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January 14, 2008

A fascinating prosecutorial critique of the steroid investigation

Writing at Slate, my colleague Frank Bowman has this fascinting piece headlined, "Foul Ball: How the Justice Department misplayed the steroids investigation."  Here is how it begins:

Tomorrow, former Sen. George Mitchell will testify before a House committee about his investigation into performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. When they're done listening, members of Congress should ask some hard questions about the relationship between Mitchell's report and the Justice Department criminal investigation that gave him most of his information.

Make no mistake. As a former prosecutor, I am delighted that the DoJ unleashed the bloodhounds of the criminal justice system on drug cheats in baseball. Taken without a prescription, anabolic steroids and human growth hormone are every bit as illegal as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. Simple equity suggests that the federal government should be just as ready to pursue jillionaire bat-wielding juicers and their suppliers as penniless crackheads and their dealers. More importantly, allowing obviously chemically enhanced cheaters to stand rich, idolized, and unchallenged at the pinnacle of professional athletics increases the likelihood that the legions of young people who long to be sports heroes will emulate their idols and wreck their bodies in the process.

That said, the Justice Department has mishandled the baseball steroid investigation in two important ways. First, the DoJ is prosecuting, or at least focusing on, the wrong people. The primary targets should be players, not suppliers. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice had no business feeding Mitchell, and through him the public, damaging information about players it lacks the evidence or the will to prosecute.

January 14, 2008 at 02:34 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Well said. The investigation of the use of steroids by professional athletes stands the typical drug prosecution on its head. Here the users (cheating ballplayers) are the targets to be villified while the dealers are nobodies whose prosecution is secondary.

Posted by: anonymous | Jan 15, 2008 12:43:26 PM

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