Tuesday, October 11, 2011

One Of Those Amazing Reminders Of Governmental Power

Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy recounts a story of a manager of an oil refinery who was criminally prosecuted by the EPA, but now the courts have ordered the government to pay the defendant in that criminal case $1.7 million in damages.  You see, the criminal case was not simply erroneously filed, but dishonestly filed: the EPA official responsible for seeing that it was brought had ulterior motives.  From Vidrine v. U.S. (W.D.La. 2011):
One of the more distressing allegations made at trial, involved allegations of Agent Phillips’ sexual, extra-marital affair (and its subsequent “cover up”) with Agent Barnhill. The evidence strongly indicated Agent Phillips deliberately used his investigation and prosecution of Hubert Vidrine to foster, further, facilitate and cloak his extra-marital affair with Agent Barnhill, and perhaps, to exert improper influence over the manner in which she investigated and reported upon this case. Agent Barnhill candidly testified that she and Agent Phillips began a physical, sexual relationship while assigned to this matter, which lasted from approximately 1996 until January or February 2001. Agent Barnhill testified she and Agent Phillips were only physically intimate when working together on the Vidrine case — in other words, they did not meet to pursue their sexual relations on occasions when they were not working the case together. Thus, the case granted the opportunity for those rendez-vous, as well as providing justification for Agent Phillips wife.
 What freaks me out about cases like this is: how many such criminal prosecutions have taken place where the defendant did not file suit against the government, or where there was a miscarriage of justice (because the government enjoys such an enormous advantage against a defendant) and a person was convicted who was actually innocent--because some government official had some goal other than justice?

Part of why our criminal justice system is so heavily weighted in favor of the defendant is precisely because the government has such an enormous advantage in resources against all but a very few defendants.  The power of the government is enormous, and the more that they do, the more danger that there is that you won't have enough minders to watch what they are doing.

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