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From Ken at Popehat, harrowing but vital reading.

Some locals are “stunned” that Justice would drop the River Birch case after four years of vigorous prosecution, and wonder whether there is any link to recent resignations and misconduct charges among high-level figures in the U.S. attorney’s office. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, more, earlier]

  • Why you should discount many “minor offender faces eleventy-billion-year sentence” stories [Popehat] One day of smurfing made her a “career offender” [Sullivan]
  • “In Dog We Trust”: Scott Greenfield and Radley Balko dissent from unanimous SCOTUS verdict on police canines [Simple Justice, Huffington Post]
  • Arizona lawmaker would make it felony to impersonate someone on social media [Citizen Media Law]
  • “Can juries tame prosecutors gone wild?” [Leon Neyfakh, Boston Globe "Ideas"]
  • “Cop exposes D.C. speed camera racket” [Radley Balko] How Rockville, Md. squeezes drivers who stop in front of the white line or do rolling right turns [WTOP]
  • After scandal: “Pennsylvania Senate Passes Legislation to Eliminate Philadelphia Traffic Court” [Legal Intelligencer, earlier]
  • Bloomberg precursor? When Mayor LaGuardia got NYC to ban pinball [Sullivan]

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Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on January 31, 2013

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A two-part post, with part 1 on the law as applied to the facts, and part II on sentencing, prosecutorial discretion, and the appropriate targets for reformist energy. Earlier here (& Greenfield; Timothy Lee and Mike Masnick on plea bargaining).

Programmer Aaron Swartz, a founder of RSS syndication and Reddit, committed a series of trespasses and hacks at MIT so as to download millions of papers from the JSTOR academic database, possibly with the plan of making them freely available through file sharing. When caught he returned the files and JSTOR did not recommend prosecution. In September Timothy Lee wrote in Ars Technica that while there was no excuse for Swartz’s actions, it was also mystifying that federal prosecutors were going to such lengths to stack up felony counts and legal theories under the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) that could send the popular techie to prison for life. Now Swartz, who is known to have been afflicted by depression, is dead, a suicide at age 26. [Jonathan Blanks, Lawrence Lessig, Glenn Greenwald, Patterico interview with Swartz lawyer Elliot Peters, Scott Greenfield, Orin Kerr (disputing premise that prosecutors overcharged), Timothy Lee/WaPo]


  • Forensics scandal keeps widening, as FBI agents trained state and local examiners in faulty methods [WaPo, Radley Balko] New York Times wades into case of Mississippi pathologist Steven Hayne [Reason] “Massachusetts Lab Scandal Leads to Fears of the Guilty Being Freed, Not So Much About the Innocent Being Jailed” [Shackford]
  • “Speed camera reform gains momentum with Maryland lawmakers” [Washington Examiner, editorial, WBAL]
  • “Gas masks, helmets for state alcohol-control agents — Everyone is a law-enforcement agent these days” [Steven Greenhut/PSI]
  • How the media hatched the “bath salts face-chewer” tale [Sullum]
  • “FBI investigating Utah state trooper for arresting sober people, charging them with DUI, lying on witness stand.” [@radleybalko summarizing Salt Lake City Tribune]
  • Looking forward to 2013 docket in white-collar crime [Peter Henning, NYT DealBook]
  • Bruce Green (Fordham), “Prosecutors and Professional Regulation” [SSRN via White Collar Crime Prof]

Civil liberties roundup

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2013

  • Drones in domestic policing a liberty danger, warns NYT [editorial, earlier]
  • When prosecutors freeze bank accounts, high-level targets can’t hire the best lawyers to defend themselves. Regrettable unintended etc. [Silverglate]
  • On criminalizing false statements to federal agents [Scott Greenfield vs. Bill Otis]
  • “Congress Has Enough Time to Keep Spying on You, Forever” [Matt Welch; Cato video with Julian Sanchez]
  • More on Philadelphia forfeiture [John K. Ross, Reason, earlier]
  • Homeland Security program: “Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations” [Kim Zetter/Wired via Fountain]
  • Does Brooklyn indictment signal U.S. claim of universal jurisdiction over acts hostile to its foreign policy, anywhere in world? [Eugene Kontorovich/Volokh]



by Walter Olson on December 18, 2012

If you’re high-ranking figures in a federal prosecutor’s office, don’t resort to pseudonymous rants on comment boards to settle scores, especially not if it means commenting on open cases that your office is handling [three now-resigned officials from the U.S. Attorney's office in New Orleans; WWL, Gambit, Daily Mail]

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The Right rethinks prisons

by Walter Olson on November 22, 2012

How a seemingly unlikely assortment of libertarians, religious conservatives and small-government advocates have been helping to turn around the debate on incarceration. [David Dagan and Steven Teles, Washington Monthly]

In the New York Daily News, Lawrence Cunningham argues that skewed economic incentives — some of them advanced by the actions of federal prosecutors, who applied muscle in a tax-fraud settlement to press for the casino-ization of Aqueduct Race Track — contributed to the deaths of 21 racehorses, most of whom were entered in races with purses artificially inflated so as far to exceed their own economic worth. “Politicians and prosecutors should not direct business changes without understanding their significance. What’s happening to the horses at Aqueduct could have been prevented.”

And we’re not just talking the amateur meth kind. [Scott Greenfield]


The letters to persons who have written bad checks, which threaten jail, “bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.” Moreover, “the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.” [New York Times; commentary, Scott Greenfield, BoingBoing]


August 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 20, 2012

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Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, WSJ, excerpted at

In America alone, there are over 4,000 federal criminal offenses. Under the Lacey Act, for instance, citizens and business owners also need to know – and predict how the U.S. federal government will interpret – the laws of nearly 200 other countries on the globe as well. Many business owners have inadvertently broken obscure and highly technical foreign laws, landing them in prison for things like importing lobster tails in plastic rather than cardboard packaging (the violation of that Honduran law earned one man an eight-year prison sentence). Cases like this make it clear that the justice system has strayed from its constitutional purpose like stopping the real bad guys from bringing harm.

Harvey Silverglate says that while Juszkiewicz is right as far as he goes, he’s seeing only part of the picture. Earlier on the Gibson raid and Lacey Act here, here, etc.



Readers will remember from this series of posts in April and May how the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland brought and then settled charges against Randy and Karen Sowers of Middletown, Md., over “structuring” of bank deposits, that is, the conscious holding of transactions under $10,000 to avoid triggering paperwork and federal scrutiny. Now Van Jones of the Baltimore City Paper, who has led the coverage of the story, has some unsettling new allegations:

Randy Sowers is not the only Maryland farmer recently targeted by federal money-laundering investigators for illegally depositing cash his business earns in increments of $10,000 or less, in order to avoid triggering bank-reporting requirements. But Sowers, whose South Mountain Creamery (SMC) dairy farm in Middletown, near Frederick, is a popular fixture at Baltimore-area farmers markets, is the only one to exercise his First Amendment rights and talk to the press about it.

For that, Sowers’ lawyers say, the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO-MD) has made him pay—an assertion that U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein denies, despite an e-mail sent to Sowers’ attorney by the chief of Rosenstein’s asset forfeiture and money laundering section, Stefan Cassella, that appears to state exactly that.

David Watt and Paul Kamenar, attorneys for Sowers, say during negotiations over a deal to settle the charges, Watt asked Cassella why the government was insisting on particular concessionary language it had not obtained in the settlement of similar charges against a farmer named Taylor on the Eastern Shore. Cassella sent back a one-line email that read: “Mr. Taylor did not give an interview to the press.” In an e-mail to U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, Cassella has stated that the Sowers settlement was “not a punishment for exercising his First Amendment rights.”


And some pols want to make it worse, broadening the already dangerously broad Martin Act [Jim Copland, NY Post] My take on the Martin Act here.

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