Are prosecutors really interested in justice?

We would all do well to listen - and learn - from learn from lawyers who have seen it all, and lived through history. You can learn a lot by listening to the lawyers who made the law, and not really read about it. One of those lawyers is Sam Dalton, who in entering his seventh decade of practice in Lousiana. He was recenlty interviewed by Radley Balko, and his interview should be read by every prosecutor - especially the young ones.

One of the issues he talked about was how the system is not set up to ensure justice is done. Here's what he said:

First of all, it takes a certain sort of personality to want to become a prosecutor. It takes someone with ambition, usually political ambition. And it takes a person with greed, not necessarily for money, but for power. Second, you have to look at what the system rewards. The best way to get attention for yourself as a prosecutor is to put a lot of people in jail. There's no votes to be won for deciding not to prosecute someone in the interests of justice. No prosecutor runs for higher office by touting the charges he didn't bring, or the fairness he showed to those accused of terrible crimes. You put those two problems together, and you get a culture that encourages deliberate indifference, especially once they're publicly invested in a particular suspect.

I have to agree,  because I've observed the same thing - although only over three decades. The only prosecutor I've ever seen make any headway by trying to help criminal defendants was Craig Watkins of Dallas. He received national aclaim for his efforts to identify defendants who had been wrongfully convicted. However, he still has a tough on crime approach to current cases - especially death penalty cases.

No one should be suprised by this, because we are all responsible; it's a function of the system, and is bound to exist when you elect prosecutors. People want to be see safe, and see criminal locked up. A sure way to lose any election is to be labeled as soft on crime. The reality is that giving the public what they want - a tough on crime approach - creates the attitude that leads to innocent people being convicted.

Another issue he identifies is the type of people who aspire to be prosecutors. When Pople John Paul passed away I recognized that if you want to be Pope you shouldn't be the Pope; it is a position that should be yielded by someone with humility, and not a desire for power. Mr. Dalton makes the same observations about prosecutors. I'm not sure I agree with that, because some people go into the DA's office because it's a job. However, the cutlture and the attitudes can quickly indoctrinate them.

Mr. Dalton doesn't have an answer, and neither do I. It takes a long time for attitudes to change, but I think they are slowly changing. Twenty years ago most people didn't believe innocent people were convicted. Now everyone acknowldges it happens. It's going to take time to connect the dots though - and recognize that being "soft on crime" ensures that everyone is treated fairly.

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