Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Role of the Prosecutor

There is an interesting debate going on in the comments section of a post I did a few days ago called "Today" between two of my polarly-opposite readers: the very pro-State, Anon C (no relation to Pimp C, that I'm aware of) and the very pro-Defense, PJ (who once informed me that the State doesn't have a right to a fair trial). I'll let you read their writings for yourself, but the topic of debate brings up what the true role of the prosecutor is in today's criminal justice system.

Yes, I know that the prosecutor's job is to see that justice is done. That's the standard answer, and it is true. The problem is answering the question of what that means, exactly.

In today's climate with the DA's Office taking the bashing that it has, there seems to be a call to have all ADAs effectively neutered and have them sit around and hold hands with the Defendants in the hold over cell, singing kumbuya together. Mark Bennett's blog is mocking a person who has endorsed Kelly Siegler, because he has numerous misdemeanor arrests (I thought that defense attorneys were less judgmental than that). He's also making a big deal over the fact that the ADAs were meeting at Live Sports Bar. Additionally, I had an Anonymous reader post that ADAs should only be drinking in the privacy of their own homes.

Pardon the French, but this type of wussification of the Assistant District Attorneys doesn't benefit anybody other than the Defendants.

If you want the Puritanical law man, go back and watch Marshal Will Kane in High Noon.

But just be aware that Gary Cooper died in 1961, and the world we now live in is nothing like it used to be. Will Kane didn't deal with people who sexually abused infants, or stomped their heads in with the heel of their boots. He didn't deal with kids who initiated themselves into gangs by murdering people. He didn't deal with people who find sexual gratification through killing.

My point is that if D.A.'s want to drink, smoke and cuss, more power to them. That doesn't really interfere with their jobs, and quite frankly, may be the only way that they can cope with their jobs on some days.

What I'm trying to say, is that it's very much okay for Assistant District Attorney's to be a little on the tough and gritty side. And the law-abiding citizens of Harris County deserve to have a prosecutor who is tough, strong, and good at what they do. A prosecutor shouldn't have to apologize for falling into this description.

That being said, the ADAs need to keep themselves from falling into a trap that makes them have tunnel vision while they do their jobs.

Listen to the defense attorney if he tells you that there is an issue with a case. Look for bad searches and inadmissible statements on the front side, because they are going to bite you on the ass during trial, without a doubt.

And if it's appropriate, don't be afraid to exercise a little compassion.

At the end of the day, it is up to the prosecutor to juggle so many different roles that are much more multi-faceted than what any other lawyer has to deal with in their practice. They have to do what they can for the victim (because God knows that no other attorney is going to), they have to make sure that the Defendant's rights weren't violated, and ultimately, they do have to ensure that Justice is done. And that's just to name a few.

It's a tall order.

And it's a job description that can't be dictated to them by one person. Especially if that person is a Defendant or his attorney.

I will now sit back and let everyone scream at me.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Reverend AHCL! That's the down-home truth. There are few people more worthy of respect and gratitude than the ADAs who tirelessly bust their arses daily (and for relative peanuts and very little fanfare when compared to their counter-parts) in court to protect the peace and keep us safe from those who would do us harm. Idealistic? Maybe. But damnit! What's wrong with that? People don't become ADAs if they don't believe in ideals. It doesn't get much more idealistic than the pursuit of Justice, does it?

Are ADAs perfect? No. Like in any other profession, there are no doubt a few bad apples. But I would submit that 99.9% of the time, our ADAs are truly unsung heroes who are fighting on the side of good.

To all HC ADAs reading this, thank you! Thank you! A thousand heartfelt thanks for all that you do for us!

You don’t deserve this crap that your lousy boss and the ensuing bandwagon have brought on you!

Anonymous said...

P....fication? The hell?

I think what we've had is to much dickification - afterall, most of the people in trouble or question have been male ADA's, not female.

Give me a break...

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should be the one running for the office of DA...

Murray Newman said...

Confused, what I'm saying (and I mentioned this in a comment to Leviathan in the article below) is that ADAs still have a job to do, and they've got to do some serious work to restore their credibility with the community. But that doesn't mean that they need to be walking around in shame like they were some beat-down dog.

Mark Bennett said...

AHCL for DA! That'd be a trip. "The Tough, Gritty Candidate." You'd have my vote.

You misunderstand me . . . I think lawyers should have fundraisers in bars, and I'm not mocking Kelly's supporter, but rather mocking Kelly Siegler for having the support of the convicted-drunk-driver lobby. Better twice-convicted drunk drivers than defense lawyers, I guess.

If you fancy yourself and your fellow Harris County prosecutors as tougher than Wil Kane, your understanding of High Noon is even dicier than your understanding of 1984. Light up a smoke, pour yourself a whisky, and watch the damn movie. Wil Kane was dealing with serious badasses. He wasn't putting people in jail for DWLI, DWI, shoplifting from target, or possessing a few grams of cocaine.

Your point that the prosecutor has to juggle more roles than other lawyers is very well taken. Defense lawyers can be -- must be -- singleminded in their pursuit of an individual's goals. Prosecutors can't, ethically or legally. Yet that's exactly what the general public think they want a prosecutor to be. They don't think prosecutors should ever exercise compassion toward the accused; I know that you disagree.

P.S. I heard that Ira Jones has set up shop as a private lawyer representing "victims".

Murray Newman said...

Marky Mark,
I'm not saying prosecutors are tougher than Will Kane. I'm saying that they aren't nearly as prim and proper as he was. And yes, those guys were definitely bad, but compared to folks like Rafael Resendiz-Ramirez, they were amateurs.
I'm AHCL, and he's Mark Bennett, and we'll see you . . . at the movies.

Murray Newman said...

And as an addition Mark, I think Kelly would be glad to have the support of members of the defense bar, but she's not really expecting it. Especially not with Leitner running, as well.

In fact, she already does have quite a few members of the defense bar supporting her, and I know she very much appreciates everyone's efforts.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you HCL - I just object - strongly - to the "p" word - for many reasons.

It is like the coach who tells the male players to "stop acting like a bunch of girls."

Or saying someone "hits like a girl."

It is the idea that being female is weak and less that I find very offensive.

Overall - I really like your blog.

Murray Newman said...

Fair enough Confused. However, on the flip side of that, a person who is rude, arrogant, and unkind is certainly called a "dick".

I'm glad you like the blog.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, but the terms are not equal. It is like saying that "honky" and the "n-word" are the same.

The difference is that one is insulting - the other carries the weight of eon-long oppression and discrimination.

I'm not saying you're a misogynist - just trying to point out why this is so damaging to women.

That's part of the reason, too, that people are so offended by all those e-mails. I don't know that Chuck or anyone who has or sends them would actually BE racist or sexist. Still, just that these words are used - or jokes told - they are damaging.

I believe, however, rather than just tossing out people cross the line - we should use this as a way to examine our thinking - and do better in the future.

Keep up the good work and writing.

Thanks for listening.

Murray Newman said...

Not so confused,
You sold me on your point. I have changed the word in the body of my original post. Thanks for the discussion, and I hope I didn't offend you too badly.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm not pro-defense. Just pro-justice.

In truth I think the prosecutor's role is pretty simple. It is not to comfort or represent in any way crime victims. Nor is it to protect the public. A prosecutor's role is, or should be, technical. When citizens constituted as a grand jury find probable cause to believe a person committed a crime, the prosecutor's job, as the legal representative of the State, is to (1) determine which evidence would be admissible in a court in a criminal legal proceeding; (2) determine whether the admissible evidence is legally and factually sufficient to prove the legal elements of the offense; and (3) present that evidence in a court of law to citizens constituted as a petit jury for a verdict. (I realize this is somewhat of a simplification, but it captures the essence of my point.)

The ideal prosecutor does not even have any interest in the outcome of legal proceedings, as our system places the responsibility of that decision in the citizenry itself. That does not mean that a prosecutor need be passionless, but the passion should be for the process, not how many people you personally deem evil you can get sent to the clink.

The mark of a good prosecutor is not the ability to convince a jury to do what he (or she) personally deems to be just, but the ability to prepare the citizenry as constituted in a petit jury to make the decision of what is just for themselves. That is how our system is supposed to work.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you did that - thanks.

You're alright. :-)

P.S. Now let's deal with this pantyhose policy at the DA's office...

Murray Newman said...

Formerly Confused, the Office handled the pantyhose issue a while back, much to the relief of all involved!

PJ, I just don't think your ideal of a prosecutor is manageable. You seem to be advocating that the Defense be allowed to go full throttle, but the Prosecution should just kind of "half-ass" it through trial, and not zealously advocate for the State's case. That's just not feasible. I think that the citizens of Harris County, as well as the country deserve to have good prosecutors who are trying hard to see that justice is done on violent offenders.

Anonymous said...

AHCL - please do not change or curtail YOUR blog to a format that is copasetic for one or a handful of posters. It is your blog, your thoughts, your lingo. I do not find what you wrote or how you wrote it damaging to womenkind or offensive. I do not find what you wrote to be damaging and pushing women a step back in victory over sufferage. It is an expression and for those that have to focus on and disect and insert meaning into it that is simply not there, are only doing so as a means to divert attention from the matter at hand. They obvisouly have personal self issues that do not releate to the topic at hand in this blog. It is THEIR problem not yours. You are not here to win a popularity contest or get a charm school certificate. I would rather see you stand your ground on such an issue and not cave in when the "I've been offended" card is tossed at you. If that is the case, then you will be backtracking all over the place and not be able to stay focused on the intent of your blog
topic. It is your blog.If an occasional reader doesn't like your lingo or verbiage, so what! Sometimes being " P.C." is not being "P.C". Of course, with all that said, this is after all... just my opinion. :-) Today could be the start of an interesting week unfolding... Hope you have a good one.

Anonymous said...


This is the "issue at hand" is it not? Isn't this what started it all?

How damaging / offensive are these names, jokes and e-mails?

It is that arrogant, dismissive attitude of "just get over it, don't cry like a girl, toughen up, get thicker skin, it was just a joke, develop a sense of humor" that ignores the implications of how damaging these things really are.

HCL - you obviously GET it. And - I thank / admire you for that.

Ron in Houston said...

The problem I see is that the "tough, gritty" persona seems to lead down the path of tunnel vision.

The other problem is the "us" versus "them" mentality. There is no collective "us" that is a Harris County ADA. We're all citizens and we share many of the same goals.

In many ways you guys over at the criminal justice center are a pretty incestuous lot. I often laugh at the irony of the "tough, gritty" ADA who is now one of those "soft, criminal loving" defense lawyers.

Remember we all put our pants on one leg at a time.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of repeating myself, no wait... I WILL be repeating myself. I am not an ADA. Hence, that I am writing during what is perceived by the public as not just the normal hours of operation for HCDAO but the only hours that ADA's work. Not true as many are there in the wee hours of the morning while most are still slumbering and remain there until well past what most would consider to be the dinner hour and for some, the retiring hour.

Crying foul over the use of the word (pussification) by the owner of the blog giving her/his personal opinion and then retorting with the word " dickification" (see insert marked 1 below) is the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps some of the male persuasion would find that as equally offensive. Perhaps some of the male ADA's that are being lumped into that category and who's only downfall is mere association via employment. And in essence " Confused", THAT is stereotyping and labeling. The same charge that you are saying should be addressed and stamped out of the HCDAO. However, you used a "phrase" to make your point and while it is not P.C. AT ALL, I understood what you were trying to say. Just as I understood what AHCL was trying to say in her/his post. A key point I would like to make is that this is NOT an official HCDAO Govt'. blog and therefore these posts are not being made using government computers by government employees, performing legal/prosecutorial work. IS there difference? YES, there is. Therefore, when you want to control how someone expresses themselves on their own time, in their own blog on a purely personal level, then that is trying to take away a certain civil liberty called the freedom of speech and I am sure that freedom of assembly can be applied also.

And if there is anyone out there that wants to write and say that pots and kettles being called black is a racist remark, they need to lay off the little jagged edge pill.( music analogy, see who can figure that one out)

Also, calling one point of view 'narrow minded' is in essence also being narrow minded, is it not? For anyone to think that their view is the right view or the only view and all others are narrow minded is tunnel vision. I personally prefer more and differing opinions than just my own. It is through that logic that one can learn and quite frankly, if the world was just one big spinning sphere of agreement, it would be so boring and about as appetizing as a glass warm spoiled milk on a hot summer day.

Lastly, I would be more inclined to substantiate your post with a level of credibility and respect but when you are crying foul over the use of a word on a private blog and then yourself, use the same word with male gender bias AND then went on to conclude in another post " Now let's deal with this pantyhose issue at the DA's office". ( see insert marked 2 below) I'm sorry, I just can not entertain the idea that you are here to discuss anything with validity. As AHCL replied to your pantyhose comment, that issue (or revision of female dress code policy) was resolved last year (lol ) and if that is what you deem to be in need of discussion in this forum, well........ There is no indication that you were saying it in jest.

(1) Confused said... P....fication? The hell?

I think what we've had is to much dickification - afterall, most of the people in trouble or question have been male ADA's, not female.

Give me a break... February 3, 2008 2:58 PM
(2) Formerly Confused HCL Fan said... I'm glad you did that - thanks.
You're alright. :-)

P.S. Now let's deal with this pantyhose policy at the DA's office... February 3, 2008 11:33 PM

As with all my posts, I will conclude this is my personal opinion. It is not being stated to change or threaten or offend. It is merely my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Murray Newman said...

Mr. Bernstein,
Thank you for your post, and thank you for the article. I will be writing about that more in a minute.

Murray Newman said...

JAGJO and Confused,
I think we are arguing about a really minor point here. To be quite honest, I hesitated for a moment before using the term "pussification" in the first place. I don't want the verbage I use distracting from the overall point that I've been trying to share with the readers. You guys are both great posters, and I'd like to see you both commenting on the bigger picture rather than my poor choice of words.
Don't worry, JAGJO, I won't become to big of a wuss.

Anonymous said...

Members of what you call the anti-D.A.'s Office Trinity are always willing to help.

Murray Newman said...

I gotta admit that I love a journalist with a sense of humor!