The Corporate Law Group

The Prosecutor’s Client

All lawyers have clients.  Clients whom they are supposed to zealously represent.  For prosecutors, that client is, “The People.”  As I’m sure you know, criminal cases are captioned as “The People v. John Smith”.  (Apologies to anyone named John Smith).

That representation of The People has typically been interpreted as requiring (wrongly we argue) aggressively trying to obtain a conviction.  Yes, prosecutors make choices about whom to charge.  But once they charge, they seek to win. 

We argue that is illegitimate.  Prosecutors should seek the truth, not seek to win.  We even argue that The People don’t have any interest in prosecutors winning every case.  We believe that they would much prefer prosecutors seeking truth.  After all, if you are one of The People, they might look at you one day.  Why push for convictions of innocent people when you might one day be one of those innocent people?

But criminals might go free?  First, how?  We’re not saying don’t prosecute people when you are totally confident you have the truth.  That might be a discussion worth having another day.  Second, don’t we seek to let 10 guilty people go free, rather than convict one innocent person?  Is that old saw outdated?  Well, we still believe it.  There are much worse things than a guilty person not going to jail.  Maybe that experience will scare them straight.

So the next time a prosecutor running for political office touts their 98% conviction rate, ask them how many innocent people they’ve put in jail.  Law enforcement is conducted by humans and humans are fallible.  They do a really tough job.  But those who do it best try really hard to put aside their natural biases, judgments, and predilections.  They question themselves as well as everyone else.  And they are not afraid to conclude that a person is innocent and let them go.  Their job is not to convict, it is to find the truth. 

And, if we need to, we can always change the dynamic so that all prosecutors’ clients are The Truth, not The People.