A USA Today investigation accuses federal prosecutors of repeated incidents of misconduct that have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions. The newspaper found 201 criminal cases since 1997 in which judges determined that Justice Department prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules.
In case after case, judges blasted prosecutors for “flagrant” or “outrageous” misconduct. They caught some prosecutors hiding evidence, found others lying to judges and juries, and said others had broken plea bargains. Such abuses infect no more than a small fraction of the tens of thousands of criminal cases filed in federal courts each year. In the cases cited by USA Today, however, judges threw out charges, overturned convictions, or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. The Justice Department has investigated a growing number of complaints by judges about misconduct they observed. In 2001, the department investigated 42 such complaints; last year, 61.