Did you know that it is often a prosecutor that convicts a person of a crime? Not a judge. Not a jury. One single government employee. The power that prosecutors hold has been highly publicized in the media surrounding the uproars that have occurred when prosecutors have failed to bring charges to officers who have shot and killed unarmed black men in alarming frequency. But the amount of power that prosecutors hold in everyday cases, that are not publicized by the media, is often not a widely known fact. Prosecutors have a surprising amount of influence in your case at every stage including whether you are charged with a crime or not and what you are charged with.
However, this power is often misused. In a video from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, this topic is heavily discussed as prosecutors are the ones that handle all of the evidence. They must bring about the charges and support and prove this claim beyond a reasonable doubt. However, they get to decide whether something is relevant to the defense or if it doesn't need to be shared. Because of this, prosecutorial misconduct often happens when evidence is concealed but few prosecutors are punished for their actions. There has only been one prosecutor, Ken Anderson, who has ever served time for misconduct that resulted in a wrongful conviction. Further examples of misconduct include purposeful exclusion of certain races from juries or withholding and overlooking evidence that could clear a person of a crime.
In addition to misconduct, prosecutors also misuse their power by concealing exculpatory evidence until the last moment before trial in which a defense attorney is ambushed by more evidence than they have previously seen in the discovery stages of the case. This leaves the defense with simply a lack of time to prepare and analyze all of the evidence in the case as the trial is about to begin. If this evidence had not been concealed, many people would be proven innocent. Another power technique prosecutors use is threatening the defendant that if they don't accept a plea bargain they most likely will face harsher penalties if the case goes to trial. This both threatens and scares the defendant, so that they often have to weigh the pros and cons to the offer they have been presented with even if it means pleading guilty to a crime they didn't commit.
Prosecutors attempt to ease the system by preventing many cases from involving a full jury trial and often strive to settle cases in negotiations before a formal trial resulting in a plea bargain. In 95% of cases that prosecutors choose to bring charges in end with the defendant pleading guilty without a trial. The video explains how the judicial system would collapse if every case went to trial as it is not equipped to give everyone their right to a fair and speedy trial. Because of this, many people simply must give up their maintenance of innocence and accept a guilty plea.
There are over 2500 district attorney offices nationwide but you can have a say in who becomes your DA. These attorneys are elected officials and often run unopposed for multiple terms. However, you have the ability to vote and change the outcome of who is in charge of prosecuting people and charging them with crimes. Although the power and discretion that is present in a prosecutorial position will remain, you have the ability to not reelect someone who has shown abuse of their power.
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