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What is the Role of Prosecutor in the Criminal Case?
If you ever wondered what a prosecutor does, watch any movie with a courtroom drama.
Although dramatic, movies often get the job of prosecutors right. They are in court to prosecute people they think have committed a crime.
They are lawyers who investigate, charge, and prosecute! The other party is the defense attorney to defend their client.
The Prosecutor’s Job
Although a prosecutor's job is to prosecute, they may have to do many different things.
A prosecutor does many different things, from investigating and charging crimes to handling trials, writs, and other legal duties.
Therefore, you would usually find a team of prosecutors who would work on a case, where each one may undertake specific duties.
They will deal with different people, including victims. However, their primary obligation is not to serve the interest of a single person but the cause of justice.
The prosecutor's sole job is to represent the justice itself!
The person who institutes and carries on a criminal suit against another in the name of the government.
However, a prosecutor and lawyer are not precisely the same!
Although prosecutors are lawyers, they have a different modus operandi.
A lawyer is qualified and authorized to practice law, conduct a lawsuit, give legal advice, or represent clients in court; however, a prosecutor is strictly a prosecuting attorney who institutes prosecution in a criminal proceeding.
Duties of a Prosecutor
As previously mentioned, a prosecutor will carry out many different works from the beginning until the end of the case.
Their job will start with deciding which crimes to prosecute.
Moreover, they should consider a range of factors, such as the public interest, when deciding whether or not to prosecute a matter.
Let us look at the different duties a prosecutor has to execute.
1. During Criminal Investigations
Prosecutors do more than represent in a trial. They often actively partake in criminal investigations.
They will participate in the investigative process of past or ongoing crimes, run investigation operations, seek search warrants from the court to obtain evidence, assist with surveillance of suspects, and other such activities.
They will also actively interview the witnesses and suspects to prepare a valid case.
2. In Charging Crimes
Before a case could see any further advancement, a suspect needs to be charged for a crime.
A prosecutor decides which crimes to charge, as they are familiar with the justice system to determine which cases are likely to be heard in the court.
However, each criminal charge must be supported by “probable cause”—the legal standard that spares a person from prosecution unless it is more likely that a crime was committed and the defendant committed it.
While charging a case, a prosecutor will build a case based upon these factors.
- The prosecutor's reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.
- The extent of the harm caused by the crime.
- The strength of the case and the charges levied upon it.
- Whether the punishment and collateral consequences are disproportionate to the harm caused by the offense
- Any improper motives of victims or complaining witnesses
- Any inappropriate conduct by law enforcement
- Whether the accused is cooperating with law enforcement towards the apprehension of others, and
- Whether another jurisdiction will step up and prosecute (federal or state systems).
They have considerable power to choose which and how many crimes to charge.
3. In Plea Bargaining
Most cases do not go to court but are settled in mediation with prosecutors and defense.
When negotiating a plea, the prosecutor has the authority to choose to accept or deny the defense’s negotiations.
Also known as a plea bargain, a prosecutor may accept a negotiation in exchange for a guilty plea (sometimes to a specific crime) and agree to drop other charges or ask for a particular sentence in the court.
In addition, completing a plea bargain also prevents the case from going to a trial which may lengthen the entire process.
4. At Sentencing
When the case goes to court, a prosecutor will do all in their right to prove the offense and severity of the crime carried out.
Although the judge decides the sentence, the charging decisions laid by the prosecutor will help determine what sentence to carry out.
When an offense carries a range of sentences, it’s up to the prosecutor to recommend a specific correction to the court.
They will also deny the defense's demand to lessen the sentence by charging ad proving the offenses.
5. Post-Conviction Role
The duties of a prosecutor do not end with the completion of the trial.
In many cases, the defendants may appeal their convictions. The prosecutor must decide whether to uphold or overturn their appeal.
The prosecutors will oversee the entire matter again if required and go to re-trial if the defense's motion to re-trial is approved.
The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School points out,
A party files a motion for a new trial, and a court may grant a retrial if there is a significant error of law.
What happens when a prosecutor is unethical?
When prosecutors step out of line and carry out immoral, unethical, and illegal activity to imprison the defendant, they can be charged for their wrongdoings.
However, they are tried in court by a different set of regulations charged upon them.
They are subject to rules of professional conduct; hence, you can refer them to a professional disciplinary body to be examined for misconduct and poor judgment.
If their wrongdoing is proven, the disciplinary body may take action ranging from small charges to suspending their license permanently.
A prosecutor's job is not a simple job to carry out but is often filled with lots of challenges and legal hardships.
Only after conducive training and tests are they certified to represent the law.
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