The Distance Imperative: A Different Way of Thinking About Public Official Corruption Investigations/Prosecutions and the Federal Role
Posted: 1 Nov 2010 Last revised: 5 Jan 2011
Date Written: November 1, 2010
The “distance imperative,” as coined here, is a shorthand label for the bundle of concerns that, individually or taken together, create the need to achieve some “distance” between public officials suspected or accused of corrupt acts and the public criminal enforcement agencies that might investigate and prosecute them. There are many explanations for why and where investigations are undertaken and prosecutions are brought in individual cases. Addressing the distance imperative in isolation is a kind of thought experiment focusing attention on this factor, largely to the exclusion of others.
By way of illustration, corruption in a police agency presents a set of special distance issues both because of the nature of a police organization and the concerns that arise when the police investigate “one of their own.” Related issues arise when corruption is suspected within the agency of prosecution or among judges. Similarly, when high level officials in local, state or the federal government are investigated and prosecuted for corruption, the need for some distance is heightened because of concerns about political influence affecting the integrity of the criminal enforcement process.
The article a) surveys various categories of governmental agencies – different agencies tend to present different kinds of distance concerns; b) reviews the diverse ways for achieving distance; c) explains the large federal role in dealing with political corruption and how this comports with distance imperative analysis; and finally d) suggests the formulation of investigatory and prosecutorial policies to reflect distance imperative concerns.
The distance imperative approach highlights the links between such diverse legal phenomena as the use of special prosecutors to pursue instances of corruption, the existence of internal affairs bureaus in large police departments, and the reasons why the federal government is involved in enforcement efforts against local public official corruption.
The article suggests that policies involving the distance imperative should be established to provide some guidance in implementing the Department of Justice’s Political Corruption priority. These could serve as a model for developing comparable principles in other areas of federal priorities relating to the prosecution of state and local crime.
Keywords: political corruption investigations, formulation of investigatory and prosecutorial policies
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