D.C. Federal District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina has just dismissed all charges against several Blackwater guards, who were accused of voluntary manslaughter and various serious firearms offenses in connection with a September 16, 2007, shooting in Baghdad. A copy of the opinion, which can be found here, chastises the government for improper conduct:
In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation. In so doing, the government’s trial team repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors, assigned to the case specifically to advise the trial team on Garrity and Kastigar issues, that this course of action threatened the viability of the prosecution. The government used the defendants’ compelled statements to guide its charging decisions, to formulate its theory of the case, to develop investigatory leads and, ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case. The government’s key witnesses immersed themselves in the defendants’ compelled statements, and the evidence adduced at the Kastigar hearing plainly demonstrated that these compelled statements shaped portions of the witnesses’ testimony to the indicting grand jury.2 The explanations offered by the prosecutors and investigators in an attempt to justify their actions and persuade the court that they did not use the defendants’ compelled testimony were all too often contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.
I worked on the case briefly, helping represent the defendants when they were arrested in Salt Lake City. In my view, the charges should never have been filed. The prosecutors made novel use of federal criminal statutes, including charging the contractors with heavy mandatory minimum sentences for use of firearms (i.e., machineguns) in the commission of a crime of violence. The dismissal is long overdue and, given the thoroughness of Judge Urbina’s opinion, seems unlikely to be overturned on appeal (or, for that matter, perhaps even unlikely to be appealed).