February 28, 2008 3:30PM

Don’t Make a Federal Case Out of It

Federal agents investigate, arrest, and prosecute local law enforcement agents on a fairly regular basis. Unfortunately, state and local police rarely investigate, arrest, and prosecute federal agents. I suspect the locals are just intimidated by the FBI, Secret Service, IRS, etc. When something suspicious or questionable happens, the feds tell the locals something to the effect of “Back off. We’ll handle this ourselves‐​internally.” 

So Arizona officials deserve some credit for pressing ahead and treating Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett like any other suspect. According to the local prosecutor, Corbett’s story does not hold up and sufficient evidence points toward his guilt. If that is indeed the situation, this case should be simple: Prosecute. The fact that the victim didn’t have a visa in his pocket does not matter. It also does not matter that Corbett had a federal badge in his wallet.

The Arizona officials did mess up one important aspect of this caseWhy is this matter in federal court? Well, I already know why because this typically happens in these rare circumstances when a federal agent is prosecuted. The more precise question is: Why didn’t the Arizona officials object to the transfer to federal court? One news story alludes to juror bias, but that does not hold up. Where are the jurors in federal court coming from? Rhode Island? The issue isn’t really rural vs. big city either because, again, if you name any big city in Arizona, there are going to be Arizona courts there! 

The thinly veiled reason for the removal procedure is that the state process is supposedly rigged/​biased against the federal agent. Arizona officials should have recognized this and defended their justice system instead of just rolling over. 

Agent Corbett has a right to a trial — like any other person accused of a crime. The point here is that he would have had the opportunity to argue self‐​defense in the Arizona state courts. And if he is convicted but thinks his trial was unfair, he can appeal and try to persuade a higher court with specifics. This case belongs in state court, not federal court.