Criminal Defense Lawyer
From a philosophical standpoint, the role of a prosecutor is to seek justice. This places them in a different role than any other attorney in the system. They are not simply advocates for one side or another. They have a higher burden imposed upon them to do the right thing, rather than to simply try to win.
From a practical standpoint, prosecutors perform specific functions within the justice system. Generally, these are the functions of a prosecuting attorney:
(1) Review police reports and make charging decisions.
Whenever a crime is reported to the police, the police investigate the crime and then make a report. That report is ultimately sent to a prosecuting attorney for review. It is the prosecuting attorney who then reads that report, and makes a decision about whether or not to charge a suspect with a crime.
The prosecuting attorney also has the option to direct the police to go back and continue their investigation if the prosecutor doesn’t believe that the police have gathered enough information in order for the prosecutor to make a decision about whether or not to pursue criminal charges.
Once the prosecutor has enough information available to make his or her decision, the prosecutor decides whether to file criminal charges or to decline to file criminal charges. While bringing charges only requires that the prosecutor believe that there is probable cause to charge someone with a crime, the prosecutor must consider whether they could ultimately prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt should the case go to trial.
(2) Engage in plea bargaining.
If a prosecutor makes a decision to file criminal charges against a defendant, it is likely that they will ultimately engage in a plea-bargaining process with the defendant and their lawyer. Over 90% of all state and federal convictions are obtained via a plea bargain.
Plea bargains are agreements between the prosecutor and the defendant (and sometimes the judge) that give some benefit to a defendant in exchange for not making the government have a trial in the case. Only a prosecutor can make a bargain with regard to the charge the defendant a defendant will plead to as part of an agreement. For example, a prosecutor can offer to dismiss a more serious charge if a defendant will agree to plead to a less serious one. A judge does not have the power to offer such a bargain to the defendant.
Prosecutors can also engage in sentence bargaining, meaning that they can offer a particular sentence to a defendant in exchange for a guilty plea. In most states, a judge also has the power to promise a particular sentence in exchange for a plea. Judges can also sentence outside of a sentence bargain offered by a prosecutor, but generally a defendant would be allowed to withdraw their plea if they did so.
(3) Try cases to a jury or judge.
If a plea bargain is not able to be reached in the case, the prosecutor must try the case to a judge or a jury. At trial, the burden is on the prosecuting attorney to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you have been charged with a crime by a prosecuting attorney, you should reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you defend your case.