One legal commentator calls it “shocking.”
Another terms it troubling behavior that is “on another level” from other government tactics unlawfully infringing upon citizens’ rights.
We occasionally pass along criminal law news that touches upon the problematic subject matter of police or prosecutorial abuse. We do so because it is important to spotlight government excesses in California and nationally that tarnish a system needing to be fair and impartial in order to garner public trust and promote just outcomes in individual cases.
Put another way: Government officials command notable — in some instances, seemingly unbridled — powers of coercion and enforcement. When they supplement those by acting illegally, Americans’ legal rights are fundamentally diminished.
That assertion is at the essence of a federal lawsuit recently filed by several plaintiffs in New Orleans. As noted by the New York Times, the core allegation stressed in the complaint is that prosecutors in that metro area have been threatening people with “fake subpoenas” for nearly 20 years.
The documents flatly state the word “subpoena” in bold, and warn recipients that their failure to personally meet with prosecutors and answer questions can lead to penal exactions, including imprisonment.
Here’s the problem, though, as the Times underscores: Notwithstanding that the documents were vetted and approved by the city district attorney’s office, none of them have ever been judicially endorsed. Without a judge approving them, they have operated as bogus legal imperatives promoting “a sustained and fraudulent effort by local prosecutors to coerce witnesses.”
It is truly frightening when penal authorities engage in conduct that unlawfully exceeds their rightful powers. That potential is one reason why an experienced defense attorney carefully probes every aspect of a client’s case.