Ted Stevens Conviction Voided
Attorney General Eric Holder has dropped the case against Ted Stevens, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reports.
A jury convicted Stevens last fall of seven counts of lying on his Senate disclosure form in order to conceal $250,000 in gifts from an oil industry executive and other friends. Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, however, he lost his bid for an eighth full term in office just days after he was convicted. Since then, charges of prosecutorial misconduct have delayed his sentencing and prompted defense motions for a new trial.
According to Justice Department officials, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to drop the case against Stevens rather than continue to defend the conviction in the face of persistent problems stemming from the actions of prosecutors.
The judge in the Stevens case has repeatedly delayed sentencing and criticized trial prosecutors for what he’s called prosecutorial misconduct. At one point, prosecutors were held in contempt. Things got so bad that the Justice Department finally replaced the trial team, including top-ranking officials in the office of public integrity. That’s the department’s section charged with prosecuting public corruption cases.
With more ugly hearings expected, Holder is said to have decided late Tuesday to pull the plug. Stevens’ lawyers are expected to be informed Wednesday morning that the department will dismiss the indictment against the former senator.
Unfortunately, while I have no reasonable doubt that Stevens was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged, I also believe Holder is doing the right thing here. It’s well past time to reign in federal prosecutors who, in high profile cases, seem willing to use any means necessary to get their man.
Whether we’re talking Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Monicagate, Martha Stewart, Lewis Libby, William Jefferson, Ted Stevens, or Rod Blagojevich, a team of really smart lawyers armed with extreme confidence that they’ve got a bad guy in their sites, unlimited resources, and operating under the white hot glare of the media spotlight, will figure out how to bring charges. In most, if not all, of those cases, there actually is/was underlying wrongdoing on the part of the accused. But making charges stick is often tricky.
Because we have an adversarial system, lawyers on both sides treat the case as a game, stretching the spirit if not the letter of the law as necessary. Prosecutors, acting as agents of the state, are supposed to be more cognizant of justice — defense attorneys are supposed to get their guy off even if they’re sure he’s guilty, whereas prosecutors are expected to stop prosecuting if they find they’ve got the wrong guy — but it often doesn’t work out that way.
So, good for Eric Holder for making the hard, right call here. Let’s hope it sends the right message.
UPDATE: And, yes, as Radley Balko points out, prosecutorial excess is by no means reserved for cases involving the rich and famous.