Assistant United States Attorney Suzanne Sullivan's reputation took a severe blow last week when Jonathan Saltzman from the Boston Globe reported that Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf threatened sanctions for Sullivan's failure to provide exculpatory evidence to defense counsel. According to the article, the veteran prosecutor failed to disclose that a Boston Police officer offered testimony in court that was contradicted by what he told Sullivan beforehand. In a lengthy memorandum Wolf wrote that "The court assumes that her failure to disclose material, exculpatory information was not intentional, in part because Sullivan produced her notes for the court's in camera inspection," Wolf wrote. "Nevertheless, the violations were clear and inexcusable. If the error by an experienced prosecutor was inadvertent, it seems only to be explained by ignorance of, or utter indifference to, the constitutional duty she repeatedly claimed to have understood and obeyed." In another part of the memorandum Sullivan's actions were referred to as an "egregious failure" to disclose materially exculpatory evidence.
This notwithstanding, the arrest and evidence obtained against the defendant was found to be made in a constitutional manner. The defendant is charged with firearms related activity.
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About two to three years ago I had a case against Suzanne Sullivan. At that time she was an assistant district attorney in the Plymouth County District Attorney's office. The case involved multiple counts of sexual abuse of several children. I was the second defense lawyer on the case. Ms. Sullivan had inherited the case from another prosecutor who had just left the district attorney's office to join the United States Attorney's Office. I personally found Ms. Sullivan to be extremely professional. She promptly provided me with all discovery materials. She even went so far as to invite me down to her office to view her file. I accepted her invitation. She gave me a couple of large boxes full of police reports, grand jury minutes, witness statements, exhibits and more. She even left her notes of interviews with witnesses in the box for me to review and photocopy. I was permitted to view this material in a private room, unsupervised. Ms. Sullivan gave me access to a copy machine and made sure that I was able to obtain copies of all materials I wanted. We later tried the case. Suzanne Sullivan's hospitality and professional congeniality continued in the same manner. She never personalized the case, prosecuted with a passion and conducted herself in a dignified manner. That case was and remains my only contact with this prosecutor. Her ethics and professionalism are, in my opinion unparalleled.
The rule in federal courts is similar to that In Massachusetts state courts as they relate to prosecutorial misconduct. Dismissal with prejudice "is a draconian sanction that must be reserved for cases manifesting egregious prosecutorial misconduct or a serious threat of prejudice to the defendant." Even dismissals without prejudice are rare and not used absent "some demonstrable prejudice to the defendant." Our courts prefer alternative sanctions such as a fine or a report to the Board of Bar Overseers. On appeal there are times when prosecutorial misconduct results in a reversal of the conviction and a new trial.
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