More on discovery violations in the 9th circuit

The Charleston Post and Courier is reporting that an assistant solicitor in the 9th circuit was found to have withheld evidence in a trial today – the defendant is charged with a double homicide, the state has mis-tried the case twice already, and the assistant solicitor elicited testimony from a detective about a statement allegedly made by the defendant that had never been turned over to the defense, that was not in any of the state’s reports, and that had never been mentioned in the previous two trials:

[Judge] Nicholson found that Assistant Solicitor Greg Voigt had violated a rule requiring the disclosure of information that prosecutors intend to offer as evidence during a trial. It’s the same issue that drove a group of defense attorneys to recently request a state investigation into whether it’s a deliberate practice in the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

Instead of scuttling another trial, Nicholson told jurors to disregard that portion of Boone’s testimony when they deliberate Williams’ fate Thursday.

It may be that the assistant solicitor in this case didn’t know that the evidence had not been disclosed – according to the article, there was a different prosecutor for the first two trials.  If that is true, if it was not an intentional violation, it still shows a lack of preparation – he was responsible for learning the file and making sure that all evidence had been turned over before the trial began.  And, when there is a pattern of repeated discovery violations and other misconduct coming out of the same office, where does the blame lie?

Scarlett Wilson, who is in charge of the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s office and responsible for the training and supervision of the assistant solicitors there, led the charge to lambast Justice Beatty following his remarks at the solicitor’s conference, sending a much-publicized letter to the S.C. Attorney General asking for his assistance in having Justice Beatty recused from all criminal appeals and disciplinary matters that involve prosecutors.

Don’t rock the boat

I feel compelled to write about why I write about police misconduct, and prosecutorial misconduct.  Believe it or not, I care about what you think.  More importantly, I have friends who are police officers and family members who are police officers, and I care about what they think.

The public wants to believe that there is no systemic police misconduct.  It is always an isolated incident.  We want to believe that police officers are a special breed of honest, ethical, and upstanding human.  We need to believe that, because we want to feel safe.  We want to feel that our trust in public officials is not misguided.  I write about police misconduct because I’ve been on the front lines and I’ve seen that it isn’t always so.  Police officers are human – sometimes they lie, they cheat, they hurt other people and they abuse the power that we give them.  When they shine, they really shine.  But when the evil side of human nature comes through, it is twice as ugly because of the authority that police are vested with.

I don’t hate police officers.  I have an incredible amount of respect for any person who goes into law enforcement, risking their life and their health in the interest of keeping the rest of us safe, usually for low wages and little reward.  Criminal defense and law enforcement are two sides of the same coin – both sides’ goals are to enforce the laws and constitution of our state and nation, and to protect the citizens of our state and nation.  Both sides are needed to accomplish these goals and to keep the balance.  On both sides, we need advocates who go into their professions for the right reasons, not people who are just doing a job and drawing a paycheck.

I want you to do your job and to do it well.  But, if you are lying under oath, losing your temper and hurting people on the street, or using your authority for personal gain, you are not doing your job – you’re just an asshole with a badge.  There are not many things more frightening than an unethical human being who is out to help themselves with a badge and a loaded gun.

If you actually read the blog posts that I write, you would see that I am not bashing police officers or law enforcement.  I express my opinion about departmental policies such as when to chase a suspect – an important issue that needs to be discussed because it has a tremendous impact not just on the lives of motorists but of police officers as well.  I blog about abundant specific examples of officers who commit crimes – another important issue that reflects on the leadership and policies of specific police departments.  I don’t usually blog about warm fuzzy cop stories – it doesn’t mean I don’t see those and appreciate them, they just don’t typically have a place here.

If you are a cop, and you are not lying under oath, beating your wife, tampering with evidence, beating suspects while they are handcuffed, driving drunk, or arresting people who have not committed a crime, I am probably not complaining about you.

The same is true about prosecutorial misconduct.  I have to say that locally there are some of the most ethical and conscientious prosecutors that I could ever hope for, and I am grateful for them.  There are also a few that have proven they are not trustworthy, and that they will cheat to get results.  Unfortunately, the job attracts both types.

I’m going to continue to write about police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct, because I don’t see anyone else doing it.  If no one writes about it, if no one points it out, the public will continue to believe that it doesn’t exist.  Lawyers don’t want to “rock the boat.”  Some are afraid, some are too political, and some just don’t care.  Sometimes, our job is to rock the boat.  Sometimes, if it’s necessary to make positive changes, it’s our job to sink the boat.


The latest on the Beatty controversy/ prosecutorial misconduct in South Carolina

Gideon, from A Public Defender, now has a column at the Connecticut Law Tribune titled “Your Bias is Showing,” where he continues the conversation about prosecutorial misconduct nationwide and where he comments specifically on Beatty’s much-maligned (or much-applauded, depending on the listener) comments at the Solicitor’s Conference this winter:

First Judge Michael Sheldon of the Connecticut Appellate Court called it “a deliberate pattern of improper conduct” in State v. Santiago. Then, in another reference to prosecutorial misconduct, a Fourth Circuit opinion in U.S. v. Bartko pleaded “whatever it takes, this behavior must stop.” And Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit started a blistering dissent in U.S. v. Olsen with the following: “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.”

Yet when South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty warned prosecutors that they had “been getting away with too much for too long” and that the South Carolina Supreme Court would “no longer overlook unethical conduct such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence,” and cautioned that prosecutors’ “bar licenses will be in jeopardy,” the main prosecuting authority in South Carolina—the attorney general—threatened to move to recuse Beatty in all criminal cases, citing bias.

I wrote about it last December, in “The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long,” and Simple Justice’s Scott Greenfield wrote about it in “The hit dog hollers.”  Following Beatty’s comments, thirteen of South Carolina’s sixteen solicitor’s offices, including the Ninth Circuit Solicitor, wrote to the state’s attorney general, in a much publicized letter seeking the attorney general’s support in seeking the recusal of Justice Beatty in all matters involving criminal cases or ethics complaints against prosecutors.  The attorney general replied in another public letter, sympathizing with the solicitors over the justice’s unfortunate comments and agreeing to seek his recusal where appropriate.

S.C. Senator Larry Martin was quoted in the Charleston Post and Courier as saying the justice’s remarks were inappropriate and intimidating, and that, although there may be isolated cases of prosecutorial misconduct in the state, “I don’t believe it is a major problem.” The South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (SCACDL) issued a press release in response to the Solicitor’s public letter, questioning why “prosecutors in this state get so upset when they are reminded that they have an ethical duty not to win at any costs, but rather to administer justice.”

Since then, SCACDL sent it’s own letter to the state’s attorney general, outlining a series of specific examples of alleged ethical misconduct in just one state solicitor’s office in the 9th circuit and asking the attorney general, in keeping with his constitutional obligation to supervise all prosecutions in the state of South Carolina, to investigate the allegations of misconduct in the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.  The 9th Circuit Solicitor responded with a press release that disputed the “version of events” outlined in the allegations.

The Attorney General’s office has responded in a brief letter that does not address the allegations but rather punts the issue, declaring that “the Attorney General’s Office is not equipped with the resources to conduct these types of investigations.”

Full disclosure: I am currently the president of SCACDL, and I struggled with whether I should write about this on Trial Theory.  I want to be clear that on this blog, I do not speak for SCACDL and this blog is in no way associated with the organization.  However, I do feel that this is a critical criminal law issue in our state and nationwide, and it is important for criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors to continue the conversation.

Edit:  Radley Balko also has an article at the Washington Post.

How far we’ve come

Reading an appellate opinion from 100ish years ago can really put things into perspective – we are fighting today to make the criminal justice system fair, to stop wrongful convictions, to have an even playing field between prosecution and defense.  We complain about a prosecutor who makes an off-color comment during trial, who abuses the subpoena power, who makes a judge dismiss a case that the prosecutor should have dismissed themselves.

We are still fighting for justice for all – yes, a wrongful conviction, a person who loses decades of their life or even who is executed because a prosecutor did not turn over exculpatory evidence is unconscionable, but it was not so long ago that, in addition to our 2014 problems, lawyers were fighting against the unapologetic denial of civil rights to an entire race.  Not so long before that, our United States Supreme Court held in a published opinion that African Americans, whether slave or free, could not be United States citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court, an opinion which officially sanctioned slavery and which is seen as a catalyst leading to the civil war.

If you are in the trenches fighting for your clients and feel like you are beating your head against the wall, take a moment and read State v. Edwards, a “run of the mill” S.C. Supreme Court case from 1923.  Edwards, a black man and former soldier, was convicted of robbing a white woman in downtown Greenville.  At the trial, the testimony showed that the alleged victim, Mrs. Jones, had described her assailant as a “brown skin negro,” and yet the defendant was a “coal black negro.”  The prosecutor argued to the jury that he could have stained his face for the trial.  During deliberations the jury asked the court to have Edwards wash his face in front of them, which he did.  There was no change in his skin color, but they convicted him anyway:

A most peculiar incident occurred during the trial. It developed in the testimony that Mrs. Jones had described the negro as being a brown skin negro. The defendant was a coal black negro, and the question of his color was a sharp issue during the trial. After the jury had deliberated on the case for a considerable time, they returned to the courtroom and asked if there was any objection to having the defendant’s face washed; it having been contended during argument by the solicitor that his face could have been stained. Hot water and washing powder was produced, and in the presence of the court and jury, in open court, the defendant vigorously scrubbed his face for several minutes without the slightest variation in his color. The jury returned to their room, and thereafter brought out a verdict of guilty, and the defendant was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.”

The S.C. Supreme Court granted the appeal for re-sentencing only, because the trial judge had sentenced Edwards to 15 years when the maximum sentence was 10 years.

We still have institutionalized racism at every stage of the criminal justice system.  The fight continues.  Looking back at State v. Edwards, and the Dred Scott decision, reminds us why we fight, and how far we’ve come.

“The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long . . .”

S.C. Lawyer’s Weekly reported a couple of weeks ago that, at the Solicitor’s Conference in September, Justice Beatty of the S.C. Supreme Court told the assembled prosecutors that the Supreme Court 1) will no longer tolerate prosecutorial misconduct, and 2) that the Solicitors’ efforts to re-take control of the docket through legislation will not be successful.  The S.C. Lawyer’s Weekly article is behind a paywall, unfortunately.  According to a summary of Beatty’s comments that was written by prosecutors in attendance:

Beatty told prosecutors that for too long the Court had turned a “blind eye” to their abuses and misdeeds, such as witness intimidation and tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecution, perjury, and the suppression of exculpatory evidence.

Beatty is quoted as saying, “The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now its going in the other direction.  Your bar licenses will be [in] jeopardy.  We will take your licenses.”

Prosecutors immediately united in solidarity to attack Justice Beatty – thirteen of sixteen circuit solicitors have announced that they will seek to recuse Justice Beatty from hearing any criminal cases or ruling on any grievances filed against prosecutors.  As stated in a press release from the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, “a hit dog will holler.”

Justice Beatty’s comments may have been improper, to the extent that he commented on cases that may come in front of the Supreme Court that have not yet been ruled upon.  In his defense, the comments were made in a private forum, and would not be public if not for the press that was initiated by the solicitors themselves.  Regardless of the propriety of Beatty’s statements, what matters is the truth of the statements – most defense lawyers in the state, and probably some prosecutors, will support the truth of his statements from their own experience.

A Supreme Court justice has finally not only acknowledged the pervasiveness of prosecutorial misconduct in our state, but has also acknowledged that he and the rest of the Court have been seen it, they know what is happening, and they’ve been ignoring it.  Why do prosecutors get the deference that they have been receiving from the courts?  I don’t know, but I can speculate.  Most legislators are supportive of law enforcement and prosecutors.  In South Carolina, the legislature elects our circuit court and appellate court judges.  Perhaps our judges fear a backlash if they dare to criticize police or prosecutors, similar to the backlash that Justice Beatty is experiencing now.

Justice Beatty has provided some hope that the pendulum might begin to swing the other way in our state, that maybe, just maybe, our judges are fed up and will begin enforcing the law and disciplinary code against prosecutors as well as the rest of us.  The test will be in the months and years to come, as we watch the decisions issued by our Supreme Court.  The comments may have been inappropriate but they were truthful, they were appreciated, and attorneys across our state are hoping that they were not empty words.

H/T to Scott Greenfield, who picked up the story and notes that “[w]hen a judge rails against the evils of crime, the reaction ranges from applause to re-election.  When a judge rails against the evils of prosecutorial misconduct, there is a very different reaction.”

Above the law

Friday in Texas, former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to criminal contempt for intentionally withholding evidence that could have cleared Michael Morton.  Anderson prosecuted and convicted Morton for the murder, who then spent 25 years in prison before DNA evidence cleared Morton and the real killer was found.  Anderson went on to become a judge, before resigning in September of this year.  As part of his plea agreement, Anderson will spend 10 days in jail, do 500 hours of community service, and surrender his law license.

As a practical matter, what’s the point?  A sentence of 10 days and community service is the type of sentence given to a first time offender, to teach them a lesson and make it memorable, so they won’t do it again.  Ken Anderson isn’t going to do it again – he’s not practicing law anymore.  He’s done all the damage he is going to do in the 25 + years since Michael Morton’s conviction.  Is a sentence of 10 days in jail and community service enough to deter other prosecutors from committing the same crime?

Despite his guilty plea, Anderson continues to maintain that he did nothing wrong.  Anderson refuses to accept responsibility for what he did, will spend a few days in jail – 0.1095% of the time that Michael Morton spent in jail – and will go on to enjoy his retirement following 16 years as  a DA and 11 as a judge.

At a hearing earlier this year, Anderson lamented that “the system screwed up” maintained that he did nothing wrong, and complained about “what me and my family have been through for 18 months of false accusations.”  Although Anderson claimed to have no memory of the proceedings, another prosecutor that worked with him on the case testified that Anderson had acknowledged the exculpatory evidence and that he had planned on changing his theory of the case if the evidence was discovered (if the defense learned of the three year old’s statement excluding his father, the theory would be that the killer wore a scuba diving suit that disguised him and which would explain why Morton’s clothing had no blood on it).

Morton was accused of bludgeoning his wife to death in 1986.  Anderson’s theory was that Morton killed his wife because she wouldn’t have sex with him, despite substantial evidence that someone had come into their house and murdered Morton’s wife after Morton left for work.  Evidence collected by law enforcement that Anderson did not disclose to the defense included:  neighbors saw a man in a green van behind Morton’s house at the time of the murder, their three year old son had said that he saw a “monster” beat his mother to death (not his father), Morton’s wife’s pocketbook was stolen and credit cards and her checkbook were fraudulently used days later, there were unidentified fingerprints in the home and there was an unidentified footprint in the yard.

Anderson did not call the chief investigator, who had the reports containing the exculpatory information, as a witness at the trial.   The trial judge ordered Anderson to disclose all evidence that the police had collected, and Anderson responded by providing the judge with Morton’s statements to the police and nothing else.

Who is to blame for Michael Morton’s loss of 25 years of his life?  His defense lawyer, the police investigator, and other prosecutors in Anderson’s office are no doubt guilty of negligence.  Ken Anderson intentionally took those 25 years from Morton.  What he did is no more excusable than the actions of a common murderer or kidnapper, and less so considering many murderers or kidnappers will acknowledge their crime, accept responsibility, and feel remorse for the hurt that they caused their victims.


S.C. Supreme Court holds that solicitor control of the docket is unconstitutional

In State v. Langford, released today, the S.C. Supreme Court held that Section 1-7-330 of the S.C. Code, which grants absolute control of the criminal docket to the circuit solicitor (prosecutor’s office), is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers clause of the S.C. Constitution.  Along with the opinion the Court has issued an administrative Order re the disposition of cases in General Sessions Court, which lays out the new procedure that is to be followed for docket management.

We must determine whether Section 1-7-330 of the South Carolina Code (2005), which vests control of the criminal docket in the circuit solicitor, violates the separation of powers principle embodied in Article 1, Section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution. In 1980, we recognized that “[t]he authority of the court to grant continuances and to determine the order in which cases shall be heard is derived from its power to hear and decide cases.” Williams v. Bordon’s, Inc., 274 S.C. 275, 279, 262 S.E.2d 881, 883 (1980). “This adjudicative power of the court carries with it the inherent power to control the order of its business to safeguard the rights of litigants.” Id. The time has now come for us to acknowledge that section 1-7-330 is at odds with this intrinsically judicial power. We therefore hold that section 1-7-330 violates the separation of powers and therefore is unconstitutional.

Section 1-7-330 vests control of the court’s docket exclusively in the circuit solicitor, the solicitor is without question an arm of the executive branch of government, and “[v]esting a member of the executive branch with the exclusive authority to perform an inherently judicial function unquestionably is a violation of separation of powers.”  As a practical matter, prosecutorial control of the docket is no different than giving absolute control of the docket to the plaintiff’s bar – some would take the responsibility seriously, and many would abuse it to gain advantage in their cases.  Neither system can be fair when one side controls when cases are called and in front of what judge.

The Court still affirms Langford’s conviction, holding that there was no prejudice to Langford that would require reversal.  There is also a discussion of Langford’s due process and speedy trial claims that is worth reading.

This is huge, and any attorney who handles criminal cases needs to read the opinion, study the administrative order, and hold our local prosecutors and judges to it.  I’ve been complaining about this for as long as I’ve been practicing law, and in the past year I’ve begun filing motions to dismiss based on due process violations in cases where I felt there was abuse of the solicitor’s control of the docket and/or resulting prejudice to my clients, in the hopes that one of those might make it to the Supreme Court.  Today’s decision shows that the Court was definitely ready to tackle this issue.

The docket management order, although more detailed, is similar to how Horry County Central Jury Court has been operating for some time – it works well and it is efficient.  Trial dates are set in advance, and both sides know what day they will need to be ready and subpoena their witnesses.  If either side has a valid reason and needs a continuance, the Court will usually grant it.  There is little room for manipulation or gaming by either side.  Cases usually do not sit idle for years and years, and when they do a motion to dismiss is likely to be granted.  Here’s hoping that our circuit judges will take the bull by the horns and make this work.

The Court took on solicitor control of the docket despite the issue not being raised or preserved in the court below or even raised by the parties as an issue on appeal.  The issue was raised in an amicus brief filed by the Public Defender Association, and the Court finds that it is appropriate to consider the issue because it is a “matter of significant public interest,” citing to Ex parte Brown, 393 S.C. 214, 216, 711 S.E.2d 899, 900 (2011) (another incredible opinion that got it right).

Kudos to the Court and to the Public Defender Association for taking on this issue and working to make the system fair to both sides.  Applause.

Pottawatamie County civil rights trial – “if they can do it to the least of us they can do it to anybody”

Gerry Spence is back in the courtroom, trying a civil rights case against two Pottawatamie County police investigators who were responsible for the wrongful convictions of Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee for the murder of a retired police officer.  According to the plaintiffs, detectives Dan Larsen and Lyle Brown manufactured false evidence against them, while ignoring and hiding evidence of another suspect in the crime.  Harrington and McGhee spent 25 years in prison before evidence of their innocence was uncovered and their cases were dismissed.

“The evidence will show these cops betrayed law and order, betrayed the oath they took as police officers and they betrayed their duty to protect us all,” Harrington’s attorney, Gerry Spence, told jurors during opening statements Thursday. “If they can do it to the least of us they can do it to anybody.”

The case against Harrington and McGee’s prosecutors was previously settled for a combined amount of $12 million, while the case was pending in the United States Supreme Court.

There is no amount of money that will repay these men for the loss they suffered –  25 years of their lives stolen from them and from their families; but there is no other way to stop the sort of thing that happened in this case.  The police won’t be prosecuted.  The prosecutors won’t be prosecuted.  They won’t be disciplined or censured even.  The convictions were overturned, but not until 25 years had been lost.  There is nothing left but recourse to the tort system, to serve as a deterrent against this kind of conduct by those in power.

Why are corporations acting as prosecutors in our criminal courts?

A few weeks ago I had to sit through a morning of bench trials in one of our local magistrate courts, waiting for the judge to get to my hearing on a motion to quash a warrant.  Watching pro-se defendants representing themselves, each a train wreck one after the other, was a very frustrating experience.  You want to jump up and volunteer to help these guys, but you just can’t.  I’m empathetic and I do care about these people that I have never met, but there are too many people who need help and who can’t afford to pay, there are not enough hours in the day, and the bills have to be paid.

One case in particular caught my attention.  A defendant was charged with a series of fraudulent checks that were written to K-Mart in 2004.  The defendant appeared for his court date, did not request a jury trial, and stood before the judge with no attorney.  At the other table stood a K-Mart employee, not an attorney and also unrepresented, who argued to the judge that the money needed to be paid one way or the other.

The judge listened to the K-Mart employee, asked some questions of the defendant who admitted that he did write the checks and could not afford to pay them, found the defendant guilty, and then sentenced him to consecutive 30 day sentences (served one after the other) on each fraudulent check.  The sentence would then be suspended if the defendant paid the money owed to K-Mart and all court costs.

So – a guy writes bad checks and gets some merchandise technically without paying for it.  8 years later he is arrested for the checks, locked up, released and told to return for his court date.  Then he is given what seems like an excessive jail sentence, unless he pays the money.  The defendant now has a strong motivation to come up with the money to pay back K-Mart, and if he doesn’t he is severely punished for his crime of writing a bad check.  Of course, he is in jail and can’t work to make the money to pay to K-Mart.

What’s wrong with this picture?  No magistrate should be allowing corporate employees to represent their companies in court – first of all, it is the unauthorized practice of law, it is illegal, and they have no standing to appear on behalf of a corporation or anyone unless they are a licensed attorney or unless they are a police officer prosecuting a criminal case in magistrate or municipal court.

In a civil case, any person can represent themselves – but even in civil cases corporations cannot represent themselves, and non-attorney corporate employees cannot represent their corporation.  In a criminal case a defendant may appear pro-se, but the other party is the State, not an individual or a corporation.  This is why alleged victims in criminal cases cannot appear to prosecute their cases on their own behalf.  The “plaintiff” in a criminal case is the State, and there must be an attorney who represents the State present to prosecute the case, with the exception of police officers prosecuting their own cases in the magistrate or municipal courts.

In In re Richland County Magistrate Court, decided in September 2010, the S.C. Supreme Court addressed this exact scenario and made it clear that corporate employees cannot prosecute a defendant on behalf of their corporation in the magistrate court.  The Court held that it is “unauthorized practice of law for a non-lawyer to represent a business as prosecutor of a criminal misdemeanor charge, other than a traffic offense, in magistrate’s court.”  Here’s what the Court had to say about the practice of non-lawyer representatives of corporations appearing in magistrate courts to prosecute defendants:

If a private party is permitted to prosecute a criminal action, we can no longer be assured that the powers of the State are employed only for the interest of the community at large. In fact, we can be absolutely certain that the interests of the private party will influence the prosecution, whether the self-interest lies in encouraging payment of a corporation’s debt, influencing settlement in a civil suit, or merely seeking vengeance. Petitioner candidly acknowledges in its brief that the non-lawyers are authorized by the companies “to represent their interests” in the criminal proceedings.

We find that allowing prosecution decisions to be made by, or even influenced by, private interests would do irreparable harm to our criminal justice system. At the very least, there is “too much opportunity for abuse and too little motivation for detachment.”[2] See State v. Martineau, 808 A.2d 51, 55 (N.H. 2002), Nadeau, J., concurring. Though we certainly understand the practical concerns raised by the dissent, we are confronted with a higher question here. The convenience and fiscal economy of private prosecution may be facially appealing, but we must not embrace them at the expense of fundamental fairness and justice.

Corporations don’t care about justice.  They don’t care about fairness.  Corporations are non-living, non-breathing constructs that for the most part have a single purpose in existing – to make money.  A prosecutor’s duty is that of a a”minister of justice -” their goal is not to get a conviction, nor is their goal to collect money for an alleged victim.  Their goal is to seek justice – whether that is a conviction obtained by honest means, a dismissal of charges, or alternative resolution, the guiding principle is to seek justice and represent the interests of the State.  Not so with a corporation or their representative – the corporation’s only goal in a criminal proceeding is debt collection.

Corporations rule our country, and, arguably, the world.  Corporations with their money choose our politicians.  They may choose several politicians and then present them to us so that we have the illusion of democracy and free choice.  In many states, corporations with their money choose our judges, funding their election campaigns.  The United States Supreme Court has given dead corporations the rights of citizens in our country.  According to an ABA Journal article, more than 300 district attorney offices across the country now have agreements with debt collectors allowing the debt collectors to use the prosecutors’ letterhead to send letters threatening bad check writers with imprisonment.  If there is one place where we need to protect real people from the crushing power of corporations, it is in our courts and especially our criminal courts.

Are we now going to give corporations the power to prosecute citizens and incarcerate them, force them to pay fines, and cause them to have criminal records?  Isn’t this a power that should be reserved only to the State?  It is, and our state supreme court has said that corporations cannot prosecute citizens.  So why are magistrates still allowing it to happen?

Lawyer and police misconduct update

Lexington attorney Richard Breibart has been indicted in federal court on multiple wire fraud and extortion charges.  The closing of Breibart’s office resulted in a large number of clients who were left without counsel, as well as many who were left without any means of compensation – although the S.C. Bar has a fund set up to compensate victims in cases like this, it is capped at $200,000 for any one attorney, and the losses from Breibart’s firm are anticipated to exceed that amount.

The Camden city attorney was charged with misconduct in office for allegedly dismissing cases in exchange for donations to the city’s “anti-drug fund.”

A Pickens police officer was fired after posting the details surrounding a ticket he wrote to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney on an online forum.

Spartanburg County Sheriff’s deputy Eric Boutin shot and killed a 35 lb dog, Diamond, that was tethered and unable to reach him, as he attempted to serve a warrant at the wrong house.

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright has expressed remorse over the incident, but states that Deputy Boutin will not be punished for the shooting of Diamond. Wright justified the shooting by saying that there was a chance the tether could have slipped off which would have resulted in Boutin being bitten.

Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach resigned from office last week amid allegations that at least one chemist had mishandled drugs and manufactured evidence:

Authorities have not released specific details about what chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly did.

But in a letter sent last week to defense attorneys around the state, Max Stern, the president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said he was told in a meeting with Patrick and other administration officials that the chemist is accused of deliberately tampering with some drug samples, including the weight of the samples, which can affect the length of prison sentences given to people convicted of drug offenses.

“Apparently, the lab analyst in question had unsupervised access to the drug safe and evidence room, and tampered with evidence bags, altered the actual weight of the drugs, did not calibrate machines correctly, and altered samples so that they would test as drugs when they were not,” Stern said in the letter.