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Marine investigators rifle through scores of defense files

A common canon of jurisprudence under both American civilian and military law is the confidentiality attached to information exchanged between a criminal suspect and his or her attorney when the latter has been retained in the capacity of legal advocate.

Imagine how a number of people felt recently when a prosecutor entered defense attorneys’ offices at Camp Pendleton in Southern California seeking evidence in a military investigation.

A defense lawyer agreed to turn over the evidence requested, but only pursuant to a court order requiring his office to do so.

The prosecutor, who came to the offices accompanied by other investigators and a number of armed Marine Corps personnel, refused to comply with that request. Instead, he produced a search authorization signed by a local commander, and the search commenced. Reportedly, defense attorneys were not allowed to leave the premises while the search was ongoing.

The target of the investigation was a cellphone, which was located within minutes. Notwithstanding that quick success, commentators on the matter say that the search persisted for at least two additional hours.

During that time, more than 100 case files were allegedly opened by the investigative team. As a media account of the incident notes, that broad-based search “could cast a cloud over dozens of criminal cases.”

It has been noted that, while such a search is not without precedent in the military, the investigation was unduly broad and beyond allowable legal standards.

“It’s unacceptable,” said a Marine Corps senior attorney following the incident. “We’re going to litigate this,” he added.

A core question is the extent to which other cases might have been compromised.

Remedies for that could be sought, including dismissal of charges in some cases.

Source: Stars and Stripes, "Military officials raided Marine law offices, may have compromised cases," Michael Doyle, May 9, 2014

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