What is a prosecutor’s job? That often depends on whom you ask. Like any attorney with a client, prosecutors represent the state or the government, and the government’s mission is to punish those who are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing crimes. To serve a client, a prosecutor must have this goal also.
A prosecutor’s job also is to seek justice and, like all attorneys, to do what is ethically and morally correct. The interests of a client cannot compel a lawyer to misrepresent something to a court, or to ignore vital evidence even if it is against the interests of the client.
This begs the question of what a prosecutor does when evidence shows that a defendant is innocent? Although the duty of the prosecutor is to refrain from prosecuting without probable cause, unfortunately, in the zeal of representation, this is not always what happens.
Man Exonerated on Basis of DNA
A recent article discusses a case in which a man was convicted of a crime, only to have DNA evidence show that he was innocent many years later. He asked a court for a new trial, and the request was granted. But instead of walking away from the case, as the prosecutor should have done in the face of the new DNA evidence, the prosecutor offered the man a deal: plead guilty and there would be no jail time. The prosecutor even told him that he could tell the court he was innocent.
The man rejected the deal, not wanting the scar on his record of pleading guilty to a criminal act that he did not commit. So, he pushed the case to trial and sat in jail for another year and a half waiting for trial.
On the eve of trial, the prosecutor dropped the case—the defendant had called the state’s bluff and “won,” if you consider waiting another 18 months in jail for a crime for which he had been exonerated a victory. He did maintain the right to sue the state for wrongful imprisonment by refusing to plea.
Making the situation worse is that the state had already gotten a plea from another man previously for the exact same crime. The state knowingly pushed for plea deals from two people for the same crime, instead of dropping the one where the DNA showed innocence.
Plea Deals by Innocents May be Common
These plea offers to people who prosecutors know to be innocent may be done purposely. By getting the plea, the state technically gets a “win” as far as the public and their own court record are concerned. A defendant who pleads also can not sue the state.
Sadly, many defendants, with the opportunity to go free after many years in jail, take these deals, even though they are innocent.
The practice is a reminder that getting the evidence is only part of the battle. Just because someone is innocent does not mean the state will recognize that they are or act on it, even though ethically, that should be the case.
If you are innocent you need a criminal law attorney that will fight for your rights. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are arrested in Maryland.