When conferring with your criminal defense lawyer, you will often hear them speak of what the prosecutor is doing and what they may be thinking. The prosecutor plays a vital role in the criminal justice system, and how they proceed could determine your freedom and future.
Prosecutors exist in both the federal and state system. In the federal criminal justice system, the prosecutor is the United States Attorney, who has a staff of Assistant United States Attorneys who may handle the actual case. On the local level, there may be a State’s Attorney’s office that handles prosecutions under Wisconsin law.
The Prosecutor Is a Part of Law Enforcement
The prosecutor works for the “people.” In this case, it is the people of their jurisdiction who have an interest in the enforcement of laws. They are not the lawyer for the alleged victim. The prosecutor is acting to enforce the law and punish those who they believe have committed a crime.
The prosecutor can get a case in one of two ways:
- They can handle the legal proceedings after you have been arrested
- They can conduct their own investigation of an alleged crime and file an indictment against you
The Prosecutor Could Investigate and File Charges
Although the prosecutor takes over cases when law enforcement has made an arrest, they are often much more than that. The charges may originate with the prosecutor, who has directed and initiated the investigation process. They may have even conducted a sting operation meant to catch people in criminal activity (being careful to avoid entrapping people in crimes).
They could be very active in the process of building the evidence that could support the probable cause needed to make an arrest, including:
- Ordering surveillance of a suspect
- Going to court to obtain a search warrant
- Interviewing witnesses and suspects prior to charging them (everyone is entitled to have a lawyer present when they are interviewed by a prosecutor)
Ultimately, it is the prosecutor’s choice whether to charge a defendant and the crimes with which to charge them based on the results of their investigation. The prosecutor will make the basic charging decision at the beginning of the case and will determine what to move forward with in court. They can work in conjunction with a grand jury, presenting evidence that can be the basis of recommendations to file charges.
The Prosecutor Represents the Government in Court
While the case is in progress, the prosecutor is the representative of the government in the proceedings. The government’s role should be to ensure that justice is done in a criminal case, whether that means taking a case to trial or dropping charges when it does not appear that there is evidence to support them. In some cases, the prosecutor would ask the court to dismiss the case (and they have an ethical obligation to do so if they no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the crime).
At the same time, the prosecutor will be the public-facing person in the case. They will speak on behalf of the government. They need to be careful with their words lest they interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
The prosecutor will also interface with the defendant’s attorney at various points throughout the criminal case. They may speak with defense counsel before they even file charges in the case to hear the defendant’s side of the story. They may certainly speak with the defense after the charges have been filed to negotiate a possible plea bargain. The prosecutor wants a guilty plea because it means that they can punish the guilty without the need for a lengthy trial that can drain their own time and resources. The prosecutor may engage in extensive negotiations with the defense at various points in the trial. In fact, most cases will end in some type of plea deal.
The prosecutor must engage with the defense at other points in the criminal justice process. For example, the prosecutor must disclose to the defense the evidence that they plan to use at trial ahead of time. They may continue to communicate throughout the criminal justice process.
If the case goes all the way to trial (which is very rare), it will be the prosecutor who appears on behalf of the government. They will present the evidence to the jury on behalf of the people, seeking to prove every necessary element of the offense.
Prosecutors Must Follow Strict Ethical Standards
The prosecutor is supposed to act according to the highest ethical standards. Given their immense power, there are standards from the American Bar Association that address the prosecutor’s performance in all phases of their work. The prosecutor is supposed to work to convict the guilty. At the same time, they need to protect the innocent. However, prosecutors are also human beings who want to “perform well” in their job. Some view high performance solely in terms of winning convictions, meaning that it is possible for them to overreach at times.
One major complication is that most prosecutors are elected officials throughout Wisconsin and the entire country. They must go in front of the electorate every so often to keep their own job. Not only do prosecutors not like to lose cases, but they also do not like to lose elections. Thus, they do not want to be perceived as being “soft on crime.” Still, prosecutors must always remain mindful of their legal and ethical obligations.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
The attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff will provide you with effective legal representation during your criminal case, with the end goal of obtaining the best possible result for you. We know how prosecutors think and work based on our extensive experience. This knowledge is critical to present the strongest possible criminal defense. To speak with one of our attorneys, you can contact us online or call us today at (920) 450-9800 to schedule a free consultation.