Federal prosecutors and abuse of power

The news is filled with frantic claims of abuses by federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz in the Aaron Swartz case. Some more measured claims are made by retired judge Nancy Gertner.

Now, many privacy and security experts are demanding that Congress rein in prosecutors from overcharging defendants under new federal statutes that allow them to inject steroids into minor charges and blow them into major felonies. But the inquiries into the federal justice system should not stop there.

In December 2012, USA TODAY reexamined some of the conclusions of a 1990’s PBS Frontline investigation that shone a spotlight into the dark corners of the snitch system, where federal agents offer deals to prisoners in exchange for information. Both inquiries show that the government regularly pays witnesses to testify--a concept that instinctively seems immoral and wrong to most people. Paying for information is a blatant perversion of justice and leads to lazy and careless work by federal law enforcement.

~ Our office has defended cases where a few hours of research completely debunked the information provided by another inmate--claims that seemingly were accepted by federal agents without any vetting.

~ The rewards paid to informants can include cash, airfare and new housing. Sometimes, the amount paid for information can approach $250,000 or more.

This system of paying witnesses for false information is a cancer in our democracy. Let us now eradicate it.