Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, asserting that lawyers too often act in the interest of advocacy rather than to seek the truth, said today that he is tightening standards for the filing of criminal charges.
At the same time Bell announced, in a Law Day speech at the University of Georgia, that he plants to hold Department of Justice layers responsible for the written and oral positions they take in all civil and criminal cases.
Bell, in an interview, said he regards this as possibly the most important reform he has instituted during his two years as the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
"This policy will hopefully set an example for the entire bar, and will enhance credibility and confidence in our legal system." Bell said.
He said lawyers too often ignore -- "in the interest of advocacy" -- Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This rule provides that the attorney's signature on a legal pleading certifies that he has read it and "that to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, there is good ground to support it, and that it is not interposed for delay."
Under Bell's new directive, prosecutors will not recommend indictments "unless the evidence presented to a grand jury would be at least likely to produce a conviction."
"We will not go forward, absent highly unusual circumstances, where we have only enough evidence to withstand a motion to dismiss the prosecution at the close of what would be the government's case at trial," Bell said.
He said the higher higher standard "will govern both the decision to prosecute and the selection of specific charges to bring against a defendant.
"The public will then have greater confidence in the good faith of our prosecutions, and potential defendants will be spared the agony and expense of indictment and trial where the government's case is, at best, only marginal," Bell said.
In the interview, Bell said he expected the higher prosecution standard to have little impact on current department operations but to serve more as a "leadership example for the rest of the legal community."