Federal Prosecutors: We Cannot Be 'Outcome Driven' – Unless the Outcomes Are in Our Favor

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Recent news
from North Carolina that federal prosecutors have imprisoned "scores"
of men
who apparently broke no laws might have been shocking
at one time in our nation's history, but no more. Misconduct and
lawless behavior by federal prosecutors in that state is approaching
something of legendary proportions, but the immunity-protected lawbreakers
have nothing to fear — unlike the innocent.

According to
a USA Today investigation, federal prosecutors in North Carolina,
who apparently were ignorant of the law (as were the judges that
heard the cases) garnered convictions of men on federal weapons
charges even though the law was clear that these men had not committed
violations. According to the investigation:

Terrell McCullum
did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle
out of his ex-girlfriend’s house.

But he is
serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone
— including the U.S. Justice Department — agrees that he is legally
innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY
investigation, based on court records and interviews with government
officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison
for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts
have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them
to have a gun.

Many of them
don’t even know they’re innocent.

That is bad
enough, but what follows is worse:

Still, the
Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has
made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the
men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they
should not be released.

Justice Department
officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they
might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not
a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the
men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal
laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge
their convictions in court.

“We can’t
be outcome driven,” said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte.

Indeed, Tomkins
added, "We’ve got to make sure we follow the law, and people
should want us to do that." This is from someone whose prosecutors
already did not "follow the law" in gaining convictions
of innocent people, yet another example of the "heads I win,
tails you lose" system of federal "justice." It was
"their job" to convict these men and have them sent to
prison, and now that the incarcerated people are behind bars, federal
prosecutors suddenly claim that even if they don't have to
follow the law, people wrongfully convicted are bound by it — in
more ways than one.

If anything,
federal prosecutors are totally "outcome-driven." Their
survival as federal employees, including promotions and raises,
are determined by their conviction rates, the more convictions the
better. Because they are protected by "absolute immunity,"
they never have to worry about facing lawsuits or criminal investigations
for wrongdoing. (Yes, criminal investigations supposedly are on
the table, but it is a rare thing for federal officials to investigate
themselves.)

Perhaps it
is fitting that this latest scandal occur in North Carolina, as
that state has been a cesspool of "justice" in both state
and federal courts. North Carolina gave us the infamous Michael
Nifong, the district attorney who fabricated charges against three
Duke University lacrosse players, charges that Nifong knew from
the start were false.

While Nifong
was disbarred for his actions, one of the few prosecutors in the
country ever to be disciplined at all, federal authorities refused
even to investigate his actions even though his office made use
of thousands of dollars of federal money in order to pursue the
fraudulent lacrosse case. (State prosecutors are able to obtain
federal money to aid with prosecutions in sexual assault, rape,
and child abuse/molestation cases, and Nifong's office used thousands
of federal dollars to provide the false accuser, Crystal Mangum,
with living expenses. They also used federal money in helping to
pay for the actual investigation.)

Although federal
prosecutors in North Carolina see no reason to pursue justice, they
are quite zealous when it comes to going after people for non-crimes
or "crimes" that are the product of the imaginations of
prosecutors. The recent farce of a trial involving John Edwards
ended somewhat appropriately when federal prosecutors decided not
to retry the former U.S. Senator after comments from a deadlocked
jury essentially ensured that getting a conviction would be impossible.

Edwards
had huge amounts of personal resources to fight the "novel"
charges by the feds (even federal prosecutors admitted they were
stretching campaign finance law in order to make their claims) but
others in North Carolina are not so fortunate. The vast numbers
of wrongfully-convicted people there have no personal wealth by
which to pursue appeals and even their actual innocence claims and,
as the USA Today article points out, are derided by federal
prosecutors not because they are untrue, but rather because prosecutors
don't want to be bothered by the inconvenience.

(The irony
here is that the people convicted are expected to know the law backwards
and forwards. The people that put them there, however, bear absolutely
no responsibility to know the law and are not held responsible for
their wrongful actions.)

It is not just
Edwards or the people featured in the USA Today investigation
that are on the receiving end of wrongful behavior by federal prosecutors
in North Carolina. Three years ago, Candice
E. Jackson and I wrote about the wrongful conviction of Victoria
Sprouse
, a real estate attorney who was railroaded in a federal
trial in Charlotte. As noted in that article and another
one later
, the prosecutorial misconduct was pervasive and dishonest.

(After reading
the LRC pieces, lead prosecutor Matt Martens first claimed that
I was a fictional character and that Sprouse herself had written
the first article. However, to quote Descarte, "Cogito ergo
sum," and I really was the main author. Martens then claimed
in court that Sprouse had dictated to me the contents of the piece,
telling me what to write. That fell into the "howler"
category, as people know better than to do something like dictate
such things to me.)

Last year,
a federal judge overturned
Sprouse's conviction
, and federal prosecutors in Charlotte were
not pleased, and their revenge was brutal and swift. This past week,
Sprouse was arrested and charged with "bankruptcy fraud,"
with the charges (while sounding "breathtaking" to the
judge) based upon the flimsiest of reasons.

For example,
because Sprouse already had lost her law license due to her criminal
conviction, she had to do other work while under house arrest. The
terms of her house arrest (while her case was being appealed) were
draconian and she stayed within them, which meant that she was unable
to have enough for living expenses.

Her sister
wrote a check from a fund that the sister controlled, so now federal
prosecutors are claiming that Sprouse had a "secret fund"
that she kept hidden from the court. That is akin to a claim that
because the Maryland State government pays me for my teaching at
Frostburg State University, I "control" the state treasury.

However,
the feds were not satisfied with dumping more felony charges upon
Sprouse. She currently is being held without bond in the Mecklenburg
County lockup, and is being kept in solitary confinement. To make
matters even worse, because of all that was done to her, she was
taking medication for depression, anxiety, and to be able to sleep.
At the present time, all of those medications have been denied her.

We need to
call this by its proper name: torture. Without medication, she will
be sleep deprived, and solitary confinement also has been a mechanism
used by police and prosecutors to break the will of targeted people
and to cause them to lose hope, thus making a plea bargain easier.
Federal prosecutors also were able to have her attorney removed
because of alleged "conflicts of interest."

Indeed, as
I see it, what is being done to Victoria Sprouse is the epitome
of "outcome driven" behavior by prosecutors. Sprouse had
the effrontery to win an appeal against her federal masters, and
their revenge was brutal and not unexpected. These are people who
do things because they can do them, and they will not be satisfied
until they either have driven Victoria Sprouse into her grave or
into prison.

June
18, 2012

William
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail
], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
his blog.

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