ACLU Condemns Prosecutorial Abuses On Local and National Level

February 18, 1999 12:00 am

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Statement of John Roberts
Executive Director
ACLU of Massachusetts

Thursday, February 18, 1999

BOSTON–The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has always condemned prosecutorial conduct that violates rights of privacy and other rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The investigation of President Clinton by the Independent Counsel involved a number of blatant civil liberties violations, many of which are commonly practiced prosecutors throughout the country.

That these violations are common does not make them less reprehensible. Indeed, because the tactics employed during the investigation of the President have been exposed to the light of day, many people are now becoming aware of the violations to which less visible and less powerful people are too often subjected.

As a non-partisan organization, the ACLU did not take a position on the impeachment or removal of the President. But as a defender of the Bill of Rights, we believe that a prosecutor with unlimited resources and without political accountability poses a special risk to civil liberties.

In connection with this investigation and prosecution of the President, we note that the Independent Counsel committed egregious violations of rights by, among other things:

1. Investigating and presenting to a Grand Jury evidence involving private consensual sexual conduct between adults;

2. Recording or causing or encouraging to be recorded, or using and disclosing the contents of a recording of the private conversations of another person pertaining to her consensual sexual activities;

3. Interrogating a witness after she indicated that she wished to consult with counsel;

4. Interrogating a parent regarding the consensual sexual activities of an adult child;

5. Attempting to obtain a statement or other cooperation from a potential witness by threatening to prosecute the witness’ parent, child or other close relative, effectively holding a relative “hostage.”

A prosecutor, including the Independent Counsel, should not engage in conduct that involves unreasonable and unwarranted intrusions by the government into people’s private lives. Such intrusions violates the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. These amendments create an important zone of privacy into which prosecutors, no matter how special their case or their target, ought never tread if we are to preserve the liberty that is the foundation of our nation and our Constitution.

But whether a prosecutor is engaged in a war on drugs, a battle against a president or the prosecution of any other person, the ACLU has long argued that by tolerating the erosion of civil liberties of anyone, no matter how unpopular, we invite prosecutors to violate our civil liberties and the civil liberties of a family member who may be unlucky enough to fall within the cross-hairs of a prosecutor’s sights.

President Clinton is a popular president with resources and power to fight an overzealous prosecutor. However, the abuses to which the President and Monica Lewinsky have been subjected are the kind of abuses that too many people suffer quietly only because they do not have the money and the power to fight back.

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