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BOP Evidence-Handling “Grave Miscarriage of Justice”; Charges Dismissed by Federal Judge

On March 18, 2011, a federal judge in Oregon dismissed criminal charges against a federal prisoner due to mishandling of evidence by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

In August 2009, BOP prisoner Jose Sanchez-Arce, 32, and another prisoner fought with a guard at a medium-security federal facility in Sheridan, Oregon. Both were charged with assaulting a United States government employee. The other prisoner pleaded guilty but is likely regretting that decision based on what happened in Sanchez-Arce’s case.

Sanchez-Arce’s three-day trial began on March 15, 2011 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman, Oregon’s former U.S. Attorney and a judge who has a reputation for siding with law enforcement.

Not this time, however. As the trial moved toward jury deliberations, evidence that should have been provided to the defense and prosecutors continued to trickle in from the BOP.

Harold McCloux, one of Sanchez-Arce’s attorneys, argued that the evidence undermined the credibility of government witnesses, and some of the evidence was not disclosed until 30 minutes after the jury began deliberating.

Mosman spoke with one juror who was in tears about what to do and how to proceed after the additional evidence came in. Prosecutors then moved to dismiss the case and Mosman dismissed the charges with prejudice, preventing a retrial.

In so doing, he blasted the BOP’s mishandling of the evidence, calling their actions “sloppy,” “abysmal,” “unjustified” and “a grave miscarriage of justice.”

Mosman said the BOP’s actions were the worst performance by a federal agency that he had ever witnessed in his years on the bench and as U.S. Attorney.

The BOP’s mishandling of the evidence caused “a radiating circle of harm,” not only due to the time and money wasted at trial but to the jurors, federal prosecutors, defendant and his counsel, said Mosman.

“This is a trial that never should have happened,” Judge Mosman declared. “It was an agency debacle that could have unfairly blighted the prosecuting attorneys” and created an “abiding uncertainty about what wasn’t in the record.”

Mosman faulted the BOP for treating all the parties in the case “with cavalier disregard.” The jurors experienced “uncertainty on what to do about gaps in the record,” said Mosman. “It was confusing for them.”

BOP spokesman John McCafferty declined to comment on Mosman’s ruling but the U.S. Attorney’s office had plenty to say. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson, second in command in the office, all BOP criminal referrals were suspended.

“We are concerned about what happened with this case,” said Robinson. The suspension will remain in effect “until we can assure ourselves and the court these problems won’t be repeated.”

The number of criminal referrals from the BOP prison in Sheridan is relatively small, but two outstanding assault cases remain pending, Robinson noted. See: United States v. Sanchez-Arce, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 3:09-cr-00397-MO-1.

Additional source: The Oregonian

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Related legal case

United States v. Sanchez-Arce