I have worked as both a public defender and as a prosecutor. While I consider them to be two sides of the same coin, the world does not.
The jobs are actually very different. One answers to the public, the other to the individual.
A prosecutor builds cases, block by block. Cementing together the elements of a crime. Placing evidence on the record one witnesses or exhibit at a time. A creation that weaves together the facts of a case with the story of a case. It is often a tedious process to cross all of the ‘t’s’ and dot every ‘i’.
The defense attorney gets to try and poke holes in this narrative. It is always easier to break something down than to build it up. There is more chance of an Ah-HA moment, although rarely does someone bust through the double doors with a new jaw dropping accusation that blows the case wide open. That only happens on TV.
The prosecutor represents the PEOPLE. The prosecutor does not represent the VICTIM(common misconception). There is a duty to bring forth criminal charges that can be proven in court. There is also a duty to plea bargain cases out to keep the call moving.
The criminal defense attorney represents only the client. The duty is to provide the best defense within the bounds of the law.
Both sides are meandering towards justice, they just have different opinions on where that final position lies. If they both do their jobs right, the outcome is usually pretty decent.
The prosecutor tends to see everything through the eyes of A PROSECUTOR. They are far more ‘cookie cutter‘ than defense attorneys.
Both kinds of lawyers are pessimistic about human nature, but disagree about the legal fallout from that assumption. Experience and data have made them expect the worst from people, because it is usually true.
Both sides should probably assume the defendant is lying.
My problem with prosecutors is two fold.
- They tend to have lily white backgrounds and are unsympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden. They lack real world experience with criminogenic thinking.
- The power they wield tends to steer them towards arrogance and bullydom.
In general, prosecutors believe cops too much and defense attorneys believe cops too little.
The truth is always somewhere in between.
Law enforcement and Prosecutors are natural allies. They are both executive branch civil servants. The work in tandem to do their jobs and rely on each other to get things done. The opinion of one matters to the other.
However, there should always be a healthy distance between these circles of influence. Each should be able to disagree with the other and feel comfortable not seeing eye to eye on the direction of an investigation or a case.
This theoretical wall too often breaks down and both halves feel like they have to always agree on the trajectory of a case. This last one I have just described is really my problem number 3 with prosecutors, but I knew it would take awhile to articulate. 🙂
I think a justice system works best when the prosecution and the defense bar work together. By that I mean friendly, but still adversarial. There has to be mutual respect.
Don’t let things get personal. I have seen too many times where an offer made to a defendant was tainted by the prosecutor’s opinion of the defense attorney.
It is easier to be a defense attorney, you are not supposed to win. The pressure of a prosecutor is more intense, that is why they are often humorless compared to a public defender.
The Christmas parties as a public defender were way more fun!
At the end of the day, I miss being a public Defenders because of the co workers and the environment. I miss being a prosecutor because the work made me feel important about my role in the community. Both jobs made me proud to be an attorney.