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Abuse of discretion among prosecuting attorneys

There's an interesting story highlighting the experiences of an individual that spent 18 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. This individual was on death row for 14 of those years, had his death warrant signed on eight different occasions, and was finally exonerated when evidence that prosecutors had known about for years was finally revealed to his criminal defense attorney.

Though this occurred within the Louisiana criminal system, there is concern that federal prosecutors also have too much discretionary power when it comes to decisions that could ultimately lead to long prison sentences for individuals charged. In some cases federal prosecutors have pursued overblown charges or have prosecuted individuals for politically motivated reasons.

We have a system where prosecutors are often asked to police themselves. There have been claims that prosecutors often work in secret and that there is no transparency or repercussions concerning the actions these officials take. Prosecutors often win promotions by gaining convictions against accused individuals who may not be guilty of any crime.

Stories have surfaced about prosecutors pursuing so-called medical marijuana offenders and whistleblowers that are claimed to have been the sources of government leaks. When telephone and e-mail records of a reporter were subpoenaed by the Justice Department in the nation's capitol, Attorney General Eric Holder was asked to investigate this matter in which Holder may actually have played a role.

Louisiana has been particularly prone to criticism. No prosecutor had ever received a professional sanction in our state until 2005, and there have only been two prosecuting attorneys sanctioned since that time.

We cannot afford to allow for a system where anyone is convicted based upon the whims of someone else. Everyone that is tried for a felony or misdemeanor has the right to a criminal defense attorney and a fair trial.

Source: Huffington Post, "The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, and the System That Protects Them," Radley Balko, Aug. 1, 2013

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