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Certainly concerning: when prosecutors abuse the process

It's understandable why most people in Tennessee or elsewhere who are targeted in a criminal probe or otherwise sought for questioning by authorities become more than a bit nervous.

In fact, they grow flatly scared, and for obvious reasons.

For starters, criminal justice actors like police officers, state/federal agents and prosecutors command vast resources.

Moreover, it can sometimes seem like they have overwhelming powers in a criminal investigation. In fact, they often do.

That clear disparity in might and enforcement tools is what makes the job of a defense attorney vital for clients why need an ally in fighting back against sheer government clout.

Defense counsel focuses upon many things in a case, ranging widely from probable cause and evidence in issue to proof requirements and creative trial strategies.

And then there is this, which sadly comes to the fore occasionally in a criminal law matter: government abuse of process, which instantly undermines system credibility and the chance for a defendant so secure a fair outcome in an individual case.

A recent example comes from New Orleans, where a federal lawsuit was filed just last week alleging that official policy coming from the district attorney's office in that city has long sanctioned -- in fact, proactively promoted -- prosecutorial misconduct.

What is specifically at issue is the long-time use of fake subpoenas never endorsed by any court that motivate many otherwise reluctant witnesses to meet with prosecutors and provide testimony.

A New York Times account of the practice, which has been operative for nearly two decades, notes that many individuals are fooled by the documents and feel coerced to speak with authorities, when in fact they have no legal duty to do so.

The litigation cites "a culture of fear and intimidation" stemming from the bogus papers, with persons receiving the notifications believing that non-compliance would bring "harassment, threats, arrest and jail."

The city's district attorney admits that denoting the fake documents as formal subpoenas "was improper."

Notwithstanding that admission, though, he says he is certain his office will be "completely vindicated."

Critics -- and there are many -- harbor a different view. One of them calls the long-term use of the fake forms "an affirmative abuse of state power that is really shocking."

We suspect that most of our readers would agree.

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