Sometimes, criminal justice reality in the Boston area reveals itself, as if on cue, to demonstrate points made by this daily blog. Since Friday, I have been referring to the inequality between the resources of the prosecution and the defense. Another example has presented itself during the ongoing Chuck Turner federal trial for alleged white collar crimes.
As you know, Mr. Turner is on trial in a corruption matter which was related to that of Diane Wilkerson. Thankfully for the United States Attorney’s office, Ms. Wilkerson pleaded guilty. Mr. Turner, however, has insisted the prosecution prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As I have pointed out in the past, the federal prosecutors rarely go to trial on a matter unless they have a strong chance of winning.
This one, however, may not go so well.
You see, their chief witness, Ronald Wilburn, has indicated that he now refuses to testify for the prosecution. Last week, there was a session in which he was questioned by the judge, but the results have not been revealed. When WBZ interviewed me last week, I explained that the potential loss of said witness would not necessarily derail the prosecution so long as they had someone else to authenticate the video tape of the alleged crime.
Well, now even that is in question because of issues with playing the tape back at the correct speed before the jury. But that is an issue for another day. Today, let’s look at the equality of justice presented during the human drama unfolding in federal court yesterday.
It was revealed to the jury yesterday that Mr. Wilburn was not simply the altruistic citizen that he has presented himself to be. After all, his motivation, as he explained it in the past, was to see certain areas of government cleaned up. He must have forgotten about the paltry $30,000 he had been paid by the government for his efforts.
In case you are wondering, that money basically comes from folks like you and me.
Whether our involuntary contribution go us our money’s worth is in question.
Attorney Sam’s Take:
Now, let me get this straight.
If I give you money as a “token of my gratitude” for doing me a favor, it is illegal. Yet, if the federal government gives you such a token as its thanks…that’s the pursuit of Justice.
You know, if a defense attorney paid a witness for testimony he/she would likely lose his/her license to practice law in the Commonwealth. That is no problem, though. Most defense attorneys would not have that money on hand anyway.
“Aw, come on, Sam. Don’t defense attorneys for indigent clients often ask the courts for funds for experts, investigators and the like?”
Sure. But the money allowed by the court is comparatively little. Further, court appointed attorneys not only have to beg and justify the money, they have to reveal their reason, often their strategy, for obtaining the funds. Somehow, I suspect that paying off a witness, or an “undercover” witness, would not be welcomed by the court.
In case you are wondering, law enforcement officials investigating targets do not call said targets to let them know about the investigation ahead of time.
But, that’s ok I guess. After all, there would be no need for the defence to fully investigate a criminal matter. After all, as the court would likely tell you, the investigation has already been done…by the prosecution.
And so the question of equality in criminal justice bumps up against the same big brick law enforcement wall with the words, “Trust Us” spray painted across it. To the side, guarding said wall, is a gentleman in a pin-striped suit and big smile on his face merely blocking the door to freedom, shrugging his shoulders.
“But, Sam, any good defense attorney will cross-examine any such witness about his motivations and testimony, right?”
Sure. Let’s depend on that. Let’s assume fact that it is a great and experienced criminal defense attorney trying the case and that he is able to “destroy” the witness. And that the government is not prepared for it. And that the judge will allow all the cross-examination the defense attorney wishes to do. Oh, yes…and that it will make a difference to the jury.
Let’s risk someone’s freedom on all that.
How about if we start with yours?
If you have been accused of a crime, and would like to discuss the strategy and potential defenses with me, please feel free to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.
To view the original story in which parts of this blog were based, please go to : http://mobile.boston.com/art/30/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/10/19/government_paid_30000_to_its_witness_against_turner/