The resignation of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (R), a result that appears to have been over-due, deserved, and necessary, also involved a common form of unethical prosecution. The device is called Release-Dismiss, and it looks, smells and feels unethical. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court and most of the states continue to allow it. They shouldn’t.
Greiten’s resignation came as a result of a plea deal after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner agreed to dismiss charges that Greitens tampered with a computer donor list of a veterans’ charity he founded. The deal also included Grietens’ promise not to sue Gardner or her office.
Greitens’ legal fees were over $2 million, he said, and he could not afford to go to trial on the charges. Gardner said she was confident she had the evidence required to convict Greitens. (That’s what they all say.) But the fact remains that the threat of criminal prosecution was used to pressure Greitens into giving up his civil rights.
In a scholarly paper on this maneuver, one authority writes,
A phenomenon exists in the criminal justice world which allows a prosecutor to strike a bargain with a criminal defendant, permitting them both to cut their losses and walk away from a mutually bad situation. On occasions where arrested individuals may have been wronged by public officials in the course of their arrests, prosecutors may legally agree to dismiss defendants’ criminal charges in exchange for releases by the defendants of any civil claims arising from the arrests. The release-dismissal agreement, and variations upon its theme,’ have been the subject of controversy for several years.
Its supporters rely on the obvious efficiency embodied in the situation. Despite this efficiency, such agreements are dangerous, detrimental to the criminal justice system, and against the better interests of society.