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special prosecutor NOUN

(in the US) a special official who can be appointed by the US Attorney General to investigate illegal activities by politicians and government officials. In 1973, Congress began to consider the impeachment of President Nixon after he ordered the Attorney General to dismiss the special prosecutor for Watergate. In 1998 the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr published the results of his investigation into the relationship between President Clinton and the junior member of the White House staff, Monica Lewinsky, which led to the Presidentís impeachment.

SPECIAL PROSECUTORS, also known as independent counsels, are typically appointed to investigate and prosecute high-profile cases where the ordinary criminal justice machinery cannot be trusted to produce fair results. State and local governments occasionally use special prosecutors. However, throughout American history the most noteworthy special prosecutors have been those appointed to stand in the shoes of the U.S. attorney general, investigating the president or some other high-level executive branch official. In most cases, such an appointment is triggered by a perceived conflict of interest within the Justice Department.

A special prosecutor generally is a lawyer from outside the government appointed by an attorney general or, in the United States, by Congress to investigate a government official for misconduct while in office. A reasoning for such an appointment is that the governmental branch or agency may have political connections to those it might be asked to investigate. Inherently, this creates a conflict of interest and a solution is to have someone from outside the department lead the investigation. The term "special prosecutor" may have a variety of meanings from one country to the next, from one government branch to the next within the same country, and within different agencies within each government branch. Critics of the use of special prosecutors argue that these investigators act as a "4th branch" to the government because they are not subject to limitations in spending or have deadlines to meet.

Federal government
Attorneys in the United States may be appointed/hired particularly or employed generally by different branches of the government to investigate. When appointed/hired particularly by the Judicial Branch to investigate and, if justified, seek indictments in a particular judicial branch case, the attorney is called special prosecutor.[1] When appointed/hired particularly by a governmental branch or agency to investigate alleged misconduct within that branch or agency, the attorney is called independent counsel. [2] When employed by the state or political subdivision to assist in a particular Judicial Branch case when the public interest so requires, the attorney is called special counsel.[2]
On January 3, 1983, the United States federal government substituted the term independent counsel for special prosecutor.[3] Archibald Cox was one of the most notable special prosecutors. However, special prosecutor Archibald Cox today would be called independent counsel Archibald Cox in the United States.
The term is sometimes used as a synonym for Independent Counsel, but under the former law authorizing the Independent Counsel, the appointment was made by a special panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Independent Counsels law expired in 1999, and was effectively replaced by Department of Justice regulation 28 CFR Part 600, under which Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to look into the Plame affair.

State government
Special prosecutors may also be used in a state prosecution case when the prosecutor for the local jurisdiction has a conflict of interest in a case or otherwise may desire another attorney handle a case.
Edited by johnwalterseip, Feb 16 2013, 01:29 AM.
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