March 6, 2008
Zach Scruggs, Meet Frank Costello
Mob boss Frank Costello, one--time head of the Luciano crime family, faced charges in the 1950s for tax evasion, the favored means to attack the Mafia before the advent of RICO -- think Al Capone. Costello's case went to the Supreme Court on the question of whether a defendant can challenge a grand jury indictment on the ground that there was insufficient admissible evidence on which to charge a crime. Costello came to mind when I read Zach Scruggs' latest challenge to the attempted bribery charges against him and his father, Dickie Scruggs. In a motion filed on March 3 (available below), Zach seeks dismissal for prosecutorial misconduct because two government witnesses, an FBI agent and the alleged offeror of the bribe, Tim Balducci, gave testimony to the grand jury that he claims was "patently false and misleading in material respects and undoubtedly led to the erroneous indictment of Defendant Zach Scruggs."
While not quite the same claim as Costello, Scruggs is asking for dismissal because the evidence to charge him with a crime was insufficient. Calling it a motion to dismiss for "prosecutorial misconduct" is a way to avoid the Supreme Court's decision in Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359 (1956), which held that "[a]n indictment returned by a legally constituted and unbiased grand jury, like an information drawn by the prosecutor, if valid on its face, is enough to call for trial of the charge on the merits." The Court rejected Costello's claim that the grand jury did not have enough evidence to charge him because only summary witnesses testified, and further denied his request to use its supervisory power to require prosecutors to present admissible evidence to the grand jury. The Court stated, "Petitioner urges that this Court should exercise its power to supervise the administration of justice in federal courts and establish a rule permitting defendants to challenge indictments on the ground that they are not supported by adequate or competent evidence. No persuasive reasons are advanced for establishing such a rule." It seems that Zach's motion is exactly that, asking the district court to review the evidence and find it so flawed that he would not have been indicted. Costello rejected the use of supervisory power to fashion a rule to challenge indictments, and the Court has been rather hostile to dismissal based on generalized claims of misconduct (see United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36 (1992)).
Defendants who want to challenge an indictment because they don't believe there is sufficient evidence to even charge them with a crime have only one option: go to trial and win the case. That's not the most inviting way to challenge an indictment, but Costello makes it clear that a head-on challenge to an indictment is not going to succeed. (ph)
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