Cross-posted by Gary Fouse
Now that Ted Stevens' corruption conviction has been reversed, and the Justice Department is dropping the charges, the ex-senator from Alaska and his supporters are claiming vindication. The reason for the reversal is alleged prosecutorial misconduct, specifically, that prosecutors failed to turn over some investigators' notes to the defense under the rule of discovery, thus depriving Stevens of his right to a fair trial.
Without passing judgement on the misconduct allegation, as a retired federal agent, I know full well how original notes pertain to the laws of discovery. Basically, an investigator's handwritten notes taken during the course of an investigation must be preserved and available to the defense prior to trial-even after the formal investigative report has been written, at which time, it used to be customary to discard the written notes. If I recall correctly, that ended sometime early in my career when a federal court ruling dictated that original hand-written notes had to be preserved. Thus, it was our custom to keep those notes-from all agents participating in an operation, arrest, surveillance, etc-in an envelope within the case file. The reason was that original notes or the notes of other agents might differ from testimony given at trial, thus, giving the defense an opportunity to impeach a prosecution witness' testimony.
So does this turn of events vindicate Stevens? In the eyes of the law, of course. But what about in the eyes of the public? That depends on the question of whether in the eyes of the public, Stevens was an innocent man unfairly prosecuted. Unfortunately for Stevens, that will always remain divided. There are plenty of high-profile cases that we all remember where a famous defendant got off the hook, but many in the public continued to believe he or she was guilty (OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, etc.) Only in rare cases, is a case resolved to the point that the overwhelming majority of the public concludes that the defendant was really railroaded and thus, fully vindicated. The Duke rape case comes to mind.
The fact is that the public is always entitled to its opinion, and no law can change that. Ted Stevens will enjoy his freedom and all legal privileges that come with the reversal. That's about it, however-no matter how much his former colleagues in the Senate rally to his defense and give him standing ovations. Alaska Republican Party Chairman Rudy Ruedrich has already called for Mark Begich, the Democratic Senator who unseated Stevens in the last election, to step down and allow the running of a special election. That is ridiculous.
The legal process is done with Stevens. It is up to the public to decide what his ultimate legacy will be.