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April 1, 2009

DOJ seeking now to drop all charges against former Senator Ted Stevens

The AP has this remarkable news in a high-profile case that I had thought was now primarily a sentencing story:

The Justice Department has asked a judge to drop corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens, saying prosecutors withheld evidence from the trial that led to his conviction.

The 85-year-old Alaska Republican was convicted late last year on seven felony counts of lying on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a businessman.

In early morning court filings Wednesday, the Justice Department said prosecutors withheld evidence from Stevens' defense team that could have been used at trial. Prosecutors asked that the charges be dropped. They said they will not seek a new trial.

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April 1, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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So is this just an olive branch by the Obama admin or are there real problems with the case? Now that he's out of office they don't really need this conviction. I can see the calculus coming down the other way if he had won in November.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 1, 2009 10:08:05 AM

According to the NYT, the latest revelation of misconduct is that the gov't's star witness said in a pre-trial interview that the value of the improvements to Steven's property were only worth about $80,000. The value of the renovations is crucial, since Steven's concedely paid more than $100K to the contractor, if I'm not mistaken. The govt contended, in effect, that he was getting a sweetheart deal, because the renovations were worth far more. If I've got this right, the new evidence directly undermines the govt's theory, as well as the trial testimony of their star witness.

Posted by: anon | Apr 1, 2009 10:15:18 AM

I lean more towards Soronel with this one. Basically, all the new evidence shows is that initial estimate he gave prosecutors does not jibe with the cost estimate he gave in open court. While I certainly agree that this inconsistency *could* be used to undermine the credibility of the witness, and this should have been turned over to the defense, there also could be a reasonable and rational explanation for why this inconsistency developed and such explanation would not benefit the defense at all. I find the new DoJ position in this case highly suspect from legal perspective. If there were as many errors as suggested, the responsible thing to do would for the judge to have tossed the charges or, more likely, ordered a new trial. But to drop the charges entirely does not seem a rational outcome in light of the behavior for which he was accused. The public, not just Senator Stevens, has the right to know the truth. For Holder to abandon the search for the truth is the opposite of integrity.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 1, 2009 11:52:54 AM

"For Holder to abandon the search for the truth is the opposite of integrity."

Far be it from me to defend Eric Holder, but "the search for the truth" is in the context of the extremely coercive means of a trial. Such a thing is not to be lightly imposed on anyone.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 1, 2009 2:24:29 PM

federalist. I agree with your comment but that ship has already sailed. There has already been a trial and a jury verdict. To drop the whole thing at this stage in the game is irresponsible. I realize that Holder inherited this situation. But he has duty not just to the process itself, but to the larger goals which the process is supposed to serve.

It's rather rare to see prosecutor nullification, don't you think? We have a jury verdict which the judge, so far, has refused to toss. I honestly don't see it has Holder's place to interfere in that. He has a duty to take any information he has to the court, but to actively petition to have a jury verdict, a verdict that was in the DoJ's favor, is rather remarkable. This is especially so when press release itself specifically claims it is not judging the conduct of the attorneys at trial.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 1, 2009 2:57:55 PM

The "not judging the conduct" is simply affording the attorneys the right to be heard etc.

If DOJ is in agreement that the prosecutorial misconduct requires a reversal, that's not really debatable, is it?

Moreoever, do we really want the government to hold onto victories simply because it can try? Your post implies that.

Stevens has been through the wringer of a trial, one that clearly has been tainted by what appears to be some pretty egregious misconduct (e.g., redaction of witness statements to exclude exculpatory info). Why would the prosecutors do this? Were they partisan Dems? There are a lot of questions that Holder doesn't want asked.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 1, 2009 3:55:04 PM

Yup. Holder's afeared of all those partisan dems that made it into the highest levels of the DOJ over the past eight years, and ended up with the power to steamroll this prosecution through. Must be that, and not just garden variety overzealous prosecutorial overreaching. Makes perfect sense...
If that were the case, however, trying to get some sort of Qui Tam action through would be fun. Or to instigate legislation to that effect.

Posted by: Grits: not just for breakfast | Apr 1, 2009 4:23:10 PM

What was the political affiliation of the lead prosecutor?

Posted by: federalist | Apr 1, 2009 4:26:16 PM

"Moreoever, do we really want the government to hold onto victories simply because it can try? Your post implies that."

My comments are meant to imply that there needs to be some factual basis for the request. Until such time, any motion by the DOJ is premature.

"The 'not judging the conduct' is simply affording the attorneys the right to be heard etc."

Actually, no. Because unless the DOJ has found misconduct *as a fact* then an "investigation" is just spitting into the wind. What's going to happen here is that the charges will be dropped, the DOJ will hold an investigation and nothing will come of it two years down the road, and we will all be left wondering what the heck happened, for those still paying attention.

I don't have a problem with the DOJ petitioning for the verdict to be tossed out in the face of actual and verified misconduct. But that hasn't happened yet. Or is it your position that it has, and the "right to be heard" is just a sham. If that's so, that's as much an abuse of the process as the alternative.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 1, 2009 8:35:57 PM

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