The Mazza Law Group, P.C.
2790 W. College Ave., Suite 800
State College, PA 16801 March 10, 2016
(814) 237-6255

Prosecutorial Misconduct and Overreach

Prosecutors have the single most important decision to charge individuals with violations of criminal law. Their limits are bound by the legislative intent in enacting the law. It is the judiciary’s responsibility to control misconduct and ensure the prosecution does not overreach these bounds. Far too often, prosecutorial misconduct and overreach goes unchecked.

In 2006, Carol Ann Bond was charged with a violation of the 1997 International Convention on Chemical Weapons. The charges were based on her actions of using a non-lethal concoction of chemicals to give a rash to her husband’s pregnant mistress. She was convicted of possessing and using a chemical weapon. She appealed to the United States Supreme Court and they concluded that this local offense did not involve a threat of national security and unanimously ruled the feds overreached.

In 2007, John Yates, a commercial fisherman was fishing for red grouper off the gulf coast when a conservation officer with federal enforcement power boarded his vessel. The conservation officer measured some 3,000 pounds of fish to find that Mr. Yates had 72 grouper that were less than 20-inches which is below the minimum requirement. Mr. Yates was in violation of a civil penalty that is punishable by a fine or fishing license suspension. The officer ordered Mr. Yates to return to shore.

Before reaching the shore, Mr. Yates allegedly ordered the crew to throw fish that did not meet the minimum requirement overboard. As a result, the government charged Mr. Yates with a violation of Sarbanes-Oxley’s “anti-shredding” provision, 18 U.S.C. §1519 which makes destruction of “tangible objects” in Federal investigations illegal and comes with a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. In 2011, Mr. Yates was convicted by a jury but his case is now on appeal before the Supreme Court of the United States to address whether prosecutorial misconduct was used. Cases such of these have been getting a lot of public attention in anticipation of the judiciary addressing the issue of overreaching by prosecutors.

In Pennsylvania, Prosecutors have special responsibilities under the Rules of Professional Conduct that includes refraining from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause. Prosecutors are given authority by voters but few voters know enough of the prosecution functions to ensure they are electing someone with fair charging and bargaining polices. Typically, a message of being tough on crime is campaigned and voters support this without knowledge of the effects this has on the criminal justice system.

For an evaluation of your criminal case, call The Mazza Law Group, P.C. and set up a consultation to speak with one our experienced criminal attorneys.