FBI: Hiding Exculpatory Evidence; Gov’t To Pay Over $100 Million

For all you “law and order” types.

A federal judge Thursday ordered the government to pay more than $101 million in the case of four men who spent decades in prison for a 1965 murder they didn’t commit after the FBI withheld evidence of their innocence.

The FBI encouraged perjury, helped frame the four men and withheld for more than three decades information that could have cleared them, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner said in issuing her ruling Thursday.

She called the government’s argument that the FBI had no duty to get involved in the state case “absurd.”

Absurd? Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, that poor S.O.B. who had a legal prescription for Vicodin, but still spent 2 years in prison on a 25 year conviction. In this case, these poor men spent decades in prison, and in large part due to malfeasance on the part of the FBI, the Federal Bureau of the Immoral.

Keep in mind this is from a government where a DEA informant new about murders that took place, would take place, and the government did nothing to stop it. And based on this exchange between Assistant Director of the FBI Wayne Murphy and Rep. Dan Lungren (R.-CA) and Rep. William Delahunt (D.-Mass),

Representative Lungren: If I could just ask my question once again very simply. That is: Is there a policy in the FBI to share information with local and state law enforcement officials when you, the FBI, have become aware that your confidential informants have engaged in serious violent felony activity, not all criminal activity, serious violent felony activity, in the jurisdiction of the local or the state authorities?”

Murphy: It is my understanding Congressman that there is not a specific documented policy, directly to answer your question sir.

Representative Lungren: Well I thank you for that because you may have given me the basis for enacting our legislation to require that. Do you think it should be?

Murphy: I think it’s difficult to make a generalization that will fly in every circumstance. And in fact in some cases there are activities which are closely coordinated with a local law enforcement activity but have equities that affect other local law enforcement activities. We’re being asked to respect and support the acts of one local law enforcement agency against another. And I want to say again, I don’t mean in terms of confrontational but in terms of balancing the equities and the interests of a long term investigation. So I don’t think it would be fair or accurate for me to try and characterize a general solution ….

Representative Lungren: All I can say is that if I were still a law enforcement officer in the state of California and you were to tell me that the FBI was reserving judgment about whether to tell me that you have CIs in my jurisdiction that are committing serious violent felonies, I would be more than offended.

[…]

Representative Delahunt: The scandal occurred in the Boston office in the late ’90s, about a decade ago. These issues have existed for decades now…. Is there a legal responsibility on the part of the FBI, in the case of murder, to report information to local or state law enforcement agencies?

Murphy: Congressman the Attorney General guidelines in their infinite…

Representative Delahunt: I’m not talking about the Attorney General guidelines. Do they have a legal responsibility, currently, to report evidence, both exculpatory, or evidence of a crime, when a homicide is being investigated?”

Murphy: If you will indulge me Congressman, I’d like the opportunity to answer that question offline because there are various circumstances under which that question might be answered differently that would include some of the aspects about how we manage sources, how we make decisions about the management of sources. And I would appreciate the opportunity to answer that question for the record offline.

[…]

Representative Delahunt: I’m not asking about qualities or guidelines or considerations. Does there exist today, in your opinion, a legal responsibility for the FBI to communicate, in a homicide investigation, either exculpatory information to the state and local authorities, or evidence that would indicate that an individual is responsible for murder? That’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.

Murphy: I would prefer to answer that question offline if you wouldn’t mind, thank you Congressman.

Delahunt: Well I do mind. And I don’t see the reason why that answer has to be provided offline. That’s a legal question.–Via the Agitator

In other words, our own FBI is not happy to answer questions about the FBI’s responsibility in regard so providing evidence about confidential informants involved in murder or about people who might be wrongfully accused and the FBI knows about it. How far is it from this to manufacturing evidence to implicate people of murder? Not far, IMO. This strikes me as very disturbing. I agree with Balko that it is rather horrifying that we need a law that forces the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to to divulge such evidence in the first place.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree with Balko that it is rather horrifying that we need a law that forces the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to to divulge such evidence in the first place.

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? I believe the laws you’re talking about are already in place. I think the problem is a little different: an opaque bureaucracy and a culture that rewards winning over other values.

  2. Hal says:

    Yea, I’d have to agree. What I find horrifying is the libertarian belief that somehow these agencies are supposed to police themselves and shrieks with horror at seeing actual regulation being required to police those agencies.

    Much of the regulations and mechanisms you seem to curse on a daily basis are the very things that prevent crap like this from happening, or correct the damage done after it’s been revealed.

    And now you cringe in mock horror.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    What I find horrifying is the libertarian belief that somehow these agencies are supposed to police themselves and shrieks with horror at seeing actual regulation being required to police those agencies.

    Uhhhh…what? Do me a favor and find three libertarians who hold this view and then let me know.

    Much of the regulations and mechanisms you seem to curse on a daily basis are the very things that prevent crap like this from happening, or correct the damage done after it’s been revealed.

    Libertarian don’t usually cringe in horror at regulating/limiting the power of the State. You are seriously confused.