Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. today said he would require additional training for prosecutors to reinforce their understanding of rules that govern discovery in criminal cases, following the advice of a federal judge who recently dismissed the government's indictment against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
The training will begin in coming weeks, Holder said in a statement. The attorney general also announced the creation of a working group of senior prosecutors and officials from each department component to review discovery practices in criminal cases.
After reviewing the Stevens case, Holder determined prosecutors had improperly withheld prosecutors' notes that would have aided in Stevens’ defense, prompting the attorney general to move to erase Stevens' conviction. Throughout Stevens' trial, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan reprimanded prosecutors for failing their obligation to turn over relevant documents, presenting false evidence, and moving a witness under subpoena by the defense. Sullivan agreed to dismiss the case last week and appointed an outside lawyer to investigate the prosecutors’ conduct. The Justice Department's Office of Professional responsibility is conducting a parallel investigation.
Before dismissing the case, Sullivan urged Holder to "require Brady training for new and experienced prosecutors throughout the country and encourage an open dialogue between defense attorneys and prosecutors regarding these discovery obligations."
The assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division and the head of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, which is composed of U.S. attorneys, will lead the working group, according to Holder's statement today. (The Senate is scheduled on Monday to vote on the nomination of Covington & Burling's Lanny Breuer to head the division.) The working group will review the way in which the government fulfills its obligation to turn over materials and whether more resources are needed to aid in that process.
“I am committed to ensuring that our prosecutors are provided sufficient training to understand fully their discovery obligations, and that they receive the support and resources necessary to do their jobs in a manner consistent with the proud traditions of this Department,” Holder said in the statement. “The actions we are taking today are part of an ongoing process to ensure justice is served in every case the Department brings. We will continue to review how cases are managed before, during and after charges are filed, and where there is room for improvement, we will make additional changes.”