Are More Checks Needed on Federal Prosecutorial Power?


A judge last week struck down a U.S. government scheme to seize a Massachusetts motel because it had become a haven for drug dealers, bolstering concerns about whether federal prosecutors have too much power, says the Christian Science Monitor. The decision in the long-running forfeiture case comes as the U.S. attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, is under fire for her role in the death of Internet hacker Aaron Swartz, who killed himself Jan. 11 as he faced a potentially long prison term for what many have said was nothing more than a breach of a contract involving Internet documents.

The two cases are feeding a simmering groundswell among constitutional law professors and others about the inherent discretionary powers of federal prosecutors, in an era of books like Harvey Silverglate’s “Three Felonies a Day: How the feds target the innocent.” University of Tennessee law Prof. Glenn Reynolds calls for reform of the grand jury system – a supposed check on prosecutors but where some now say a “ham sandwich” could be indicted – as well as weakening prosecutorial immunity rules so U.S. attorneys would have “some skin in the game.” Banning plea bargains, the process by which the majority of prosecutors get their convictions, is referenced as the “nuclear option” in prosecutorial reform.

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