Sunday, March 11, 2007
“A potential case comes to you. You’re not sure whether the alleged perpetrator is guilty or not. What do you do? Do you bring the case to trial?”
I had spent the previous six months working for the Massachusetts Attorney General as a 3:03 attorney, which meant that even though I was in law school I functioned pretty much as a full-grown Assistant Attorney General. I had appeared before numerous courts throughout the Commonwealth and shared office space with some of the state’s most stone-cold prosecutors. I easily fielded the hypo.
“It’s a prosecutor’s job to do justice,” I told my interviewer. “Since the prosecutor in this instance doesn’t think the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he would be doing something that he knew was an injustice if he got the accused convicted. He shouldn’t bring the case.”
As Homer Simpson would say, “Swish!” The interviewer, a gentle man who clearly believed what he was saying, told me I was the first person all day to handle the hypo so well.He couldn’t believe that the next generation of law school grads was so out of touch with basic prosecutorial ethics.
....I walked out of the interview room beaming. But the grin was smug. The only reason I was able to so effortlessly handle the hypothetical was because I had become so thoroughly schooled in the typical prosecutor’s platitudes by walking amongst them for the past six months. What I had told my interviewer was a total crock, and certainly not indicative of the way things worked in the real world.
...The prosecutors that I worked with at the Attorney General’s office were great fun. They were gunslingers. They worked hard and played hard. But, in spite of my fondness for these people, I have to admit that navel-gazing sessions on the meanings of justice weren’t in their repertoire. They sought convictions. Convicting famous people was better than convicting anonymous foes. Headlines were better than anonymity. In short, justice was a game.
I don’t mean this to sound as harsh as I know it’s coming out. But it’s the truth, and most people who have dealt with prosecutors will say the same thing. Prosecutors will tell you that we have an adversarial system that rests on the principle that if both sides play to win, justice will be done. This is true enough, and the system gets a lot more right than it does wrong. But it’s also true, and undeniable, that the good guys don’t always win.
Isn't it about time they re-introduce ethics into law school curricula? These guys have the power to ruin lives, and not just for politicians.
posted by Sydney on 3/11/2007 07:42:00 PM 2 comments
Regarding ethics in law school -- most law schools require some form of ethics class. And once licensed, most states require a certain number of ethics in continuing education.
By 3:28 PM, at
The hi-jinks going on in Durham also demonstrate that prosecutorial abuse can and does occur. The shame is that there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cases that never see the light of day. This post only confirms to me what I've been (up until recently) unwilling to believe about our courts.
By 4:55 PM, at