Ted Stevens’ Case to be Dismissed?

According to the NY Times (and others) there is a hearing scheduled today on the government’s motion to have the charges against Ted Stevens thrown out.  When Eric Holder announced last week (link) that the USDOJ would move to dismiss the charges based on prosecutorial misconduct, I was stunned.  It signals a departure from the old ways of doing business, and it signals a reaffirmation that the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  And that burden cannot be sidestepped whenever the case is going poorly.

It was a good decision, even if, as I’m sure many people think, Ted Stevens probably did the things he was accused of.  But “probably” isn’t the standard in a criminal case.  “Probably” is the standard for issuing an indictment.  And it’s similar to the standard present in a civil case.  But “probably” doesn’t cut it when a person’s liberty is at stake.  And so, if the prosecution cannot prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, a conviction should not be imposed on a person.  Throwing a person in jail should be the hardest thing for the government to do, and yet, America has the highest prison population in the world, both in terms of per capita representation (Link:  King’s College, London) and sheer numbers (Link:  King’s College, London).  (Yes, I understand that China’s prison population may be vastly understated.  Link:  Straight Dope, via Wikipedia.)  So one less person in prison is a step in the right direction.

More troubling to me, however, is the district judge’s behavior during the trial.  District Judge Sullivan cited the AUSAs handling the case with contempt of court and harshly criticized them throughout the trial. (Link: LA Times)  But he didn’t stop the proceedings, nor did he grant a mistrial, or anything like that.  Far too often, judges, whether they are appointed or elected, tend to side with the prosecution.  And that can make for a very bitter brand of justice.

I therefore hope that Attorney General Holder’s actions might lead to a reconsideration of what justice means, and that it signals a new direction for this country.  And I hope that, amid all the hoopla, someone takes a look at how judges behave during trial.