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Author Topic: The Duties of the Judicial System. (What a prosecutor can and cannot do)  (Read 2313 times)

chumlee

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I have become a big fan of the new TV series Raising the Bar.  It seems that the prosecutors in that show don’t really care if the people they are trying to convict are innocent or not.  It seems as though the defending attorney goes more out of their way to seek justice than the prosecutors.  I can understand the defending attorney’s reason for looking into the cases of the people they represent, but the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.  Also the duty of a defending attorney is to seek justice for their client, not to help their client get away with breaking the law.  How accurate is this show that shows both the lives of defenders and prosecutors?

I believe that there are defendants that are innocent or not guilty of some things but not others.  How far is a prosecutor allowed to go in order to seek justice?  Are prosecutors allowed to research the people they prosecute?  Are they only allowed to go by what the detectives tell them and what is placed in a file of the defendant or are they allowed to get involved to seek the truth themselves?  How far can a defending attorney go to prove the innocence of their client, and how far can a prosecutor if they are allowed to investigate?
I understand that most prosecutors wouldn’t investigate all charges of the people they prosecute because of their heavy work load and due to the fact that the defendant has the right to a speedy trial and investigating all cases would make that right difficult. 

What happens if a prosecutor discovers that a defendant is innocent, one would think that the prosecutor is required by law and a code of ethics to disclose the information to the defending attorney and prepare for the case to be dismissed and the defendants acquitted of all charges even though the prosecutor will lose his case.  In the show Raising the Bar you find prosecutors ignoring evidence and even going as far as to hide evidence, even cause witnesses unable to show (a witness was deported) in order to win a case regardless of the defendants innocence.  It seems that all a prosecutor wants to do is win as many cases as possible regardless of the true guilt or innocence of the defendant. 

If a prosecutors job is to seek justice how is he doing that if he goes by the words in a file.  How can he know the truth about someone he is prosecuting?  How can the prosecutor know if the investigators lied or tampered with evidence?  If a prosecutor learns that he or she aided in the conviction of an innocent person, how can they ever live with themselves especially if the person served time or was put to death?

What if a defending attorney finds that his client is guilty of what they were charged?  What if the defending attorney learns that his client lied to him, what is he required them?  Are they to turn the guilty defendant over to the courts and disclose what they learned or are they required to practice confidentiality?

I know that the judicial system is set up the way it is to be fair and impartial, and that it’s not a perfect system even though it works in most cases.  How about when the system fails because of manipulation or a mistake?  How can justice be served by all people if the rich can hire expensive attorneys and the common person only gets a public defender that may or may not care about him?

vap

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Re: The Duties of the Judicial System. (What a prosecutor can and cannot do)
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2009, 11:21:11 AM »
I have become a big fan of the new TV series Raising the Bar.  It seems that the prosecutors in that show don’t really care if the people they are trying to convict are innocent or not.  It seems as though the defending attorney goes more out of their way to seek justice than the prosecutors.  I can understand the defending attorney’s reason for looking into the cases of the people they represent, but the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.  Also the duty of a defending attorney is to seek justice for their client, not to help their client get away with breaking the law.  How accurate is this show that shows both the lives of defenders and prosecutors?

I have never seen the show, but based on your description, I suspect it is not very accurate.


How far is a prosecutor allowed to go in order to seek justice?  Are prosecutors allowed to research the people they prosecute?  Are they only allowed to go by what the detectives tell them and what is placed in a file of the defendant or are they allowed to get involved to seek the truth themselves?

They can seek additional facts and investigate further.  Many DA offices will probably have in-house investigators (often ex-police).


How far can a defending attorney go to prove the innocence of their client, and how far can a prosecutor if they are allowed to investigate?

They can each go up to "the line," whatever that is in any given situation.  Defense attorneys are more expected to push the line.  Prosecutors should not.


I understand that most prosecutors wouldn’t investigate all charges of the people they prosecute because of their heavy work load and due to the fact that the defendant has the right to a speedy trial and investigating all cases would make that right difficult.

You're right that prosecutors probably don't personally investigate all cases, but that's because most of them plea out before going to trial.  "Speedy" is not that speedy, though, so prosecutors can usually do additional investigation without hindering the right.


What happens if a prosecutor discovers that a defendant is innocent, one would think that the prosecutor is required by law and a code of ethics to disclose the information to the defending attorney and prepare for the case to be dismissed and the defendants acquitted of all charges even though the prosecutor will lose his case.  In the show Raising the Bar you find prosecutors ignoring evidence and even going as far as to hide evidence, even cause witnesses unable to show (a witness was deported) in order to win a case regardless of the defendants innocence.  It seems that all a prosecutor wants to do is win as many cases as possible regardless of the true guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Yep, the show is BS.  Prosecutors can't do what you've described.  Most are not zealous psychos.  They want to do the right thing (i.e., find the right criminal).  They are also required to turn over exculpatory evidence.


If a prosecutors job is to seek justice how is he doing that if he goes by the words in a file.  How can he know the truth about someone he is prosecuting?  How can the prosecutor know if the investigators lied or tampered with evidence?

Prosecutors need to be able to trust the police and investigators.  Prosecutors do the best they can with the evidence they have.  Witnesses on both sides will lie.  Lawyers on both sides can't knowingly present false evidence.  But sometimes the line between knowing and suspecting can be blurry.  So, too, can the line between suspecting and having a gut feeling.


If a prosecutor learns that he or she aided in the conviction of an innocent person, how can they ever live with themselves especially if the person served time or was put to death?

Good question, but it undoubtedly happens.  People aren't omniscient.  They do the best they can with the information available.  We trust juries to find the truth beyond a reasonable doubt.


What if a defending attorney finds that his client is guilty of what they were charged?  What if the defending attorney learns that his client lied to him, what is he required them?  Are they to turn the guilty defendant over to the courts and disclose what they learned or are they required to practice confidentiality?

It depends on the situation, but usually confidentiality is required.  This is why I said earlier that prosecutors and defense attorneys have different lines; they have different roles.  Defense attorneys are required to zealously defend their clients.  Prosecutors are not required to be zealous, and I would argue they should never be zealous; simply seek the best or most just result.


I know that the judicial system is set up the way it is to be fair and impartial, and that it’s not a perfect system even though it works in most cases.  How about when the system fails because of manipulation or a mistake?  How can justice be served by all people if the rich can hire expensive attorneys and the common person only gets a public defender that may or may not care about him?

There are some safeguards against mistake or manipulation.  For example, an attorney who presents evidence (such as a witness's testimony) and then leans that the evidence was false has a duty to inform the court.

Public defenders typically care a lot.  It takes a special person to be able to work a job defending people who almost always hate your guts (and are usually guilty anyway).  Public defenders do the best they can with the resources available.  But public defenders are usually very capable lawyers.  I have seen many public defenders in action, and they are often better than retained counsel (private lawyers).  Think of public defenders simply as prosecutors on the other side.  They get paid about the same, and they do similar work.  Both jobs are desired.  Often DA jobs are more desirous, though, because you (1) don't necessarily have a "client" (although you have victims), and (2) have more opportunity to "do good" (because prosecutors have wide discretion about whether to prosecute and what plea deal to make).  But you will find great attorneys on both sides.

Julie Fern

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Re: The Duties of the Judicial System. (What a prosecutor can and cannot do)
« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2009, 07:41:48 AM »
prosecutors constitutionally bound disclose exculpatory evidence.  defense counsel has duty present case ion best light for client, even if know be guilty;  however, can't knowingly present false testimony.