Federal Prosecutor’s Apparent Suicide Highlights the Stress Associated with the Defense of Internet-Based Federal Charges

Earlier this month, the Pensacola News Journal reported that a federal prosecutor who was charged with an internet based sex crime committed suicide by hanging himself inside his cell at a federal detention facility. In recent years, those of us who engage in the defense of individuals charged with federal crimes have literally witnessed an explosion in the number of internet based crimes that are being prosecuted at both the federal and state level. In my view, this tragic situation involving the federal prosecutor from Pensacola highlights the overwhelming stress that typically accompanies any internet based federal charge.

From what Paul Kish and I have seen, in cases like this, the individual often has strong community ties, a supportive family, and no criminal history or prior encounters with law enforcement. However, several years ago, Congress created a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention for certain internet-based federal crimes. For this reason, in cases like this (and in any case in which the Government moves for detention), it is important for defense counsel to get to up to speed as quickly as possible so that he can be prepared to address the issues that arise during a detention hearing.

In addition to the obvious stress that one encounters upon the initiation of a federal charge, the potential penalties that one may face if convicted can certainly add tremendously to the stress level. In recent years, Congress has not only increased the number of federally-based internet crimes, but it has also substantially increased the sentences that are often associated with certain crimes. For instance, in connection with the enactment of the Adam Walsh Act, Congress increased the mandatory minimum penalty associated with one of the charges the Pensacola federal prosecutor was facing to thirty years.

For all of these and other reasons, individuals facing criminal charges must seek competent counsel immediately. Indeed, as Senator Larry Craig recently acknowledged during his interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, failure to seek counsel in connection with any criminal charge can lead to regrettable consequences.