Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An intimidated witness is the same as no witness

Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney of the the Central District of California dismissed the government's stock-option fraud case against William J. Ruehle due to a pattern of witness intimidation by government prosecutors. The judge found that prosecutors threatened the three witnesses for Mr. Ruehle with criminal prosecution if they did not cooperate with the government.

The intimidation included forcing one witness to plead guilty where no criminal act took place, accusing another of being an unindicted co-conspirator and leaving a third to dangle in the wind for two years under threat of prosecution.

The judge ruled that the government's course of conduct in the matter made a mockery out of Mr. Ruehle's Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process. Said Judge Carney: "For this constitutional right to have any true meaning, the government must not do anything to intimidate or improperly influence witnesses."

In his ruling, Judge Carney quoted the US Supreme Court's decision in Berger v. U.S. and it bears repeating here:

“The United States Attorney is the representative, not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and a very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocent suffer.

“He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor. Indeed, he should do so. But while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” – Berger v. U.S., 295 US 78 (1935)

Special thanks goes out to Ellen Podgor and her White Collar Crime blog.

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