With the increasing number of criminal defendants being black and Latino, a question has arisen: would there being more black and/or Latino prosecutors change how the criminal justice system is viewed by people? Prosecutors are charged with seeking “justice”, not just to win as most other attorneys are. If a black and/or Latino prosecutor was representing the people in a criminal case, would this alone change the perception of the criminal justice system? It would appear no. A prosecutor is merely a representative of the people. It would seem that a change in the composition of the race of the prosecutor would do little if anything to change the perception in the black and Latino communities. Yet, we find that prosecutions are at times racially motivated and that prosecutors are far from “color blind” when it comes to deciding whether and to what extent to prosecute and/or sentence offenders.
Prosecutors in the United States Department of Justice are in an awkward position now. It has come to light recently that prosecutors in that office withheld exculpatory evidence in a criminal case. The prosecution has been under a duty to do this since 1963. Therefore, their duty to do so hardly snuck up on the prosecutors. It has been said that when the prosecutors act in such a manner it contributes to the harmful notion that the criminal justice system is a game, and that victory rather than justice is a prosecutor’s goal”. The people making this argument are not hardened criminal defense lawyers. They are 20 former Justice Department officials. They feel that the role of prosecutor’s is to not simply to always win convictions. That role requires a prosecutor in order to assure a fair trial, to make broad disclosure to a criminal defendant of the information the government possesses.
The case above demonstrates the lie of those that say that a prosecutor is merely a representative of the people. Therefore, it is time to consider how we can ensure that district attorneys and assistant district attorneys can ensure that more of their members are minorities. In doing so, we not only ensure that the prosecutors look at cases from a different perspective, but also that those who are in the criminal justice system view the prosecutor’s office in different ways.
Does the public want fairness or convictions? Societal attitudes toward the criminal justice system are changing. The key question is which way?
What say you?