Seattle Shows Us Nothing’s Fair In Love And Forgery
He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor—indeed, he should do so. But while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.
Jonathan Love, formerly a prosecutor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle, has never heard of that saying. Or if he has, it didn’t make much of an impression on him.
At a hearing in 2009, Love told the immigration that Lanuza [a Mexican national] had signed a waiver when he was stopped at the border in Nogales in 2000, which would have made him ineligible to ask that his removal to Mexico be canceled. Love presented the court with a copy of the waiver, called an I-826 form.
Lanuza’s lawyer did a good piece of work and hired a forgery expert, whose diligent investigation revealed such facts as
Homeland Security and ICE had not existed in 2000, and the I-826 form that Love said Lanuza had signed was not in use at the time.
As in any competitive enterprise, there’s a certain amount of gamesmanship that takes place between the prosecution and the defense. This ranges from chest thumping about the strength or weakness of a particular case, threats to add new charges if the defendant doesn’t plead, or sneering commentary about the validity of a particular defense or the credibility of certain witnesses.
It can get more serious than that, such as when jailhouse snitches testify against the defendant, usually out of the goodness of their hearts and not because they’re getting something out of it; or when police officers lie about the reason for a stop, or when prosecutors play Brady games. While unacceptable, those incidents on some level understandable. They’re trying to convict the bad guys, and silly formalities like the Bill of Rights can’t always be observed. After all, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and if it’s the wrong egg, that’s just the price we have to pay. Usually the part of “we” that’s not rich and/or white.
What Love did goes beyond that. To begin with, this wasn’t a criminal matter, but an immigration one. Lanuza’s immigration status aside, there’s no evidence that he had committed any crime or was a threat to the community. And yet Love decided to lie and cheat in order to screw him over. Why would he do such a thing? Apparently, introspection isn’t one of his strong points either:
“Why did I do this?” Love asked in a letter to Tsuchida [the sentencing magistrate]. “If I truly knew, I would not be standing here in front of you. …
“It was stupid and unnecessary, and the consequences of my actions have tarnished my hard work and dedication to public service for the last 30 years.
That sounds more like self-pity, not regret. It’s hard to believe that this is the only time in thirty years that Love has cheated to win a case. What’s morbidly fascinating about this episode is the sheer brazenness of Love’s lie: he introduced a non-existent form, from a non-existent department, for a case in which there was “nothing particular” about Lanuza to drive his animus. That doesn’t seem like a one-time thing. That seems like cheating had become such a common thing for him that he had stopped being careful about it. Apparently this has been going on for decades:
A former King County deputy prosecutor who is now a substitute judge never revealed that a witness in a shooting case 6 1/2 years ago gave a false name and was wanted for a parole violation, according to court records and interviews.
Court records show Love acknowledged that he knew the true name and criminal history of the witness – Stacy Hess – before the trial. But Love was never disciplined by his boss, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, or the Washington State Bar Association.
At bottom, the legal system depends on all parties’ good faith, that when a judge, a lawyer, or a witness says something in court, it’s a fact, and that the only dispute is over the interpretation of those facts. The endless battles over the subtleties and intricacies of the Rule of Evidence, all the strategy and maneuvering at trial, and all the care that goes into witness testimony and cross examination are at bottom meant to serve one purpose: the search for the truth. When a prosecutor fabricates evidence from whole cloth, it makes the system into a mockery; worse, it makes the system irrelevant. It’s one step closer to the dystopia that cynics say we’re already living in: the fix is in, the truth doesn’t matter, the law doesn’t matter.
It feels like that, sometimes, but the worst thing about Love and his ilk is that they bring that dystopia closer to reality. Between prosecutorial discretion and prosecutorial immunity, the power of these public servants is close to absolute. It corrupted Jonathan Love close to absolutely. And after all this, the biggest outrage is Love’ punishment: 30 days in jail and the loss of his law license, which he can reapply for in 10 years. Because by 2026, we can trust that Love will have learned his lesson.