The prosecutor plays a critical role in the criminal justice system, holding the power to decide whether to charge an individual with a criminal offense and what that charge should be. Their ability to make these decisions around whether to charge and what that charge should be is referred to as prosecutorial discretion.
Prosecutors’ offices may handle a wide variety of case types. According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, some of the common cases offices reported handling included credit card fraud, identity theft, and transmitting child pornography. How prosecutorial discretion impacts criminal cases can vary, and some of the factors prosecutors may consider include the strength of the evidence and what a fair charge would be, given the circumstances. If you have questions or concerns about prosecutorial discretion, consider speaking directly to Chuck Franklin at Chuck Franklin Law by reaching out to him at (480) 545 -0700. Chuck Franklin has been defending the rights of clients charged with crimes for several decades and always answers the phone directly.
Why Prosecutorial Discretion Is Important
Prosecutors, also known as district attorneys, or, at the federal level, U.S. Attorneys, are key to the United States justice system. The United States Department of Justice describes them as holding the responsibility of ensuring “that the laws be faithfully executed.” Prosecutorial discretion is practiced both out of practical and financial necessity.
Realistically, the government does not have the time or the money to prosecute everyone, so a prosecutor must use their prosecutorial discretion to determine which crimes warrant attention. This can mean sometimes that minor misdemeanors, while still illegal, may hold less priority for a prosecutor than serious crimes. One such example of how prosecutorial discretion impacts criminal cases is that of a petty theft case and a child abuse case. If both trials are coming up around the same time and there is only one trial team, the prosecutor may choose to offer a plea deal to the theft charges so that they can focus on the child abuse case. Some reasons a prosecutor might choose to dismiss a case include:
- The trial is taking up resources that need to be used against more serious crimes due to the court’s caseload.
- The evidence that the prosecutor has against the defendant on trial is weak.
- There is a high chance that the jury would not convict the person, for example, because they are elderly.
- There may be alternatives available to formal prosecution.
- The defendant does not have a criminal record.
- The crime was situational – for example, a woman attacked her abusive spouse.
If you have questions about how prosecutorial discretion may impact specific cases, consider speaking to an experienced criminal defense attorney such as Chuck Franklin at Chuck Franklin Law.
Plea Deals and Prosecutorial Discretion
Plea deals are one of the important ways that prosecutorial discretion impacts criminal cases. In these cases, a defendant may negotiate a plea deal, or plea bargain, in which they admit to the charges and, in turn, accept a lesser punishment such as jail times or fines. Some of the reasons defendants accept plea agreements can include:
- There is a substantial amount of evidence against the defendant.
- The prosecutor has offered the defendant a deal, agreeing to drop one or more charges if they plead guilty to another charge.
- Going to trial may result in harsher punishments, such as a lengthy imprisonment term.
Many defendants in criminal cases choose to plead guilty. It is important to note that the plea-bargaining process is controlled completely by the prosecutor. This means that when the prosecutor has charged the defendant, they may offer the defendant a deal. While the defendant may try and make a counteroffer and negotiate, it is the prosecutor who makes the final decision on the terms of the agreement.
Types of Punishment That May Be Ordered by the Court
Part of understanding how prosecutorial discretion impacts criminal cases is understanding potential punishments for charges. When it comes to the types of punishments the court may order against people convicted of criminal charges, these punishments may vary. Punishments can include:
- Rehabilitative punishments, which may be in the form of classes or community service, are meant to provide defendants with the skills to overcome the issues that contributed to them committing the crime.
- Retributive punishments, or punishments that seek retribution for the crime committed through a fine or jail time.
- Community service, which may be a punishment for property damage. The defendant may be expected to give back to the community by working on the property that they damaged.
- Legal fines, which help to pay back the cost of the legal proceedings to the state.
- Jail time, which is meant to function as a way to convince offenders to follow the law in the future.
Part of the reason that prosecutorial discretion is so powerful is that even the filing of charges that do not result in conviction or punishment can still heavily impact a defendant’s life. That is why it is such a huge responsibility for prosecutors to consider when to pursue charges, what charges to pursue, and what plea deals may be offered.
Speak to an Experienced Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
It can be overwhelming to try to understand legal processes and norms when facing charges. You may have many questions and concerns about how prosecutorial discretion impacts criminal cases and what your rights are. In these situations, it is important to have an experienced legal professional on your side. Chuck Franklin of Chuck Franklin Law has extensive experience handling criminal cases. Consider reaching out to Chuck to discuss your legal rights at (480) 545 – 0700. Chuck Franklin always answers the phone directly.