Monday, December 31, 2012

A Rant About the U.S. Department of Justice, Prosecutorial Priorities, and Small Potatoes

[U.S. Department of Justice photo from wikipedia]
As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years and, currently, as an Augusta, GA criminal defense lawyer who regularly handles federal criminal cases, I have seen a number of changes in federal court over the years. Most of them are good. By and large, I still maintain that most federal prosecutors do a good job and that DOJ generally does an effective job of handling the prosecution of federal crimes. In short, I am still proud of my career as an AUSA and the fine job they do!

But I have noticed one disappointing trend which I wanted to blog about today. This trend involves some U.S. Attorney's Offices focusing more and more on "adopting" relatively small state criminal cases and "taking them federal," i.e. prosecuting small cases in federal court that do not belong there. In other words, in my opinion, generally, in the past, the feds focused more on larger, more complex federal cases. Today, on the  other hand, I believe some U.S. Attorneys' Offices are handling more and more relatively smaller criminal cases. Why is this so?

In my opinion, there are a number of reasons for this troubling trend. For example, some federal prosecutors find it easier to adopt and indict relatively simple state cases, instead of handling more intense federal grand jury investigations and putting together more complex federal cases from the ground up. Having handled a number of "mega" federal fraud and public corruption investigations and cases, as a former career federal prosecutor, I know fully well how difficult and time-consuming they can be to put together. But that is no excuse for AUSAs not to focus on them!

Another reason for this change in focus, in my opinion, toward smaller federal cases, originates with DOJ in Washington, D.C. In short, the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys generally grades each U.S. Attorney's Office performance based upon the number of criminal cases prosecuted, instead of the size of the cases prosecuted. As a result, in my opinion, the various U.S. Attorney Offices around the country are, in effect, encouraged to take on more smaller, quicker prosecutions than on the more labor-intensive "mega" cases. But, in my opinion, one "mega" fraud case, which can yield millions in fines and restitution for federal programs, is often worth more than fifty "small potato" prosecutions!

Shouldn't the feds focus more on the "mega" fraud cases and leave the smaller potatoes for the states to handle? What do you think?

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