The Justice Department has created a new internal watchdog office to make sure federal prosecutors face swifter and more consistent punishment if investigators find that they committed misconduct, reports USA Today. The newspaper previously identified 201 criminal cases in which federal courts had found that Justice Department prosecutors had broken laws or ethics rules — violations that put innocent people in jail and set guilty people free.
Although each case was so serious that judges overturned convictions or rebuked the prosecutors for misconduct, the Justice Department often took years to investigate what went wrong, and prosecutors faced little risk of being fired. Attorney General Eric Holder said that while most federal prosecutors meet their ethical obligations, the procedures for disciplining those found to commit misconduct “consume too much time, and risk inconsistent resolution.” He said the new unit “will help change that by providing consistent, fair, and timely resolution of these cases.” The new Professional Misconduct Review Unit will be responsible for disciplining career prosecutors when the department's ethics investigators conclude that they engaged in intentional or reckless misconduct. Until now, those decisions had been made by the prosecutors' supervisors, most often U.S. attorneys. The department has faced criticism for not doing enough to investigate and punish misconduct.