DAG (202) 616-2777 TDD (202) 514-1888

STATEMENT BY DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This week, Congress is considering drastic legislation that may sound appealing, but could seriously obstruct federal prosecutors from bringing tough cases. Without a single markup or even a committee hearing, a last-minute appropriations amendment would require taxpayers to pay criminal defendants who are the "the prevailing party" in criminal cases. The only exception would be when prosecutors bring charges that are "substantially justified," a term that the legislation does not even define. The sponsors argue that they want to rein in abusive prosecutions. So do we. That's why safeguards are built into the process. Prosecutors must already go to a grand jury before they can indict a defendant. Judges can already turn away selective or vindictive prosecutions, and attorneys can already be sanctioned, fined, dismissed and sometimes even sued. Our criminal justice system is founded on the premise that prosecutors must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a defendant broke the law. That means some criminals go free because the high burden of proof cannot be met. This country's founders rightly desired that it was more important to let some guilty citizens go free so that other innocent citizens were not unjustly imprisoned. But under this very drastic legislation, if this very high "reasonable doubt" standard is not met, taxpayers could foot the bill. If this bill becomes law, people like John Gotti, who beat the rap at his first trials, and John Hinckley and John DeLorean, who were also acquitted, could wind up with big taxpayer checks. Plea bargains that save time and put criminals behind bars could become a thing of the past. Prosecutors would be forced to make a decision with one eye on their office budget, instead of keeping both eyes on the pursuit of justice. And whenever they couldn't get a conviction, prosecutors would have to spend time fighting lawsuits instead of fighting criminals. In fact, suits over the amendment's vague wording could snarl up the courts for years. The fact is, prosecutors sometimes build a case with evidence that ends up being suppressed. Sometimes sexually abused children are too shaken to deliver compelling testimony. Sometimes key witnesses disappear or die. And sometimes there are hung juries. We should not punish prosecutors and send the bill to the public when someone beats the rap. The Fraternal Order of Police has spoken out against this amendment. So has the National District Attorney's Association.

So has the Federal Law Enforcement Officers' Association. They have done so because they know the truth: this bill may sound good, but it will handcuff prosecutors, and it could cost the taxpayers a fortune in high-stakes payoffs to America's Most Wanted. This is quite simply a bad bill. And if it passes, Attorney General Reno will strongly recommend that the President veto it. # # # 97-440