Sentence Reduction: A New Remedy for Prosecutorial Misconduct
Typically, remedies for prosecutorial misconduct are all or nothing–convictions and pleas are reversed or dismissed, on the one hand, or the abusive behavior is viewed as harmless error and nothing is done about it, on the other. But, on September 24, 2008, Judge Bennett in the N.D. of Iowa eschewed this binary choice in United States v. David Dicus, reducing the defendant’s sentence for the prosecutor’s breach of the plea agreement regarding a sentence enhancement instead of viewing a withdrawal of the guilty plea (or specific performance of the breach provision) or no response as the only available options. The court refused to ignore the misconduct, even though the sentencing court did not in fact impose the sentence enhancement, because “it would do nothing to deter prosecutorial misconduct or to give defendants an incentive to raise prosecutorial misconduct claims.” In making the decision to remedy prosecutorial misconduct with a reduction of the defendant’s sentence to the low end of the advisory sentencing guidelines range, the court relied on Sonja Starr’s compelling new piece, Sentence Reduction as a Remedy for Prosecutorial Misconduct (which will be coming out in the Georgetown Law Journal in 2009). Starr’s article is ground-breaking and makes an important contribution to the law development’s in this area. In it, she argues that sentence reduction would be both an effective deterrent to prosecutorial misconduct and an important corrective and expressive remedy.
Here is the abstract of Starr’s article:
Current remedies for prosecutorial misconduct, such as reversal of conviction or dismissal of charges, are rarely granted by courts and thus do not deter prosecutors effectively. Further, such all-or-nothing remedial schemes are often problematic from corrective and expressive perspectives, especially when misconduct has not affected the trial verdict. When granted, such remedies produce windfalls to guilty defendants and provoke public resentment, undermining their expressive value in condemning misconduct. To avoid such windfalls, courts must refuse to grant any remedy at all, either refusing to recognize violations or deeming them harmless. This often leaves significant non-conviction-related harms unremedied and egregious prosecutorial misconduct uncondemned.
This Article accordingly proposes adding sentence reduction to current all-or-nothing remedial schemes, arguing that this would provide courts with an intermediate remedy that they would be more willing to grant. It argues that several prosecutorial incentives combine to make sentence reduction an effective deterrent. Moreover, because sentence reduction could be tailored to the magnitude of the violation, it could resolve the windfall dilemma and serve as an effective corrective and expressive remedy.