Prosecutors and Bullies

For a few days now, I've been waiting to respond to ambimb's post which asks, "Do all defense attorneys think all prosecutors are evil? And if so, why?"

First, I don't think all prosecutors are evil. There are some good and some bad. Just like I think there are some police officers who truly went into their career to help people, to clean up the streets or whatnot, and I know that there are others who did it for the opportunity to have handcuffs and a gun and some power they couldn't find elsewhere in their life. (Want a good example? Did you read E. Spat's story about her divorce?).

I think there are some people who go to medical school because they want to help people, there are others who do it to make as much money as possible, and these are the cosmetic surgeons who just keep giving Michael Jackson more and more nosejobs.

There are some very respectable prosecutors who are in it for the right reasons. There are some who really want to be a fair and reasonable voice for the victims and for the people of their state. There are plenty of good prosecutors who I would be happy sit down with and have a beer (under the condition that we wouldn't discuss work, of course.)

But, there are others who were, and this is just my theory, probably bullied their whole lives. And they see their job as an opportunity to be the bullies. There are prosecutors who take every case personally, as if they have a vendetta, before they even know the facts. Without even caring what the facts are. And I think they're assholes. It's impossible to work with them, and they're not doing anybody any good.

So, there's my theory: Prosecutors were the kids who were bullied in school. You can tell it just by looking at some of them. They're practically ready to cry if you mention the words "lunch money." And who were the public defenders? Why, we were the cool kids, of course. You know, we sat in the back of the class, were too smart for our own good, but knew how to schmooze the teachers to get our way, we didn't bully anyone, and we'd stand up for the bullied. After all, that's what we do now. We stand up for those being bullied by a system that they don't understand and really couldn't avoid.

What percentage of prosecutors do I really think this of? Maybe 75 percent. Is that enough to make a generalization? Sure. And the other 25 percent leave me thinking, "It seems like he's a good guy, but there's got to be something wrong with him if he can work with those people. Maybe he's not as much of a good guy as I think."

The other thing that ambimb mentions is whether or not someone could do more to help people from inside of the prosecutor's office then they could at a PD's office. I absolutely positively disagree. I discussed it a little bit here, but I really don't think that most prosecutor's offices give their attorneys, especially the newbies, much discretion to try to help people. How do you help people by imposing the "standard offer" day in and day out? And, if you're not willing to impose the standard offer, they'll just take the case away from you. Yeah, that's doing a lot of good. And, I think that there's a big effort made to brainwash the new little prosecutors into believing that all defendants are guilty and all defense attorneys are liars. If you buy into it, you're done helping people. And if you don't, you won't last long. Further, I think there are many prosecutor's offices where you will not get hired if you intend to be ethical and even slightly receptive to the defense. I can't say that this is true at every prosecutor's office, but I certainly think it's true at many.

Someone commented and basically said, "But they're just doing their job. And, if some defendants are guilty, then isn't it a good thing that they're doing?" I have no problem with prosecutors doing their job. I get that. But (1) you don't have to be an asshole about it and (2) recognize that I'm just doing my job too. And, I think that was the point of this post. I don't think anyone is arguing that prosecutors shouldn't exist, just whether or not they're all a big bunch of jerks, and whether or not they should be characterized that way. And the answer is, "Not all, but many." and "Yes, because enough of them are."

9 comments:

  1. great post.

    Related to that, I also think a lot about how the legal system frames these problems in society, and the roles of DAs and PDs. I think what we as criminal attorneys think of one another is very different from what the general public thinks of DAs and PDs, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we see how narrowly circumscribed the adversarial system is, and our roles in that system. DAs and PDs then necessarily become the people we generalize them to be.

    I'm interested to see how things go, since I have three friends in DAs offices in the same area in which I'll be working. I won't be able to deny it if my clients accuse me of being friends with the prosecutors. :)

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  2. The few prosecutors / attorney general / SEC types that I've had to deal with so far can be annoyingly myopic. They are so wedded to their theory of the facts that they refuse to see equally or more plausible interpretations of those facts which don't jive with their initial viewpoint.

    Off-topic: I know we Big Law defense attorneys routinely joke about our clients being guilty/liable, even when they are not a great deal of the time. Are prosecutors ever willing to poke fun at themselves for throwing the wrong dude in the slammer?

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  3. This leaves me with the question, "What percentage would you say of defendants are not guilty or overprosecuted?"

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  4. I disagree with the "just doing their jobs" excuse for DAs. Their job is NOT to nail the defendant to the wall and get the most time possible. They all represent the State, People, or Commonwealth; to me that means their job is to represent the interests of the people. I don't think the "people" have an interest in putting away people who aren't guilty or scaring them into taking pleas or giving them lots and lots of time in jail for minor crimes.

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  5. Of all my friends from law school I am the only defense attorney. The rest are DAs. They partied just as hard as I and now they prosecute people for similar things. And people rip on defense attorneys. C'mon! Too many prosecutors have too little balance and get too power hungry. They don;t they the big picture. They become linear thinkers and a-holes with few friends. I have met three or foour who get it. Then again they had it before they got into the whole DA thing. Same with cops.

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  6. Of all my friends from law school I am the only defense attorney. The rest are DAs. They partied just as hard as I and now they prosecute people for similar things. And people rip on defense attorneys. C'mon! Too many prosecutors have too little balance and get too power hungry. They don;t they the big picture. They become linear thinkers and a-holes with few friends. I have met three or foour who get it. Then again they had it before they got into the whole DA thing. Same with cops.

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  7. Hi. I was a prosecutor during my first five years in practice. My first job was miserable. I worked for a DA with a "nail them to the wall" type of attitude. He fired me after 9 months, and suggested that I might be better suited for social work.

    My next 4 years as a prosecutor in a small, rural office (2 attorneys) were quite a different experience. My boss let me use my own discretion (as long as I talked things over with her) and at age 26, I found myself with a great deal of influence over how criminal cases were handled in my county.

    Although I advocated for tough sentences in many cases, I like to think that I was fair, that I looked closely at cases to make sure I was convinced of each defendant's guilt, and that I ensured that people's rights were not violated.

    But here are some of the problems non-asshole prosecutors face in trying to do the right thing:
    1) As a prosecutor, I felt quite insulated from the defendants as I did not have direct contact with them. It was therefore really hard to distinguish the B.S.-artists from the defendants who really deserved a second chance. The PDs would say, "This is a really great guy. He deserves a second chance." But they would say that about EVERY defendant. So to us, knowing the defendants only on paper, it's tough to serve up individualized justice.

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  8. Hi. I was a prosecutor during my first five years in practice. My first job was miserable. I worked for a DA with a "nail them to the wall" type of attitude. He fired me after 9 months, and suggested that I might be better suited for social work.

    My next 4 years as a prosecutor in a small, rural office (2 attorneys) were quite a different experience. My boss let me use my own discretion (as long as I talked things over with her) and at age 26, I found myself with a great deal of influence over how criminal cases were handled in my county.

    Although I advocated for tough sentences in many cases, I like to think that I was fair, that I looked closely at cases to make sure I was convinced of each defendant's guilt, and that I ensured that people's rights were not violated.

    But here are some of the problems non-asshole prosecutors face in trying to do the right thing:
    1) As a prosecutor, I felt quite insulated from the defendants as I did not have direct contact with them. It was therefore really hard to distinguish the B.S.-artists from the defendants who really deserved a second chance. The PDs would say, "This is a really great guy. He deserves a second chance." But they would say that about EVERY defendant. So to us, knowing the defendants only on paper, it's tough to serve up individualized justice.

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  9. Oops I posted that last comment prematurely.

    The other problem I found as a prosecutor was how to deal with suspicions of police misconduct. There were indeed times when I suspected the police were not being truthful with me about key issues. But my suspicions were mainly intuitive and not backed up by any hard evidence.

    And as a prosecutor, you have to presume that the police are telling the truth unless you can prove otherwise. Trust me, I struggled with this issue a great deal, and I would not have hesitated to say,"I ain't prosecuting this case because you're lying," if I could have proven it. But it is impossible to function as a prosecutor if you say to the cops, "I am not prosecuting this case because I have an unverifiable gut instinct that you're lying."

    So anyhoo that's my two cents. I really enjoyed my career as a prosecutor, but I fully recognize the assholishness of many DAs and ADAs. (In fairness I have to note that a lot of PDs can be jerks too. Many PDs I've encountered seem to think that their mandate to engage in a zealous defense of their clients makes it OK to engage in unethical, or borderline-unethical conduct, or to make blanket, baseless accusations against the DAs on their ethics.

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