by Theodore Hammett and Joel Epstein
Prosecutors who wish to expand their role in environmental crime
prosecution will most likely have to overcome some rather formidable
attitudinal obstacles and misconceptions. The experiences of the LA
Strike Force may help prosecutors in other jurisdictions chart a path
through this complex legal territory.
* Some prosecutors feel unprepared to tackle environmental cases, which
are perceived as hopelessly complicated and impossible to win. The
Environmental Crimes/OSHA Division addressed this obstacle by offering
special training in this nontraditional area and by hiring attorneys who
expressed a serious commitment to working on environmental prosecutions.
* Many corporate defendants regard civil penalties and one-time cleanup
costs as part of the cost of doing business. The LA Strike Force
addressed this obstacle by instituting a policy of using civil
proceedings only when criminal remedies are not available and by
refusing to accept defense attorneys' requests for a civil settlement in
exchange for a more serious criminal charge.
* Some judges are not well versed in environmental laws or sensitive to
the seriousness of environmental crimes. They may also believe that
environmental cases are more appropriately handled by civil or
administrative means than by criminal prosecution. In California,
judges' more positive attitudes toward environmental prosecutions may
have been influenced by several factors, including the high visibility
and potential political impact of some cases, the LA district attorney's
commitment to prosecute environmental cases, and the potential for
reelection challenges or recall petitions that may result when a judge
ignores issues of public concern.
* Individual juries may be reluctant to convict a community's business
leaders and significant employers if the alleged environmental damage
does not have an immediate deleterious effect. The LA Strike Force seeks
to raise public consciousness by emphasizing the serious consequences of
the offenses it investigates and prosecutes.
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