SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Cliven Bundy wanted to walk out of the courtroom in his jail jumpsuit and ankle shackles. Deputy marshals blocked him from doing that. But if it hadn’t been for “flagrant misconduct” committed by federal prosecutors and investigators in the case, the Nevada cattleman may not have been walking out at all.
US District Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case, which related to an April 2014 standoff with federal officers seeking to impound Mr. Bundy’s cattle, “with prejudice” this week – meaning prosecutors cannot retry the case on the same charges. “The court has found that a universal sense of justice has been violated” by prosecutors who withheld and misrepresented vast quantities of evidence, she told the courtroom.
The case is a dramatic example of prosecutorial misconduct, which some legal experts see as a cultural flaw in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors are arguably the most powerful actors in the system, in part because they are the gatekeepers for most evidence in a case. Having to provide evidence to a defendant while also seeking to beat them in court understandably can lead to temptation, legal experts say.
“It’s like making your own calls in a basketball game: ‘That wasn’t a foul on me,’ ” says John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who spent more than two decades as a criminal defense lawyer in California.
“I don’t want to say it’s human nature, but it’s a natural tendency to see things your own way,” he adds, “especially when you’re wrapped up in the competitive world of trying cases.”
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