Once upon a time, I believed that most prosecutors, state and federal, were fair and honest people who wanted to do the right thing, who were doing the Lord's Work, and were saving us from criminals and those dastardly defense lawyers who worked overtime to give us O.J. Verdicts. If there was any misconduct on their part, well, it was those "bad apples," not the system itself.
What a difference a decade makes. After reading The Tyranny of Good Intentions by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence Stratton, I began to get a sense of how modern prosecutors have twisted and destroyed the law, and how lawmakers and an intellectually lazy public have contributed to this destruction. I never would look at law and especially prosecutors and police again.
Roberts and Stratton included material from a hard-hitting series that Bill Moushey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in 1998, called "Win at all Costs," and after I read the series itself, I realized that the entire system was utterly rotten. Not only did federal prosecutors and officers lie -- and get caught lying -- none of them ever faced a second of punishment, no matter how egregious and illegal their conduct.
This is not an accident, nor is it just a situation of some people being asleep at the switch. It is deliberate, and people who are employed as prosecutors and police are sending the message to the rest of us: people in those "professions" can do what they damn well please, and no one is going to do anything about it.
Take the case that is featured in the USA Today story about Nino Lyons. He was convicted and sentenced to prison because federal prosecutors knowingly suborned perjury, hid exculpatory evidence, lied to jurors, and generally did what they wanted.
Thanks to some sleuthing from defense attorneys looking over one sentence in the sentencing report, the defense found what prosecutors had been doing. Lyons served three years in prison before a judge vacated his conviction:
In July (2010), U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell did more than overturn Lyons' conviction: He declared that Lyons was innocent.If you want to know what Hinshelwood's "punishment" was, it was having to attend a one-day seminar in ethics. Yes, that is right, a man who orchestrated a huge criminal conspiracy had to spend a day listening to someone speak about "ethics," as though that would make a difference.
Neither the Justice Department nor the lead prosecutor in the Lyons case, Bruce Hinshelwood, would explain the events that cost Lyons his home, his businesses and nearly three years of freedom. The department investigated Hinshelwood but refused to say whether he was punished; records obtained by USA TODAY show that the agency regulating Florida lawyers ordered him to attend a one-day ethics workshop, scheduled for Friday.
Asked about Presnell's ruling exonerating Lyons, Hinshelwood said only, "It is of no concern to me." (Emphasis mine)
Why do the Hinshelwoods and the Gregors and Arnts and Nortons and Franklins of the prosecutorial world have the green light to break the law with impunity and face no punishment? In economics, we call it "Capture Theory," in which agents who are supposed to be regulated by outside entities manage to "capture" the regulatory apparatus. That clearly has happened here, and once that happens, it almost is impossible to right the ship.
Yes, there really are government agencies that are supposed to police the behavior of prosecutors at the state and federal levels, but it rarely is done. Read through the USA Today article and you will understand what I mean. Unlike the authors, however, I believe that most of the apples in the barrel are thoroughly rotten, and that the term "honest prosecutor" is fast becoming an oxymoron.
(And since police themselves made up the term "testilying," well, we can say that their very words condemn them. If a police officer is testifying on a witness stand, a juror can be sure that he or she probably is lying. It has come to that.)
No civilized society can withstand this kind of an onslaught. When people in power misuse their power simply because they can do it, then there is no more law, and there certainly is no order.
The irony is that Americans empowered police and prosecutors in the name of "law and order," but by destroying the protections our Constitution gave us, we find in the end that we have neither.