(TFC) – Prosecutors have a special duty to justice. They’re not supposed to make decisions based on a personal grudge or politics. They’re also not supposed to charge cases when there’s not enough evidence to believe that a crime occurred. Prosecutors are supposed to pursue the interests of justice and fairness as they go about their work. Unfortunately, we’ve built a justice system that incentivizes convictions – at any cost. Some prosecutors exercise discretion and pursue fair verdicts. Others let ambition corrupt their practices. Prosecutorial overreach is more common than you think.
What is prosecutorial overreach?
When a prosecutor acts on improper motivation for bringing a criminal charge, it’s prosecutorial overreach. Legal ethics rules allow prosecutors to bring a criminal charge only when there’s probable cause to believe that wrongdoing has occurred, and a burden of evidence that supports the case. Prosecutors are elected, and that means some of them have trouble remembering that they shouldn’t file charges just because they think it will make them look good in the eyes of the public. In addition, they shouldn’t bring charges against political opponents in order to help their own career. They shouldn’t bring charges to hide police misconduct.
The effect of not guilty verdict
According to Randolph Rice, of all criminal cases filed in Maryland, there were roughly three times as many guilty or probation-before-judgment (plea deals) as not guilty verdicts. A cursory evaluation of other precincts suggests this trend is similar nationwide.
If a judge throws out a case or if the jury finds the defendant not guilty, no conviction appears on the person’s record. However, just getting charged with a crime can have a devastating impact on someone’s life. When you’re charged with a crime, you’re usually arrested. If you can’t post bail or if the court denies bail, you wait in jail until your court date arrives. This can take weeks or months. Even if you’re granted bail, you might have strict alcohol tests to comply with at your own expense.
Just the stigma of the arrest alone can cause you to lose your job or a professional license. If you’re case is publicized, you’re on the news. You can lose friends. In some cases, the arrest alone can cause you to lose custody or parenting time with your children. Even if you’re found not guilty, a prosecutor’s overreach can change your life forever.
Why don’t we talk about prosecutorial overreach?
Prosecutorial overreach is a problem in American society. Prosecutors are part of law enforcement. When the public doesn’t trust law enforcement, the fabric of society begins to fall apart.
So why don’t we talk more about prosecutorial overreach? Are we afraid of retaliation from law enforcement? Are we unaware of the issue until it happens to us or to a loved one? Are we lacking for solutions to the problem? All of the these are possible reasons that this serious issue doesn’t get enough attention.
Fighting back against prosecutorial overreach
Criminal defense attorneys perform a critical public service. They hold prosecutors accountable. They may help their client bring a petition for habeas corpus if they’re unlawfully detained. Through their work, criminal defense lawyers bring public attention to the issue of prosecutorial overreach. Their diligent work fights back against the problem of overreach and helps make the justice system fairer.