by Kate Busch ’07
Many people tend to equate prosecution with Jack McCoy from Law and Order – exciting cases with the “smoking gun” evidence to stun the jury. In reality, prosecution can be quite exciting, but we rarely have the type of evidence seen on the various Law and Order and CSI television shows. It is even rarer for cases with such evidence to reach the point of a jury trial, and even then, such evidence should never be a surprise to the defense.
The daily grind of prosecution involves much decision-making, and the decisions made generally have a significant effect on the lives of victims, defendants, families and the community. Prosecutors should have thick skin, and they must be ready to deal compassionately with victims who want tougher sentences, domestic violence victims who refuse to cooperate with prosecution, and the defendants and families who present heartbreaking stories and excuses for criminal behavior. Above all, like any other attorney, prosecutors must be fair, consistent, and hold themselves to the highest standard of integrity.
For example, a prosecutor may choose to recommend prison for a persistent thief, who recently stole and pawned a neighbor’s family heirloom necklace. On the other hand, they may choose to offer the thief, who has been stealing to support her heroin addiction, the opportunity for drug court, an intensive community supervision program which allows for a clean record upon completion of the program. If the thief ends up in prison, statistics suggest she will continue in her addiction and will continue her criminal behavior. If she participates in drug court (which comes without significant jail or punishment), the victim may not understand the lack of punishment; and the community may be at risk if she is unsuccessful in the program. It is a constant balance of community protection, fairness, consistency, and individual compassion and rehabilitation.
The large majority of state criminal cases are resolved through plea negotiations and without a trial. A typical day may include any or all of the following:
- Handling court dockets – pleas, announcements, motions, evidentiary hearings, bench trials, preliminary hearings, drug court, and probation violation hearings
- Reviewing police reports to make charging decisions
- Talking with victims, attorneys, and witnesses about pending cases and investigations
- Working with law enforcement during active investigations to give advice, assist with search warrants, draft charging documents, and other various tasks
- Training law enforcement
- Working with and advising other county departments in civil county government matters
Overall, prosecution is a fast-paced, demanding, and often very rewarding area of law practice. Anyone interested in prosecution is welcome to stop by and chat with me anytime. Also, check out the homepage for the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services (MOPS) at www.mops.mo.gov and click on “Prosecutor Directory” to see a list of Missouri prosecutors in each county.