In an opinion issued Wednesday, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York blasted federal prosecutors for withholding potentially exculpatory evidence in a case involving an alleged violation of US sanction laws against Iran.
The case centered around Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, an Iranian businessman who was accused of funneling millions of dollars through the US financial systems in violation of US sanctions laws against Iran. Sadr was found guilty of the offenses charged in March 2020, but his conviction was vacated and the case dismissed later on because of the prosecution’s repeated failure to disclose and turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense in a timely manner.
In a 42-page-long opinion, Nathan reprimanded the federal prosecutors involved in the case for disclosing evidence late during trial, including a few instances where they disclosed evidence after the trial had ended, and for subsequently lying to the Court about it.
She particularly condemned the prosecutors’ misconduct as to one piece of evidence that the prosecutors attempted to “bury” along with other already-disclosed evidence in hopes the defense would not realize the prosecutors’ failure to turn over the evidence earlier.
“The cost of such Government misconduct is high,” she wrote. “[W]ith each misstep, the public faith in the criminal-justice system further erodes.”
Nathan ordered all federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York to read the opinion and submit a declaration affirming that they have read the opinion by September 23, 2020.
She also alluded to the possibility that there could be sanctions against the prosecutors, writing:
It is the fervent hope of the Court that no sanctions are necessary. But it is the firm view of the Court that if Government lawyers acted in bad faith by knowingly withholding exculpatory material from the defense or intentionally made a misleading statement to the Court, then some sanction or referral to the Grievance Committee of the Southern District of New York would be appropriate.