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High profile criminal cases don't always turn out for prosecutors

Recent high-profile criminal acquittals have drawn attention to issues of evidence and raised some fundamental questions about building federal criminal cases. At first glance, the cases of Roger Clemens and John Edwards could not be more dissimilar. Clemens, the former major league pitching star, was acquitted on charges of perjury and lying to Congress. Edwards, former presidential candidate, was acquitted of federal campaign finance violations.

Why are these cases similar? One was against a highly regarded athlete and the other against a political figure who was increasingly disliked for his private behavior. Dig deeper, however, and similarities emerge.

Both cases were built primarily on the testimony of former associates who changed their minds about their one-time friends. In the case of Clemens, the turncoat was former trainer Brian McNamee. In Edward's case, he was brought down by a former aide, Andrew Young.

Prosecutors pursued these cases zealously; some would say that prosecutors acted with too much zeal and not enough evidence to justify their zeal. And in both cases, the accused had little to gain from pleading guilty to the charges. Moreover, by refusing a plea, the two defendants preserved their pride, something clearly important to both.

Most significantly, prosecutors in these cases failed to convince jurors that by convicting Edwards and Clements, they would be deterring similar crimes, an important motivator for juries. In short, jurors were not convinced that serious crimes had been committed. Additionally, they clearly did not believe that the government had acted appropriately in spending significant time and money on these cases.

Source:, "Sometimes, the evidence doesn't matter," July 1, 2012.

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