USA Today continues its series on prosecutorial misconduct with the latest article, "Prosecutor misconduct lets convicted off easy," published in today's edition. The first two articles highlighted innocent people who went to prison because of prosecutorial misconduct, and pointed out that few prosecutors get into trouble for these offenses.
Part 3 argues that prosecutorial misconduct often results in the guilty being treated with leniency. It tells the story of James Strode, a career criminal who held up a Rite Aid pharmacy in Seattle in November 2006 after his conviction and sentence for bank robbery were wiped out "when an appeals court concluded that the federal prosecutor in charge of Strode's trial had 'crossed the line' by making improper arguments to the jury."
What happened to Strode underscores one of the least recognized consequences of misconduct by Justice Department attorneys in charge of enforcing the nation's laws. Although those abuses have put innocent people in prison, misconduct also has set guilty people free by significantly shortening their prison sentences.
In some cases, they served no additional time. New crimes sometimes followed.
An investigation by USA Today turned up "201 cases since 1997" of prosecutorial misconduct. "Each was so serious that judges overturned convictions, threw out charges or rebuked the prosecutors." Of these 201 cases, 48 of the convicted defendants received lighter sentences than they would have received in the absence of prosecutorial misconduct. "If prosecutors' chief motive for bending the rules is to ensure that guilty people are locked up, their actions often backfire."