Sovereign Immunity Protects The Guilty

Originally Posted At
By William L. Anderson
June 18, 2012
Recent news from North Carolina that federal prosecutors have imprisoned "scores" of men who apparently broke no laws might have been shocking at one time in our nation’s history, but no more. Misconduct and lawless behavior by federal prosecutors in that state is approaching something of legendary proportions, but the immunity-protected lawbreakers have nothing to fear – unlike the innocent.

According to a USA Today investigation, federal prosecutors in North Carolina, who apparently were ignorant of the law (as were the judges that heard the cases) garnered convictions of men on federal weapons charges even though the law was clear that these men had not committed violations. According to the investigation:

Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend's house.

But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone – including the U.S. Justice Department – agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don't even know they're innocent.

That is bad enough, but what follows is worse:

Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

"We can't be outcome driven," said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte.

Indeed, Tomkins added, "We've got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that." This is from someone whose prosecutors already did not "follow the law" in gaining convictions of innocent people, yet another example of the "heads I win, tails you lose" system of federal "justice." It was "their job" to convict these men and have them sent to prison, and now that the incarcerated people are behind bars, federal prosecutors suddenly claim that even if they don’t have to follow the law, people wrongfully convicted are bound by it – in more ways than one.

If anything, federal prosecutors are totally "outcome-driven." Their survival as federal employees, including promotions and raises, are determined by their conviction rates, the more convictions the better. Because they are protected by "absolute immunity," they never have to worry about facing lawsuits or criminal investigations for wrongdoing. (Yes, criminal investigations supposedly are on the table, but it is a rare thing for federal officials to investigate themselves.)

Perhaps it is fitting that this latest scandal occur in North Carolina, as that state has been a cesspool of "justice" in both state and federal courts. North Carolina gave us the infamous Michael Nifong, the district attorney who fabricated charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, charges that Nifong knew from the start were false.

While Nifong was disbarred for his actions, one of the few prosecutors in the country ever to be disciplined at all, federal authorities refused even to investigate his actions even though his office made use of thousands of dollars of federal money in order to pursue the fraudulent lacrosse case. (State prosecutors are able to obtain federal money to aid with prosecutions in sexual assault, rape, and child abuse/molestation cases, and Nifong’s office used thousands of federal dollars to provide the false accuser, Crystal Mangum, with living expenses. They also used federal money in helping to pay for the actual investigation.)

Although federal prosecutors in North Carolina see no reason to pursue justice, they are quite zealous when it comes to going after people for non-crimes or "crimes" that are the product of the imaginations of prosecutors. The recent farce of a trial involving John Edwards ended somewhat appropriately when federal prosecutors decided not to retry the former U.S. Senator after comments from a deadlocked jury essentially ensured that getting a conviction would be impossible.

Edwards had huge amounts of personal resources to fight the "novel" charges by the feds (even federal prosecutors admitted they were stretching campaign finance law in order to make their claims) but others in North Carolina are not so fortunate. The vast numbers of wrongfully-convicted people there have no personal wealth by which to pursue appeals and even their actual innocence claims and, as the USA Today article points out, are derided by federal prosecutors not because they are untrue, but rather because prosecutors don’t want to be bothered by the inconvenience.

(The irony here is that the people convicted are expected to know the law backwards and forwards. The people that put them there, however, bear absolutely no responsibility to know the law and are not held responsible for their wrongful actions.)

It is not just Edwards or the people featured in the USA Today investigation that are on the receiving end of wrongful behavior by federal prosecutors in North Carolina. Three years ago, Candice E. Jackson and I wrote about the wrongful conviction of Victoria Sprouse, a real estate attorney who was railroaded in a federal trial in Charlotte. As noted in that article and another one later, the prosecutorial misconduct was pervasive and dishonest.

(After reading the LRC pieces, lead prosecutor Matt Martens first claimed that I was a fictional character and that Sprouse herself had written the first article. However, to quote Descarte, "Cogito ergo sum," and I really was the main author. Martens then claimed in court that Sprouse had dictated to me the contents of the piece, telling me what to write. That fell into the "howler" category, as people know better than to do something like dictate such things to me.)

Last year, a federal judge overturned Sprouse’s conviction, and federal prosecutors in Charlotte were not pleased, and their revenge was brutal and swift. This past week, Sprouse was arrested and charged with "bankruptcy fraud," with the charges (while sounding "breathtaking" to the judge) based upon the flimsiest of reasons.

For example, because Sprouse already had lost her law license due to her criminal conviction, she had to do other work while under house arrest. The terms of her house arrest (while her case was being appealed) were draconian and she stayed within them, which meant that she was unable to have enough for living expenses.

Her sister wrote a check from a fund that the sister controlled, so now federal prosecutors are claiming that Sprouse had a "secret fund" that she kept hidden from the court. That is akin to a claim that because the Maryland State government pays me for my teaching at Frostburg State University, I "control" the state treasury.

However, the feds were not satisfied with dumping more felony charges upon Sprouse. She currently is being held without bond in the Mecklenburg County lockup, and is being kept in solitary confinement. To make matters even worse, because of all that was done to her, she was taking medication for depression, anxiety, and to be able to sleep. At the present time, all of those medications have been denied her.

We need to call this by its proper name: torture. Without medication, she will be sleep deprived, and solitary confinement also has been a mechanism used by police and prosecutors to break the will of targeted people and to cause them to lose hope, thus making a plea bargain easier. Federal prosecutors also were able to have her attorney removed because of alleged "conflicts of interest."

Indeed, as I see it, what is being done to Victoria Sprouse is the epitome of "outcome driven" behavior by prosecutors. Sprouse had the effrontery to win an appeal against her federal masters, and their revenge was brutal and not unexpected. These are people who do things because they can do them, and they will not be satisfied until they either have driven Victoria Sprouse into her grave or into prison.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.


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