A recent investigation by USA Today found that federal prosecutors rarely suffer negative consequences for committing professional misconduct. The newspaper stated that "prosecutors have little reason to fear losing their jobs, even if they violate laws" designed to ensure fairness in the justice system.
USA Today's investigation identified two main areas of concern.
First, the U.S. Department of Justice, which employs and disciplines federal prosecutors, often classifies prosecutorial misconduct that results in overturned convictions as unintentional violations. According to USA Today, the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) found intentional misconduct in about a quarter of the nearly 750 formal complaints the OPR investigated in the past 10 years.
Second, even if the OPR determines that prosecutors committed intentional misconduct, they are unlikely to lose their jobs. The most common consequences are reprimands or suspensions.
For example, the OPR determined that a Florida prosecutor had recklessly violated criminal-procedure rules by trying to inflame a grand jury against two potential defendants. The prosecutor was given a two-day suspension, which he served on a weekend. The prosecutor also was told to move to the civil division or look for a new job. Shockingly, the prosecutor took a new job in the same position at a different office just 200 miles away.
While prosecutorial misconduct occurs in just a small portion of the thousands of criminal cases filed by federal prosecutors each year, the behavior has a major impact on people accused of crimes. For the mistreated defendants in these cases, it is likely one of the most significant events in their lives.
If you are facing criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you defend your rights and protect you against government misconduct.