When the Prosecution Is the Crime

By Clarke, Kevin | U.S. Catholic, February 1999 | Go to article overview

When the Prosecution Is the Crime


Clarke, Kevin, U.S. Catholic


HERE'S HOPING THAT BY THE TIME you read this, the nation's unfortunate juridical foray into Bill Clinton's unorthodox Oval Office policymaking sessions will finally be over--for better or worse. By now the question of President Clinton's impeachment should be resolved. What may remain unresolved, however, are the questions which surround the behavior of Kenneth Starr and his attorneys in their pursuit of the president.

Beginning with Starr's over-the-top pressure on witnesses against the president, through his attorneys' highly questionable treatment of Monica Lewinsky on the long night of her detainment, culminating in months of grand jury leaks, the U.S. public was finally treated to the spectacle of the independent counsel before Congress gamely cheerleading impeachment proceedings while providing evasive, dare I say it, Clintonian explanations of his own activities. Starr's tactics have given even the most ardent critics of the president cause for concern. Many observers of the Clinton inquisition have spoken of possible prosecutorial misconduct in Starr's "overzealous" investigation of the president's indiscretions. Some have called his squeeze tactics on witnesses little better than campaigns of prosecutorial extortion.

What is more troubling than the notion of an out-of-control independent counselor, however, is the possibility that Mr. Starr's performance is hardly unique in the prosecution of criminal cases around the country. However poorly treated was Ms. Lewinsky, she at least had access to the lawyerly resources of a relatively well-to-do American family. Hardly an option for the vast majority of the people arrested each day in the United States or the tens of thousands of those not convicted of any crime but waiting day after day in county jails for their trial dates to come up because they were unable to post bail.

In Illinois, for example, the last few years have offered a sad march of conviction reversals, questionable prosecutorial strategies, and the outright fabrication of evidence against criminal defendants. Perhaps most notorious was the case of Rolando Cruz, who spent 12 years on Illinois' death row before being exonerated of a vile child killing. Now his prosecutors are themselves on trial for a series of fabrications and misconduct in pursuing the case against him.

Of course prosecutorial misconduct is not exactly a recent phenomenon--you may consider that each Sunday millions of Americans devote some time in contemplation of history's most noteworthy victim of prosecutorial misconduct. …

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