Friday, November 26, 2010

Winning at all costs?

Cuyahoga County (OH) prosecutor Bill Mason really, really wants to win. He wants to win so much that he has neglected the first ethical rule of a prosecutor -- to see that justice is done.
“I see myself as someone holding people accountable for their actions.” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason
Over the past ten years, Mr. Mason's office has tried 6,891 felony cases. Out of those cases, county judges acquitted 341 defendants in the middle of trial. Why? Because the prosecutor's office wasn't able to prove their was even probable cause to arrest the defendants.

Mr. Mason came into office in 1999 as the reformer. He said that when he took over the office too many felony cases were being plead out by inexperienced prosecutors. His solution? Take away the authority for the courtroom prosecutors to work out their cases. All pleas would have to go through a handful of supervisors who had to answer to Mr. Mason.

U.S. District Judge Kate O’Malley wrote that Mason’s office showed a “startling indifference” to the defendant’s rights and then bluntly reminded Mason about his duty as prosecutor by quoting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
“It’s the easiest thing in the world for people trained in the adversarial ethic to think a prosecutor’s job is simply to win.”
But it’s not, O’Malley wrote: A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice.

Stripping away the power to resolve cases in the courtroom reduces prosecutors to clerks. If you don't trust your people in the courtroom to make good decisions, then you've got some major issues. These are the folks you're relying upon to try cases -- if they're competent to try the case, then they must be competent enough to know whether a case needs to go to trial.

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