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U.S. v. Singleton heads to the Supreme Court

Sonya Evette Singleton of Wichita is asking the Supreme Court to rule that federal prosecutors may not offer an individual involved in a crime lenient treatment in exchange for testifying against a defendant-a practice followed by generations of prosecutors.

The bribery statute of the U.S. Criminal Code makes it a federal crime to give something of value to a witness in exchange for his testimony. The statute is written to apply to "whoever" violates it. That means federal prosecutors, too, are covered, Singleton's appeal argues, a view rejected by a federal appeals court in January.

"It is true," the appeal argues, "that there has been a practice of paying criminals for their testimony; however, when the law clearly forbids this, the practice must be stopped."

Singleton is serving a 46-month prison sentence for money laundering and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The only testimony linking her to the crime was given by an accomplice, who was promised leniency if he implicated her.

The chances of Singleton winning a Supreme Court review of her case appear to depend upon whether the justices see a need to sort out widely divergent views of judges over whether the law applies to the government.

The law, which applies only in federal cases, is one of the most important in the Justice Department's legal arsenal, aiding prosecutors in breaking cases that might A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver agreed with Singleton's argument in July, saying prosecutors cannot make leniency-for-testimony exchanges.

That ruling sent tremors through the federal legal establishment, with high-ranking Justice Department officials saying it could undermine untold numbers of federal convictions.

The appeals court panel's decision, however, was withdrawn when all 12 members of the court decided to take on the issue. The full court rejected Singleton's argument in a decision in January.

The vote of the full court was 9-3 against her, but the court split three ways in interpreting the law.

Seven judges took the broadest stance, saying the criminal ban on purchasing testimony does not apply to the U.S. Government, including its prosecutors. The government is the sovereign, not a person covered by the word "whoever." Two judges said the law does apply to the government, but said other laws allowing prosecutors to arrange plea bargains take precedence.

Three judges-the same three who, on the panel, ruled for Singleton last summer-dissented, saying the law should apply fully to prosecutors.

Singleton's appeal, filed by John Val Wachtel, a court-appointed Wichita lawyer, argues that the appeals court twisted the law's meaning to suit prosecutors.

"In order to protect the government's pretended age-old practice of buying testimony through leniency, the majority was forced to conclude that the government is not included within the meaning of 'whoever,' and, accordingly, that the government may give, offer or promise value in exchange for testimony," the appeal said.

The Justice Department has a right to respond to her appeal before the Supreme Court acts on her request for review.

What You Can Do: Print and send a copy of this letter to your elected official in Washington. Let your voice be heard!

Dear Honorable __________________________:

In a recent decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, it was ruled that purchasing testimony by government prosecutors is legal. The Court reasoned that had Congress intended to forbid plea-bargains in exchange for testimony "it would have done so in clear, unmistakable language". The Court is thus in opposition to the law enacted by Congress, backed by the Constitution under Due Process and Equal Protection, in which Congress did unmistakably state that purchasing testimony is illegal.

Title 18, United States Code Section 201(c)(2): "Whosoever... directly or indirectly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any person, for or because of testimony under oath or affirmation given or to be given by such persons as a witness upon a trial, hearing or other proceeding, before any court... shall be fined under this Title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both."

A man's freedom is a thing of value. Court rulings show numerous examples that leniency, shorter sentences, dismissed charges, etc., can and do induce a witness to lie.

The United States Constitution guarantees Due Process and Equal Protection under the law. When only one party in a suit is allowed to purchase witnesses, the adversarial process of our legal system under Article III of the United States Constitution is defeated, leaving an accused at the mercy of the vast purchasing power of the government. The issue in a trial no longer is a matter of truth and justice, but merely one of whether or not the government in its representation by the prosecutor, has cut enough deals with enough witnesses to overpower an accused with postulated evidence.

It must be noted that this is not only applicable to the so labeled 'War on Drugs'. This case law affects each and every case in which the federal or a State government is a party.

I urge your as my elected representative to push to correct this illegal practice, and if possible, lobby for legislation specifically directing that no person, prosecutors included, shall deprive a citizen of his Constitutional Rights through the use of illegally purchased testimony.

Respectfully, _____________________________

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

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