Posted Aug 22, 2012 02:41 pm CDT
A cert petition pending before the U.S. Supreme Court seeks review of a ruling that curbs the reach of the Hyde Amendment, a federal law designed to fight prosecutorial abuse.
The law awards attorney fees to criminal defendants who show gross misconduct by federal prosecutors, the New York Times says in an editorial. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled compensation may be awarded only in cases that are clearly unfounded.
The Times urges the Supreme Court to accept the case. Under the 11th Circuit interpretation, the newspaper says, the government is “untouchable in any plausible prosecution.” Previously the law was understood to allow compensation in legitimate cases if the prosecution behaved unethically, according to the Times.
The cert petition (PDF) was filed on behalf of Dr. Ali Shaygan, who was originally accused in a 23-count indictment of dispensing medications without a medical purpose. Prosecutors added 118 counts after the physician’s lawyers ignored a prosecution threat of a “seismic shift” if the defense pursued a meritorious motion to suppress, according to the petition. A federal judge had found the additional charges were brought in bad faith.
Jurors acquitted Shaygan after only hours of deliberations; he was awarded more than $600,000 in attorney fees and costs under the Hyde Amendment. The 11th Circuit reversed. “The district court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions against the United States for a prosecution that was objectively reasonable,” the appeals court said.