As long as we all understand that “A.G.” stands for Aspiring Governor.
Granted, it’s the prosecutor’s job to seek justice (one even mentioned that in her opening statement when I was watching a trial), but I’ve noticed that, for many prosecutors, the choice to file charges hinges at least as much (and often more) on how easy it would be to get a conviction, based on how well the cops collected evidence. A scoundrel will often get a plea deal if the cops butchered the job, and a one-time goof will often not get a plea deal for no other reason than the cops were thorough and methodical in collecting evidence.
I used to observe DWI cases, and I noticed that a first-time offender, who was very contrite in the video of his arrest, couldn’t even get a plea deal. It didn’t seem like justice to me, given how many plea deals I’d seen given to confrontational and brazen repeat offenders.
I’m not saying you’re off the mark, XiaoGui17, but the situation you describe isn’t always the case. Different prosecutors’ offices handle things differently. But what you describe isn’t the way it’s supposed to work.
A plea bargain is entirely up to the prosecutor’s discretion, of course, but it’s not really appropriate to reserve pleas only for cases you can’t prove. Whether you can prove it or not is what determines whether you charge it in the first place, not what sort of deal you might offer.
Back when I was a prosecutor, I routinely declined to prosecute (or later dismissed) cases when I didn’t believe I’d be able to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. Many’s the time I had to mollify an upset police officer with a version of “listen: you know he did it, and I know he did it. But I can’t prove it. If he does it again, then we’ll catch him again, and hopefully the evidence will be better next time.”
Plea bargaining doesn’t exist to salvage a victory in an unproveable case. It’s there to relieve the court’s caseload, and to give defendants credit for taking responsibility for their actions and for assisting law enforcement. (And perhaps most importantly, to give a sentence that’s more fair in a given case than the law would otherwise provide.)
It’s silly for a prosecutor to offer a plea just to make her life easier — if she’s not working on this case, there are always others to keep her occupied. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know prosecutors who hated going to trial, who’d backslide on their offers at the last minute to avoid it. Like everything else in the criminal justice system, every state is different, every courthouse is different, every judge is different, and every prosecutor is different. Your mileage may vary.
I’m not entirely clear on what’s happening in this scene. It seems like the prosecutor’s debating whether to include a witness whose testimony might be detrimental to her case, and deciding not to. Is that a correct reading? If so, I don’t understand how that might be considered an abuse of discretion.
Your reading is correct, but she’s also getting rid of the information. Later on we’ll be exploring how that can be a bad thing.
I like how you keep reminding us that these entities are actually composed of human beings, compared to the constructs of justice and “the state”. Though, I suppose there’s the whole philosophical debate about whether human constructs are truly as “human” (as in, to err is human) and pure compared to individual human beings, but I’m not going to get into that.
Aw, come on. At least at my office, this is a rare offense that would get you fired on the spot and possibly disbarred. Aside from how bad you’d feel (right?), it’s insanely stupid. If you get caught hiding evidence that could help the defense’s case, you know it will ruin your whole life. Call me selfish, but I get salary and bennies whether I get a conviction or not, and I haven’t found the case that’s worth throwing away my career and reputation. I’ve got too many loans to pay off! I know it happens/I’ve seen the news stories, but I’ve never done it…and I don’t think most of my prosecutor buddies have either.
On the contrary, judges around the country have complained of Brady violations reaching “epic proportions.” I’d written quite a bit on my blog about it before this comic. 4 years later and it’s still just as big a problem.
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