A federal prosecutor has been sanctioned and referred to the Department of Justice by a district court judge for failing to disclose favorable evidence to defense counsel in a timely manner in a Hawaii drug-trafficking case. U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi called the government “tardy” and “sloppy” and its conduct “troubling” when she ruled that witnesses could be recalled at trial because federal prosecutors had failed to turn over important exculpatory and impeachment evidence in a case against six men accused of conspiring to traffic crystal meth and cocaine.
Specifically, defense attorneys argued prosecutors had made “repeated and continuing discovery abuses and violations,” including failing to turn over deals with eight of their witnesses until after some of them had testified, and making false statements to the judge about their compliance with discovery obligations. Kobayashi would not grant the defense’s motion to dismiss the case altogether because she could not find that the government had acted in bad faith.
Kobayashi made the jury aware that government misconduct was to blame for the recalling of certain witnesses during the trial, so when prosecutors gave their closing arguments in the case last Thursday, they were also forced to acknowledge the wrongdoing. The Star Advertiser reports:
A federal prosecutor apologized in court Wednesday over sanctions for prosecutorial misconduct imposed by a judge during a major Hawaii meth-ring trial.
“You all know the government made mistakes in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Muehleck told the jury during his closing statement. “We screwed up.”
… As Hawaii district U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni watched from the courtroom gallery, Muehleck said the prosecutorial mistakes were “professionally embarrassing” and “regrettable,” but he insisted the evidence against the remaining four men is overwhelming.
In a court filing in December, 2013, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Loo admitted that the government had been “negligent in complying with its discovery obligations.” Kobayashi subsequently sanctioned Loo for prosecutorial misconduct and referred him to the U.S. Justice Department’s office of professional responsibility for further possible action.