Why do prosecutors do what they do - because the can

A couple of recent stories reminded me how much power prosecutors have, and how common sense rarely enters into their decision making. Instead, they often do things simply because they can - and because they don't want be perceived as giving up.

The first case was Herman Wallace, who is better known as one of the Angola 3. He served a total of 41 years in solitary confinement - I didn't type that wrong, it's really 41. Think of that - living that long with basically no human contact, alone in a cell all day long. Some would consider that torture, but we simply see it as part of the American criminal justice system. A judge recently set aside Wallace's conviction, and released him to go home with his family. Wallace was in the advanced stages of cancer - most likely because his condition went untreated for so long in prison, so he was being released to die at home. There was no doubt that Wallace only had a few days to live - and he has now passed away.

The fact that Wallace was about die didn't deter the prosecutor though - He sought to re-indict Wallace, and have him put back him in prison. He admitted the case would never go to trial because Wallace wouldn't live that long. But that didn't stop him - why let common sense get in the way. Some might also ask where his compassion was - but those who work in the criminal justice system quickly learn that compassion is something prosecutors lose within the first couple of months - if they even had any to start with.

The other case is local one. A man had been convicted of several counts of aggravated sexual assault, along with some other offenses. His sentence was life plus 40 years, and there was no chance he was going to receive parole. He had other charges though, and was brought back from prison. Instead of dismissing those however, the prosecutor offered a deal - plead to a couple of misdemeanors and get time served - which he did. Now how much sense does that make. It's not like the misdemeanors are going to have any impact on him - he's never getting out. So why do it - unless you don't want a dismissal showing up on the statistics.

These cases are just two examples of many. The lesson to be learned is that you can never try to understand the criminal justice by applying common sense. It doesen't exist.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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