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  • The Unlimited Prosecution Act

    In today’s Politico, attorneys Peter Zeidenberg and William Minor point out that the Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act of 2009, which recently passed out of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Senate Judiciary Committee, authorizes $100 million for new federal prosecutors and agents to root out “public corruption” using the federal “honest services” statute and other overly broad federal statutes.

    Under this amorphous, poorly worded statute, anyone can be subjected to 20 years in prison for allegedly depriving anyone else of “the intangible right of honest services.” What this right encompasses – as well as what it means to deprive someone of it – is left undefined in the statute. The substance and scope of this so-called criminal offense have been limited only by the imagination of federal prosecutors and judges.

    If you were a small business owner, how would you react upon hearing that your state legislature has enacted a new criminal offense that states: “The government is hereby empowered to punish as a criminal whoever engages in improper business practices” – especially once you learned that the legislature included no language restricting “improper business practices” to conduct that is truly wrongful?

    What might you think about the ongoing security of your business and your own personal liberty if you read that prosecutors had used this new offense to convict small business owners for relatively trivial wrongful conduct, as well as for some conduct that did not seem wrongful at all? What if “offenses” under the new law were punishable by 20 years in prison?

    The foregoing essentially describes the specter presented by the federal offense of honest services fraud. Given the vast scope of the honest services statute’s vague and broad language, it should come as no surprise that Zeidenberg and Minor identify a pattern of troubling prosecutions. “Many of the federal public corruption cases of recent years,” they write, “have been constructed almost entirely from building blocks made up of individual acts – such as the provision of meals, tickets and campaign contributions – that, in many instances, were entirely lawful at the time provided.” (!)

    Rather than requiring that a public official have received a bribe or a similar quid pro quo in order to support an indictment, some Justice Department officials have prosecuted individuals on the specious theory that merely receiving (or giving) a “stream” of things of small value constitutes honest services fraud. What and how many items must be received (or given) in order for that “stream” to constitute a crime no one knows for sure.

    When they are touted as being “tough on public corruption,” breathtakingly broad criminal laws might sound good to some folks who have a limited view of the purpose and importance of the rule of (criminal) law – or who have unlimited confidence in the fair-minded good sense of government officials. But such laws are formulas for unjust criminal prosecution and punishment.

    Before Congress spends another $100 million of taxpayer money on new federal agents to figure out how to prosecute things none of us ever thought might be criminal, the honest services fraud statute and similarly broad “public corruption” offenses should be precisely defined and narrowly crafted to address specific wrongful conduct that cannot be charged under any of the other 4,450 criminal offenses already on the federal books.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to The Unlimited Prosecution Act

    1. Janet, Colorado says:

      This makes me sick and then it infuriates me. The audacity of law makers to put into legislation that is so vague. Why aren't the Republican lawmakers not alerting us thru their email system? They need to reduce by one office staffer and put a researcher in to keep them abreast of all these bad laws and to then get the information out to their voters to act upon. My Facebook friend informed me of this article and I will pass this along. I encourage others to do the same.

    2. David Ray Tucson Az. says:

      I am dismayed and saddened by the inept disconnect president O bummer displays in his rational and decision making which I percieve as a blatant disregard for what is actually needed to help the general public. After all his mr. big shot retoric portraying himself as a community organizer, it is on parade for all to see his lack of ability to see the priority's of the public and their needs.Talk is cheap and smiling faces are not to be trusted, he shows he realy doesnt care what happens to us out here, only his agenda matters, and his agenda wont help us, only penalize us more.Removing more freedoms and libertys as government is made larger, it's sad that he's more into creating more problems for the people instead of removing problems that stand in the way of prosperity for the people, and then to think he's going to be defensive of anyone who doesn't agree,which is the position of a dictator athoritarian, not that of a peoples presidential representative.If he were truly interested in helping the country, the first thing he would do is abolish the archane tax code and embrace the fare tax, then he would ask all of the governors to meet with their states business people and ask what red tape needs to be removed to make business prosper and remove what ever is necessary, next he would open all possible oil drilling oportunitys in the U.S.A. AND CREATE AN OIL RUSH TO GET US OFF FOREIGN DEPENDANCY AND CREATE JOBS, NEXT HE WOULD GATHER ALL THE PEOPLE OPPOSED TO DRILLING AND TELL THEM THAT BY TAKING ANY MEASURE TO THWART THE ECONOMIC ENGINE OF PROGRESS FOR THE U.S. THEY WOULD BE CHARGED WITH TRESONIST ACTS TOWARD THE FUTURE ECONOMIC SUCCESS OF ITS CITIZENS, AND SO BECAUSE PESIDENT OBUMMER IS SO UN-AMERICAN IN HIS THINKING WE ARE DESTINED TO BE TERRORIZED AND TORTURED BY HIS PENALIZING THOUGHT PROCESS'S AND I AM SADDENED.HE SHOULD KNOW THE DEFINITION OF TORTURE TO A U.S. CITIZEN IS A GOVERNMENT THAT SEES US GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT AND TAXED WHEN IT WAS NEVER RATIFIED BY ALL THE STATES AND LIED TO BY OUR CANDIDATES FOR OFFICE AND NOT RECOGNIZED WHEN WE'RE TELLING THEM WHAT TO DO AND CONGRESS GIVING THEMSELVES A PAY RAISE WHILE WE HAVE TO LIVE PAY CHECK TO PAY CHECK AND THEY DONT CARE.THAT MR OBUMMER IS TORTURE.

    3. David Ray Tucson Az. says:

      What! to much truth for you to handle?Dont you realize that politically correct speech is to condone lieing, and that, that is the purpose of political correctness , to make it acceptable to lie.Interesting that even the heritagen foundation doesnt accept FREEDOM of speech Im sorry I was mistakin I thought there was still a such place as America land of the free home of the brave, oh yea like Obummer said "just words just speechs"And incidentily my mom can handle this at the table along with millions of others who still beleive were in America.

    4. Paul. New York says:

      To the members of Congress who support this legislation: Physician; Heal thy self!

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