All serious criminal cases require the participation of three individuals: the judge, counsel for the prosecution, and counsel for the accused. If any one of these are absent from the procedure, the criminal justice system is incomplete (Congress). The prosecutor stands at a critical stage in the criminal justice system as well as playing a critical role before, during and after the trial. They serve many functions throughout the criminal process. Some of which are investigating, plea bargains, questioning both jurors and witnesses, and being involved through the sentencing as well.
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The first thing that must be understood is that the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict. It is crucial that his obligation is to protect the innocent as well as to convict the guilty, to guard the rights of the accused as well as to enforce the rights of the public. The prosecutor should have the most knowledge of the work of the police in the investigation of crimes and in the enforcement of law. The prosecutor has tremendous amount of desecration as to what charges will be brought against an accused person or whether to even dismiss charges based on lack of evidence. Since his decisions account for a large share of cases that are taken into the courts, the character, quality and efficiency of the whole system is shaped in great measure by the manner in which he exercises his broad discretionary powers (Britannica).
Like other lawyers, the prosecutor is subject to disciplinary actions for conduct that is prohibited by codes and cannons (Matrix). These codes and cannons are intended to assist and advise the prosecutor.
The majority of the prosecutor’s work load consists of cases which a complaint was either files by a citizen or by following an arrest made by the police. But there are instances where a citizen is unwilling to prosecute. It is important that, under these circumstances, the prosecutor investigate criminal acts on his own initiative and independent of citizen complaints or police activity (Congress). Most prosecutors express willingness to accept this responsibility, provided they have adequate investigative resources (Congress).
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It is essential that a guilty plea is entered not only voluntarily, but understandingly as well. A plea entered as a result of a prosecutor’s promising concessions beyond his power to fulfill. (Matrix) is involuntary and the defendant is entitled to withdrawal it.(Matrix). It is therefore important that the prosecutor make it clear to the accused that he is not able to assure the judicial consequence (Matrix) of a guilty plea. When some but not all charges against a defendant are dropped due to the plea of guilty to one or more other charges, the prosecutor should note that this is the basis of the guilty plea. The prosecutor should also note the participation and approval of both the defendant and his counsel.
The process of examining prospective jurors (voir dire) is designed to give the counsel an opportunity to determine if each juror is able to make a decision on the case fairly and without bias. Regrettably, voir dire is often abused by lawyers. Recognizing the existence of these abuses, it has been recommended that the questioning of jurors should Abe done by the judge allowing counsel to make reasonable inquiry subject to the control of the court (Britannica).
Another important function of the prosecutor is his responsibility to present evidence in court. It is unethical behavior for a prosecutor to knowingly offer false evidence, whether by documents, tangible evidence, or the testimony of witnesses (Matrix). It is also unprofessional for a prosecutor to present evidence which is known to be tainted for mere sake of presenting it in plain view of the judge or jury which would tend to prejudice fair consideration by the judge or jury (Matrix).
Another important part of the prosecutors function is the questioning of witnesses. The prosecutor should avoid discrediting or undermining a witness if he knows the witness is testifying truthfully (Congress). Also, when a witness has claimed the Fifth Amendment (self incrimination), courts inform jurors from drawing evidentiary inferences from the fact that a witness has claimed a privilege (Congress). Most courts condemn questions which attempt to give impressions which are negative when the questioner has no evidence to support the innuendo (Matrix). For example, have you ever been convicted of the crime of robber?
Lastly, the prosecutor will at times need to urge the courts to take a stronger stand in sentencing (Congress). But it is important to realize that the prosecutor is there to see that justice is fairly served and not to measure his effectiveness by the severity of the sentences impose in the cases he prosecutes (Congress). This can be achieved if the prosecutor will not imply to the public that his success should be measured by this severity of sentencing.
The prosecutor should remember that throughout all things, justice should be served. Even though they serve various functions through the course of the criminal process, such as investigating criminal acts, plea bargaining, questioning jurors (voir dire), questioning witnesses, and participation in the sentencing phase, they should realize that a person’s life and reputation are stake. Even more importantly, the innocent is convicted; the guilty is also set free.
- Library of Congress. gopher://marvel.loc.gov
- Matrix of Birmingham. telnet://220.127.116.11
- Britannica Online. http://www.eb.com:180/