Saturday, December 23, 2017

You couldn't screw it up this bad if you tried (or could you?)

I have very mixed emotions about the dumpster fire that has become the Cliven Bundy trial. This week, US District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial after finding that government prosecutors had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys. She will decide in February whether the government's case should be dismissed with prejudice.

Mr. Bundy and his band of merry men became famous when they resisted the government's effort to collect grazing fees back in 2014. For more than 20 years Mr. Bundy had been grazing his cattle on federal land in Nevada without paying grazing fees.

After an armed stand-off (sound familiar), government agents left with their tails between their legs and no money in their wallets. Los federales made no other attempts to collect the money owed to taxpayers.

Emboldened by his success, Mr. Bundy and his band of merrier men decided that Oregon would be the next front in his battle against the government. Mr. Bundy's group carried out a 41-day long armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in support of Oregon ranchers sentenced to jail for setting fires on federal lands.

Now, before I go any further, it's time for a little digression. During the occupation, federal agents treated the Bundys with kid gloves. I shudder to think what the government's reaction would have been had the occupiers been black or brown or any color other than white.

Despite video evidence, e-mail messages, photos and Facebook posts, the government's case has crumbled because prosecutors failed to turn over surveillance footage, threat assessments and FBI reports - after first denying they ever existed. Even more disturbing is the admission (again, after initial denials) that prosecutors had recordings of another defendant's jailhouse conversations with his attorney.

Of course, for those of who work in the criminal (in)justice system, none of these revelations are all that surprising. What's generally more surprising is them coming to light.

As much as I hate to see armed wingnuts like Cliven Bundy and his bank of merry men running around free, I cannot stand by and try to justify the government's failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense. And that paints it just a little too sterile as prosecutors lied and misrepresented the truth to the Court. That's not a failure to disclose, that's a freaking ethics violation.

I don't think that Judge Navarro has any other choice but to dismiss the case outright next year due to prosecutorial misconduct.

The only question I'm left with is whether or not the government torpedoed its own case because it didn't want to make martyrs of the Bundys.

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