Has a Federal Criminal Prosecutor Prosecuted Innocent People?

In an article published on law.com, Scott Horton raises the question of whether the chief federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Alabama “knowingly prosecuted innocent people?” Among other cases, Scott discusses the well known federal fraud prosecution of Richard Scrushy, who was acquitted of all charges. In addition, Scott discusses the prosecution and acquittal of Axion, a prosecution that Scott describes as the “latest in a string of aggressive prosecutions brought by Birmingham U.S. Attorney Alice Martin.” According to Scott, “those prosecutions are marked by convictions overturned and innocent men wronged. Two judges have openly questioned whether she knowingly prosecuted innocent people.” In addition, Scott reports that “the American Lawyer has learned that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct that were made by Axion against Martin.”

There are a number of things about the Axion prosecution that are particularly interesting. First, unlike in most federal criminal cases, Axion waived its right to a jury trial and agreed to a bench trial, a trial that allows the judge alone to decide whether the accused is guilty. Second, after the Government presented its evidence, the case was ultimately dismissed by Judge Inge Johnson of the federal district court in Birmingham, who wrote, “Evidence was received … that at least raises the possibility in the eyes of the district court that the government continued to investigate and prosecute the defendants even after uncovering evidence demonstrating that the defendants were not guilty.” Third, as a result of a motion filed by Axion, Judge Johnson awarded $363,000 in costs, attorney fees and interest to Axion.

This story will be interesting to follow as it develops. According to Scott, “a Justice [Department] spokesman says that the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct by Justice attorneys, is investigating Martin for “allegations of political prosecution involving both the Northern and Middle Districts of Alabama, arising out of the prosecution of former Gov. Siegelman and other matters.” Scott’s full story can be found here.