5,000 Secret Federal Criminal Cases In Three Years


Despite the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of public trials, nearly all records are being kept secret for more than 5,000 defendants whose cases were processed in the federal courts over the last three years, reports the Associated Press. Instances of such secrecy more than doubled from 2003 to 2005. Most of these defendants are cooperating government witnesses, but the secrecy surrounding their records prevents the public from knowing details of their plea bargains with the government. Most defendants are involved in drug gangs, though a small number come from terrorism cases. Some cooperating witnesses are among the most unsavory characters in court – multiple murderers and drug dealers. AP says “the public cannot learn whether their testimony against confederates won them drastically reduced prison sentences or even freedom.”

Washington, D.C., which has had a serious problem with drug gangs murdering government witnesses, is using secret dockets. For hundreds of defendants over the past few years in this city, should someone acquire the actual case number for them and enter it in the U.S. District Court’s computerized record system, the computer falsely replies, “no such case” – rather than acknowledging that it is a sealed case. At the request of the AP, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts conducted its first tally of secrecy in federal criminal cases. It showed 5,116 defendants whose cases were completed in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but the bulk of their records remain secret. “The constitutional presumption is for openness in the courts, but we have to ask whether we are really honoring that,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor now a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “What are the reasons for so many cases remaining under seal?”

Link: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/politics/14018459.htm

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