A judge is accusing federal prosecutors in Southern Illinois of bad faith in deals to obtain guilty pleas or cooperation from defendants, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said yesterday that the prosecutors are acting within their discretion, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert’s refused to accept a guilty plea in a meth case unless prosecutors gave her a break on a potential 20-year sentence. Gilbert complained that the U.S. attorney’s office, is generally guilty of “misconduct” and “misuse – if not outright abuse” of its discretion by not trading sentencing breaks for cooperating defendants.
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that, “The Executive Branch is entitled to adopt a hard-nosed negotiating and litigating strategy.” Washington University law professor Peter Joy said prosecutors have vast discretion. “Everyone agrees that the single most powerful player in the criminal justice system is the prosecutor,” he said. Joy agreed with several lawyers who privately suggested that the meth case may be one sign of a judicial push-back to the growing power of the executive branch.