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Cigars, wild sex & bribery: Documents delay Navy corruption trial

It sounds like it would be an interesting trial. Twenty-five people -- high officials from the Navy and military contractors -- are accused of playing it fast and loose with the rules in Southeast Asia. Agents of defense contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia allegedly provided Seventh Fleet officials with luxury dinners and travel, $2,000-a-box cigars, premium cognac, travel and 'wild sex parties' with prostitutes in exchange for classified information that would allow them to garner massive contracts with the Fleet.

"The alleged conduct amounts to a staggering degree of corruption by the most prominent leaders of the Seventh Fleet - the largest fleet in the U.S. Navy - actively worked together as a team to trade secrets for sex, serving the interests of a greedy foreign defense contractor, and not those of their own country," says the U.S. Attorney.

In reality, however, it may be among the most boring trials in history for the judge and jury. Why? A process called "discovery" has apparently gotten somewhat out of hand in this case, delaying it by at least six months.

What is 'discovery' in a criminal case?

A lot of people don't realize that trials aren't much like the television shows they inspire. In particular, there are rarely any surprises in real courtrooms because everyone involved has already seen all of the evidence. This is a fundamental part of our justice system and part of the constitutional guarantee that criminal defendants have the right to fully and fairly confront all of the evidence against them.

When a defense attorney or team is assigned to a trial, the first thing they do is ask the prosecutor to turn over copies of the evidence. Before a trial begins, the defense will likewise turn over to the prosecution a list of evidence and witnesses it plans to present at trial. The judge in the case will also have a complete and full list of all the evidence and witnesses. This is the process of "discovery" at work.

Yes, the prosecution has to do more than turn over all its evidence to the defense. As amazing as that may sound, what often truly astounds people is that they have to do more than that. Prosecutors also have to turn over any evidence unearthed during the investigation that tends to show the defendant is not guilty. In other words, when prosecutors have pro-defense evidence, they are required to let the defense have it.

Discovery involves any and all types of evidence:

  • Interrogatories: questions sent to and answered by the defendant or prosecution
  • Requests for admission of facts
  • Depositions of witnesses
  • Required disclosures
  • Document production requests

It's this last one that is holding up the Seventh Fleet trial. According to prosecutors, literally terabytes of documents need to be reviewed by all parties. Presumably, this evidence would include items like receipts for cigars and cognac, arrangements with prostitutes, the port services bid for the Seventh Fleet and other computerized evidence. Perhaps there will be emails that appear to be admissions of wrongdoing.

If nothing exciting jumps out of the massive document pile, however, the jury is likely to spend untold hours going over even a portion of the data. Not everything reviewed in discovery will make it to trial, but the amount that does could still be massive.

That's why a complex bribery scandal might not make for the world's most interesting trial. That said, the defendants are facing decades behind bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted, so to them it will be riveting.

If you even suspect you are under investigation by the federal government, please do not hesitate to get counsel. Federal cases often involve investigations like this one, where the government has done a great deal of work already, leaving you to catch up before you can even begin to negotiate. A good, protective defense attorney can protect your rights when the pressure is on.

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