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US Justice Dept Has a History of Ghosting Its Targets, Preet Bharara Has a Problem With That

With the holidays upon us, I’m reminded of certain etiquette lessons from my grandmother.

Always write thank-you notes. When asked for the salt shaker, pass the pepper, too. And if you decide not to indict someone, let the target know so they can get on with their life.

OK, maybe she never mentioned that last one.

As is, federal prosecutors rarely tell people who have been hauled before grand juries, had their homes searched or otherwise know they’re being investigated about the status of the probe.

So when exactly do targets find out that an investigation has fizzled and they are no longer on the hook?

According to Preet Bharara, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017, almost never.

Instead, they’re left on tenterhooks until the statute of limitations runs out.

Offering such disclosure isn’t just a matter of courtesy – of sparing people who won’t be charged with criminal wrongdoing months or years of unwarranted existential dread as they lie awake at night contemplating prison.

It would also be a way to make the justice system “more fair, open and transparent,” Bharara told me.

A partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr since 2022, Bharara has taken up the issue, urging the U.S. Justice Department on his podcast and in a recent New York Times guest essay to change what he described to me as a “thoughtless institutional habit” of refusing to tell most would-be suspects when they’re no longer in jeopardy.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment.

To be sure, there may be a dollop of self-interest for Bharara in championing the cause. Now that he’s switched to private practice, he’s dealing with clients who (understandably) “keep asking questions” about how prosecutors are planning to proceed with their cases, he said.

Most times, all that he and other defense lawyers can offer are vague reassurances like “no news is good news” or advice such as “don’t poke the bear” by pushing for answers that likely won’t come, he said.

Source : Reuters