Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Government's Press Conference - A Slam Dunk

I know I'm supposed to blog about the Supreme Court ruling in Florida v. Powell today, being from Florida and all. So here: I thought it was a silly case.

Now on to a pet peeve.

Yesterday in Miami, a well-known forensic accountant/lawyer surrendered to the FBI on charges of wire fraud. Word of the raid on his office came months ago. Everyone knew this was coming.

After he surrendered, his charging document was released. It was an Information, not an Indictment. Now to the non-criminal lawyer crew reading this - an Indictment is required in all federal cases, unless the defendant waives the right to an Indictment. A defendant only waives that right because he is going to plead guilty.

So it's the perfect resolution for the gub-mint. Investigation, surrender, guilty plea, sentencing. No preparation for trial, no interviewing of witnesses, no motion hearings, no litigation. Just a plea, and sentencing, and a bunch of cooperation (usually) that will help get victims paid and maybe others charged.

And this is what the government wants.

And of course they responded in kind:

"We appreciate the defendant surrendering as promised to these charges of wire fraud. No one is above the law, not lawyers, accountants, and especially those responsible for obtaining money for victims as trustees. We appreciate the defendant acknowledging his wrongdoing and look forward to advocating an appropriate sentence for his crimes."

Actually, they didn't say that.

As the Miami Herald reported:

Both the U.S. attorney and top FBI agent in South Florida slammed the 60-year-old Freeman, a familiar figure in Miami's legal and business circles, for violating the ``fiduciary trust'' of creditors and the courts.

"This is a classic case of how greed can slowly corrupt a person who started out with good intentions,'' said John Gillies, the FBI's special agent in charge. ``It turns out that the wolf was protecting the hen house for the last 10 years."


Great, name calling.

The guy committed a crime. He's taking responsibility for it. He's going to prison. If that is the chronology the government wants defendants to follow, what is the point of driving in the stake? What is the point of using the powerful bully pulpit to "slam" the defendant?

These press conferences are precious to the government. Defense lawyers try, unsuccessfully, to negotiate them out of any deals. That request is always met with wide eyes, and "absolutely not."

It's not as important to let the public know that this is the type of post-investigation conduct the government wants from defendants - acceptance of responsibility, contrition, cooperation.

It's more important for them to be able to express how they feel about the defendant as a person.

It's all about the slam.

For whatever reason.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.

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