Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Voices That Speak To Prosecutors
Excessive influence over a prosecution can be exerted by victims.
Every day in our criminal courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys battle over the merits of charges, the admissibility of evidence, the proper sentences for offenses, and ultimately about the true meaning of different people’s actions. In addition to the lawyers and the judge, the parties that influence cases are law enforcement officers, victims, witnesses, and politicians.
Victims have the right to be heard as enshrined Florida’s constitution in Article 1, Section 16(b). Florida Statutes, Section 960.0021 specifies many of these rights which include the right to be heard at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings and to consult with the state attorney’s office.
Many times victims who have been stripped of their dignity feel empowered through participation. Similarly, victims can exert excessive influence over a prosecution. When they do the symptoms can be the filing of questionable charges and requests for excessive sanctions.
Defense attorneys strive to provide alternative views of the case. In doing so they challenge the voices that normally garner a prosecutor’s attention. Sometimes these challenges are perceived as hostile by victims who are already raw from the process. This can make for intense dialogue during negotiation and sentencing. Sometimes prosecutors decide not to handle the responsibility of a key decision in a case and they defer to the judge to do the "heavy lifting."
The Supreme Court stated in Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 431 (1975) that "we recognize that the duties of the prosecutor in his role as advocate for the State involve actions preliminary to the initiation of a prosecution and actions apart from the courtroom. A prosecuting attorney is required constantly, in the course of his duty as such, to make decisions on a wide variety of sensitive issues. These include questions of whether to present a case to a grand jury, whether to file an information, whether and when to prosecute, whether to dismiss an indictment against particular defendants, which witnesses to call, and what other evidence to present. Preparation, both for the initiation of the criminal process and for a trial, may require the obtaining, reviewing, and evaluating of evidence. At some point, and with respect to some decisions, the prosecutor no doubt functions as an administrator rather than as an officer of the court. Drawing a proper line between these functions may present difficult questions . . ."
No doubt prosecutors face many difficult questions. This brief article does not even address a whole host of other critical issues prosecutors face like how to deal with exculpatory evidence, making proper closing arguments, the burden of proof, and presenting satisfactory statistics for politicians with budget money, among others.
Ultimately, the purpose of this rambling vignette is to acknowledge the difficult job of prosecutors. They have many voices clamoring for their attention.