Fortunately, police now also reportedly know who actually committed the murder.

But the point of this post involves one of the primary reasons why Mr. Morton was wrongly convicted in the first place.  According to the news report, back in 1987, when the case was tried, the prosecutor allegedly withheld key investigative reports from the defense.  (This allegation, which is reportedly being made against the former D.A., who is now a judge, is still under investigation).  One of the alleged withheld reports involved an interview of the grandmother of the Mortons' little boy, who was at home when his mom was tragically murdered.  In the report, the young child reportedly told his grandmother that the killer had a mustache, (which Mr. Morton did not have), and that this dad was not home at the time of the murder.  Again, this evidence was reportedly withheld from the defense.  

In fairness to the former D.A., he contends that he told the defense attorney about the report.  In other words, this question (about whether or not the report was turned over), is in dispute.  But don't you see how wrong it was if the D.A., in such a case, did not turn over such exculpatory evidence to the defense?

Here is my proposed solution to this serious problem:  I believe that prosecutors everywhere should generally be required to turn over ALL investigative reports to criminal defense attorneys.  Look, I know this solution can work!  As a former state and federal prosecutor, for over 26 years, I generally always followed an "open file" discovery policy in all criminal cases, (with limited exceptions for confidential informants' identities, or other sensitive matters, such as victims' addresses or telephone numbers).  In short, sometimes the procedural rules may not have required full disclosure, but I preferred to follow a "show and tell" policy of everything in my file.

Prosecutors should realize that, by being more open in discovery, they not only are doing the right thing, but also they will quickly get more guilty pleas, because the defendant will more clearly see you've got them when you show them "what you got!"

But, over the years, I have seen some short-sighted prosecutors who appear to want to hide their files from the defense.  As an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I have learned that obtaining discovery from an overly zealous prosecutor can be like pulling teeth with pliers!  This is wrong!  And it can lead to wrongful convictions, as in the Morton case!

I was an aggressive prosecutor who zealously represented crime victims' rights!  Trust me, I was no bleeding heart!  But I also tried to always remember that, it is the prosecutor's role, as former Supreme Court Justice Sutherland described it, to "strike hard blows, but not foul ones."  In short, if the evidence is on your side, you can still try hard to win, but it won't hurt for the D.A. to help ensure a fair trial, and a level playing field, by turning over ALL the evidence to the defense attorney!  

Then, maybe we wouldn't have to look back, 25 years later, and wonder -- what else should have done to ensure this poor man a fair trial?

What do you think?