Facing criminal charges in New York is a serious matter where the stakes are incredibly high. In the courtroom, the government’s representative is a prosecutor. With the power to decide what to charge and what pleas to offer, it can seem like the prosecutor holds a criminal defendant’s very life in their hands. If convicted, a defendant can end up serving a jail term, having to submit to probation or parole supervision, paying heavy fines, and suffering many other personal costs. Simply put, while a prosecutor’s job is supposed to be seeking justice, all too often overzealous prosecutors are only interested in getting a conviction and attempting to get the maximum sentence.
So what does the prosecutor do and how can an experienced criminal lawyer help a person facing criminal charges?
What exactly is a Prosecutor?
A prosecutor is an attorney who represents the government throughout the criminal justice process, including arraignment, hearings, trials, and appeals.
There are local, state, and federal prosecutors in the United States. In New York, local prosecutors work in District Attorney’s Offices while at the state level cases are prosecuted by the N.Y.S. Attorney General’s Office. At the federal level prosecutors work in one of several U.S. Attorney’s Offices, which are part of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Most prosecutor’s offices have specialized bureaus focused on specific areas, such as narcotics, homicide, sex crime, gangs, white-collar crime, domestic violence, etc.
What Is The Role Of The Prosecutor?
According to the American Bar Association, a prosecutor “should act with diligence and promptness to investigate, litigate, and dispose of criminal charges, consistent with the interests of justice and with due regard for fairness, accuracy, and rights of the defendant, victims, and witnesses.”
In New York, a prosecutor’s authority includes the following:
- reviewing the charges for which a defendant was arrested and determining whether to go forward on those charges;
- deciding whether to charge an individual with new (often more serious) criminal offenses;
- seeking to have a criminal defendant held on bail while charges are pending;
- applying for search warrants and wiretaps in order to obtain evidence of criminal wrong-doing;
- conducting all pre-trial hearings and trials on behalf of the government; and,
- making sentencing recommendations for all convicted defendants.
The prosecutor also has the power to offer plea bargains, which can mean a defendant is allowed to plead guilty to a less serious offense and face lesser penalties.
All these powers are given to the prosecutor to help ensure that “the justice is done”, and if a prosecutor does their job properly justice should prevail. However, time and time again we have seen examples of prosecutorial misconduct (which can include withholding evidence) and prosecutorial overreaching resulting in defendants being overcharged and facing excessive criminal penalties.
Different types of Prosecutors
There are different types of prosecutors for different levels of government. These prosecutors also prosecute different types of crimes in the country.
- U.S Attorneys – U.S. attorneys are prosecutors at the federal level. Each federal district of the United States has a U.S. attorney. U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president to serve mainly as administrators. The U.S. attorney general acts as the chief law enforcement officer and head of the Department of Justice. The U.S. attorney general also oversees U.S. attorneys.
- District Attorneys – District attorneys (D.A.) are tasked to bring criminals to justice. They are also responsible for enforcing criminal laws on the state, county, and municipal levels of government. District attorneys answer to no one and they prosecute the bulk of criminal cases in the country. In urban areas, the city district attorney is considered the highest law enforcement officer, while in rural areas the highest law enforcement official in rural areas is the county attorney.
- Independent counsels – Independent counsels prosecute cases involving high-ranking government officials. They investigate everything, from the use of cocaine by White House senior aides to allegations of perjury by the President and many others. An independent counsel’s purpose is to ensure public trust in the impartiality and integrity of all criminal investigations into top federal officials.
What Makes A Former Prosecutor An Excellent Criminal Lawyer?
Because of such great power of the prosecutor’s office, an individual charged with a crime might feel like the whole legal system is stacked against them. But a defendant has important legal rights. It is a criminal lawyer’s job to defend those rights throughout every stage of the criminal justice system, including in court during any legal proceedings. Because they know how prosecutors think and act, no one makes a better criminal defense lawyer than a former prosecutor.
As a former prosecutor with more than 20 years of criminal law experience, Jason Bassett understands both sides of the courtroom and how to put that knowledge toward getting his clients the best possible outcomes.