GREENSBORO, N.C. -- John Edwards might be the one with the most to win or lose with the jury deliberating his fate, but the U.S. Department of Justice has a lot riding on his case, too.
When the eight men and four women return to the federal courthouse in downtown Greensboro Tuesday morning, they will begin their third day of deliberations in a case that also has put the Justice Departments small public-integrity section under scrutiny.
Edwards trial came almost four years after the units federal prosecutors bungled a 2008 corruption case against Ted Stevens, then a U.S. senator from Alaska accused of failing to properly report more than $250,000 in gifts.
Stevens, who died in a 2010 plane crash, was convicted, but the verdict was appealed and later vacated after it was revealed prosecutors and FBI agents had conspired to conceal and withhold evidence from the defense.
An investigation was launched into the integrity and professional practices of prosecutors in the public-integrity division. A scathing report from that investigation was released earlier this year, showing that prosecutors had repeatedly ignored the law and the ethical standards of their profession.
The public integrity section was set up to root out corruption through the prosecution of elected and appointed public officials at all levels of government.
The section has exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of federal judges and also supervises the nationwide investigation and prosecution of election crimes.
New chief for prosecutors unit
Since the Stevens case, the unit has a new chief, former New York-based federal prosecutor Jack Smith. The Justice Department also has ordered training to make sure prosecutors disclose key evidence to defense attorneys.
Attorneys who have attended Edwards trial have commented throughout that the prosecution as well as the defense has a lot at stake in the case.
Edwards, a former two-time Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. senator who branched into politics after achieving success as a trial lawyer, was indicted last June on six counts related to violations of campaign-finance laws.
The violations allegedly occurred during Edwards campaign for the 2008 nomination, when two wealthy Edwards supporters gave more than $900,000 used to help hide Edwards extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy.
Each of the six counts Edwards faces carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
However, Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor from Raleigh who sat through the trial, said Edwards if convicted and unable to successfully appeal would likely receive a concurrent sentence and serve no more than five years.
Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and co-author of The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption, said Monday that a not-guilty verdict would be a black eye for the justice department.
It would call into question their decision even to pursue the case, Henning added.
But he added that he had seen no surprises from the prosecution, and that ultimately the questions that arise from the trial might be those raised by rulings made outside the jurys presence by Judge Catherine Eagles, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2010 by President Barack Obama.