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TOWSON / Criminal Justice / CRMJ 254 / What are some of the critical decisions prosecutors must make?

What are some of the critical decisions prosecutors must make?

What are some of the critical decisions prosecutors must make?


School: Towson University
Department: Criminal Justice
Course: Introduction to Criminal Justice
Professor: Laura hahn
Term: Spring 2017
Cost: 50
Name: Final Exam Study Guide CRMJ 254
Description: These notes cover what is going to be on our next exam.
Uploaded: 05/11/2018
12 Pages 198 Views 5 Unlocks

Final Exam Study Guide CRMJ 254 

What are some of the important decisions prosecutors must make?

Concepts to know for Multiple-Choice Questions: 

Prosecutors: the government’s representatives in criminal adjudications  (file criminal charges on behalf of state)

∙ Represent the interests of the state & its people; high profile position  (protecting public from criminals)

∙ Work in the trial courts of the federal (jurisdiction over federal crimes)  and state systems (jurisdiction over state crimes)  

 ∙     Federal Prosecutor Hierarchy = U.S. Attorney General  U.S. Attorneys   Assistant U.S. Attorneys  

∙    U.S. Attorney General  Considered chief lawyer of the U.S.  government; member of president’s cabinet; head of the department  of Justice and the federal court system (supervises all prosecutors  within the District Courts of the federal court system & sets policies &  priorities for prosecutors in the federal court system); Appointed by  President, confirmed by Senate  

What are the major responsibilities of defense attorneys?

∙    U.S. Attorneys  Head prosecutor for each of the District Courts in  the federal court system (1 assigned to each of the 94 District Courts;  currently there are 93); Supervise the activities of prosecuting  attorneys working in their court; Appointed by President, confirmed by  Senate (serve 4-year terms, can be reappointed); Supervises large staf of Assistant U.S. Attorneys (who are appointed by Attorney General at  the request of U.S. Attorney) If you want to learn more check out What are the three major jewish religious movements and how have the impacted women within them?
Don't forget about the age old question of How are sex and gender socially constructed?
If you want to learn more check out What are the responsibilities of the prosecutor?

 ∙     State Prosecutor Hierarchy = State Attorney General  Local-Level  Prosecuting Attorneys  Assistant Local-Level Prosecuting Attorneys  ∙    State Attorney General  Chief legal officer of the state; Will direct  prosecutions in cases that involve statewide issues (i.e., consumer  protection, environmental issues, criminal activity within state  government); Elected by voters

What are the methods used by the courts to appoint counsel to indigent defendants?

∙    Local-Level Prosecutor (District Attorney, State’s Attorney,  Commonwealth Attorney, County Attorney…)  Head of country-level  (or municipal-level) prosecutor’s office (over 2,000 within the U.S.);  Vast majority of prosecutions in U.S. courts are handled at this level;  Elected in almost every state (unlike federal prosecutors); Supervises  staf of Assistant prosecutors, who are assigned individual cases for  prosecution  We also discuss several other topics like Why do some business people lose their way?

∙    Their decisions send a message to the community about which criminal activities are worthy of attention and which are ignored; Prosecutors  Dilemma  prosecutor is expected to everything within reason to  obtain a conviction but must also ensure that justice is done, and the  defendant’s rights are respected! (he/she should always act in good  faith!

∙    What are some of the important decisions prosecutors must  make?

o Whether or not to prosecute  What factors most commonly  afect the decision to not prosecute?  Insufficient evidence,  Witness problems (unreliability, inaccessibility, etc.), In the  “interest of justice” to not do so (might sympathize with the  accused), Due Process issues (questions regarding legality of  police search/interrogation, etc.), Accused is being prosecuted in  another jurisdiction  

∙ Related decision: filing a nolle prosequi  

o “We shall no longer prosecute”

o Decision to DIMISS or DISCONTINUE criminal charges after they  have been filed

- No higher authority may force prosecutor to reinstate the  charges

- Prosecutor needn’t provide a reason

o Can happen any time between the initial filing of charges and  either trial verdict or guilty plea  If you want to learn more check out How are changes quantified in energy?

∙ If charges ARE filed, must decide: What specific charges to file and  how many counts of each charge; Whether to actively pursue plea  bargain negotiations (or enter into negotiations if approached by  defense); What sentence to recommend upon conviction

o Prosecutors SHOULD be influenced by only a few factors: - Has a crime been committed?

- Has the perpetrator been identified?


o Professional and ethical errors a prosecutor might make as a  result of outside influence and pressure is…  

- Charging suspects with more than what can be reasonably  supported by the evidence  

- Being influenced by  Desire to enhance their records of  successful convictions; Personal or political advantages of  prosecuting (or not) a particular case (prosecuting a popular  figure might be politically damaging and so might NOT  

prosecuting a very unpopular figure; Public opinion & pressure (prosecuting simply because an inflamed public demands it) o Many diferent factors might influence prosecutorial decision making… these factors might afect: We also discuss several other topics like What procedure is used in descriptive statistics?

- Prosecutor’s decision to file charges at all, or Severity of  charges filed, or Prosecutor’s willingness to ofer a plea  


∙ Concerns regarding the victim:

o Are the motives of the alleged victim questionable? (would  he/she have reason to lie about incident?); Is the victim willing to cooperate with prosecution (very difficult to pursue a prosecution when “star” witness is an unwilling participant); Concerns about  the victim’s welfare – would experiencing a trial be harmful?

Defense Attorneys: role is to provide best possible legal counsel &  advocacy within the legal and ethical limits of the profession ∙ 6th amendment  “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy  the right… to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  ∙ Defendants may waive their rights and represent themselves! (A risky  strategy…); Being a defense attorney isn’t for everybody!!! ∙ The realities of the defense attorney’s job…

o The public often distrusts & misunderstands defense attorneys o Defense attorneys must interact constantly with clients whose  lives & problems are troubling

o Criminal practice may not pay as well as other areas of law o Many clients will be guilty and this “guilty knowledge” which brings its own set of challenges and frustrations…  ∙ Defending a guilty client?  honesty, communication, & trust between  attorney and defendant is critical; BUT remember It is NOT the  responsibility of the defense attorney to prove client is innocent or to  pass judgment on client’s guilt or innocence! 

∙ Presumption of Innocence  All persons charged with crimes are  entitled to a RIGOROUS defense; Defense attorney is expected to  present a meaningful test of prosecution’s case

∙ Attorney-Client Privilege: defense attorney cannot reveal content of communications with client – including admissions of criminal  involvement; absolutely sacrosanct but does NOT apply to future crimes that are being planned but have not yet taken place (only  previous actions!)

∙ Defense lawyer absolutely CANNOT knowingly present false testimony (subornation of perjury)  So if defense attorney knows client is  guilty – best strategy is to avoid a trial altogether and plead guilty;  

Can’t put a guilty defendant on the stand at trial because he/she  KNOWS defendant will have to lie!

∙ What are the major responsibilities of defense attorneys? o Defendant’s Advocate: 

- Pretrial investigation skills; Obtain pretrial release; Engage in  plea bargain talks; Defend at trial & attempt to prevent a  

conviction (serving client’s interests in jury selection, utilize  efective defense strategy, aggressive cross-examination of  prosecution witnesses)

- Secure best sentence possible; Cultivate good working  relationship with prosecutors and judges; Sometimes conduct  the appeal upon conviction

o Protect defendant’s constitutional rights at every stage of the  process 

o Provide psychological and moral support to defendant - Expected to provide reassurance but must also realistically  prepare client for the worst; Not all defense attorneys have  the time to do this!  

∙ An effective defense attorney… will seek to understand the facts  of the case & the nature of the prosecution’s evidence before deciding  the best course of action for client

o Discovery process & honest communication with client will help  o Defendant can always reject attorney’s advice!

o For most criminal defendants, the best course of action is to   avoid a trial and enter a GUILTY PLEA 

o Defense attorney must consider  what is the most favorable  course of action for my client, given the circumstances?  ∙ Two kinds of dense attorneys…  

o Private practice counsel… hired by the accused to provide  representation

o Court-appointed counsel… provided by the state to represent  indigent defendants; a majority of criminal defendants are  represented by court-appointed counsel  

- Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

 Indigents facing serious (i.e., felony) charges in state  court must be provided an attorney  

- Argersinger v. Hamlin (1972)

 Indigents facing charges that could result in ANY length  of incarceration if convicted (i.e., misdemeanor) must  

be provided an attorney

∙ Different methods used by the courts to appoint counsel to  indigent defendants  

o Federal Court system uses a mixed system (public defender &  assigned counsel)

o State court systems use a variety of diferent methods o Assigned Counsel System  private practice attorneys make  themselves available to the court and are assigned to represent  indigent defendants on a case-by-case basis; may be primary  method, or supplement public defender’s office; traditionally  services provided pro bono, but today attorneys will receive  some modest compensation; system can sufer from 

inadequate legal fees, lack of support services, inexperienced  counsel  

o Contract system  State enters into a contract with private law  firm or private practice attorney, which will represent indigent  defendants in that community; Contract is based on number of  cases to be defended & estimated cost per case; may be primary

method (relatively rare) or supplement service of public  

defender’s office; system can sufer from  inadequate legal  fees, lack of support services, inexperienced counsel

o Public Defender System  State employees with the specific  responsibility of providing counsel to indigent defendants; most  commonly seen in populous areas – approx. 70% of Americans  live in a community served by the public defender system;  Advantages: expertise because of daily contact with the criminal  law, knows all of the important “players” (prosecutors & judges).  Disadvantages: heavy caseloads (vary by jurisdiction), lack of  support services, may be especially difficult to earn client’s trust, & varying levels of experience

o Mixed Defender Systems  both public defenders and private  attorneys are used; public defenders are the primary method  used, but private attorneys used as backup when public defender caseload gets too high; seen in the federal court system as well  as very busy local courts in state court systems; Seen when  public defender caseload is too high, conflict of interest exists,  co-defendants must be supplied with separate counsel  

Trial juries (i.e., petit juries)

∙ A legal process by which members of the community evaluate facts to  determine if the government has established legal guilt (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt according to legally-admissible evidence)  

∙ Most criminal trial juries consist of 12 jurors, but smaller juries are  permitted in some jurisdictions under certain circumstances o William v. Florida (1970): use of juries with as few as 6 members was upheld  (controversial decision!)

o urch v. Louisiana (1979): 6­member juries must vote unanimously to convict  ∙ Most (but not all) states require unanimous (of two or more people fully in agreement) verdicts in jury trials

∙ What are the basic requirements to serve as a juror?

o U.S. Citizen; At least 18 years of age; 

o Prior felony conviction?

- Restrictions placed on convicted felons vary by state

- In many states, convicted felons cannot serve unless no longer under 

correctional supervision and civil rights have been formally restored by the  courts

- Any exemptions are decided on a case­by­case basis!

∙ Typical jury duty summons form…

o Potential jurors, receive one like this along with a letter informing them of their  dates of jury duty service

o Asks a number of questions to determine if recipient meets basic requirements to  join the jury pool

o Whether they will be actually chosen to serve on a particular trial will be  determined during jury selection at court!

o Failing to appear at jury duty (unless one has been excused) is a criminal offense!  ∙ How are trial juries (petit juries) selected?

o Jury pool is identified and potential jurors then submit to voir dire examination  Jury pool is Identified

∙ Jurisdictions use different sources to get names of potential jurors

o The jury pool is selected on a random basis using a source list of community  residents (registered voters, MVA records…)

∙ The term (“jury duty”) that jury pools serve vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction  o “one­day, one­trial rule” is commonplace today… Show up for jury duty for one  day only, but must serve for an entire trial if selected as a juror 

Voir Dire

∙ “To speak the truth”

∙ Process of questioning potential jurors in the current jury pool to determine their  suitability to serve as a juror for a particular case

∙ Biggest concern here is the defendant’s right to an IMPARTIAL JURY  o To ensure an impartial jury, all potential jurors must be screened for partiality or  bias 

o In the interest of due process, potential jurors may be asked any question – even  the most personal – as long as it’s relevant to the case

∙ In voir dire, Prosecution and defense are each acting in total self­interest… o Goal of the prosecution is to eliminate as many anti­prosecution or pro­defense  potential jurors as possible!

o Goal of the defense is opposite!  end result should be a jury without any  preexisting bias towards either side!

Typical voir dire questions

∙ Do you know anyone involved in this case?

∙ Have you read or heard anything about this case? If so, do you have an opinion about  defendant’s guilt? (Important for high­profile cases)

∙ Have you, a member of your family, or a close friend ever been the victim of a crime? ∙ What is your opinion of law enforcement and/or police officers? The court system? Trial Process

1. Selection of jury *

2. Opening statements

3. Presentation of prosecution’s evidence

4. Presentation of defense’s evidence

5. Presentation of rebuttal witnesses

6. Closing arguments

7. Jury instructions *

8. Deliberations

9. Verdict 

*In a jury trial

Opening Statements

∙ Allows prosecution and defense to introduce the case and their respective strategies to the court

o Will often refer to evidence and testimony to be presented later

∙ Prosecution will go first, followed by defense

∙ If done well, there will be much anticipation about the specific pieces of evidence to be  presented!

Prosecution’s Case

∙ Must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt 

∙ Might present different types of information: 

o Physical evidence

o Verbal testimony

∙ Might present testimony from different types of witnesses:

o Expert witnesses and Lay witnesses

o Witnesses will experience:

 Direct questioning

 Cross­examination by opposing counsel 

Physical Evidence 

∙ Demonstrative evidence 

o Item of physical evidence intended to illustrate a specific point

 Maps, X­rays, Photographs of crime scene

∙ “Real” evidence 

o Technically, this is a subcategory of demonstrative evidence

o Items that were actually involved in the crime itself, or left behind by perpetrator  or used to perpetrate the crime itself

 Bloodstains, Fingerprints, Recovered stolen property, Murder weapon

Verbal Testimony

∙ Direct evidence  

o Eyewitness account of crime (witness saw the entire event); known to be less  reliable because memory changes/evolves over time 

o Words of some kind of witness; explaining something that they saw or heard  ∙ Circumstantial evidence 

o Requires that court infer certain facts and make assumptions from witness  statements

o The majority of evidence presented at trial tends to be circumstantial in nature –  Defendants are often convicted on circumstantial evidence alone!

What’s the difference? 

For example, in a murder trial:

 Direct evidence: “I saw the defendant shoot the victim”

 Circumstantial evidence: “I saw the defendant and victim arguing the  evening that the shooting occurred” 

What Kinds of Verbal Testimony are Generally not permitted?

 Perjury

o Someone who lies on the stand under oath

o The offense of willfully telling an untruth in a court after having 

taken an oath

o Any attorney who encourages a witness to lie or knowingly puts a 

witness on the stand knowing they are going to lie is 

subordination of perjury

o Don’t know until after the trial is over

 Hearsay

o Any kind of statement in which they are describing or accounting 

from something they heard or saw from a 2nd or 3rd party 

o Information received from other people that one cannot adequately

substantiate (i.e., rumor, gossip)

 Opinions and beliefs (except from “expert” witnesses)

o Only supposed to talk about whatever they heard or saw for 


o Not supposed to talk about what they think happened

Two Types of Witnesses

∙ Expert Witnesses 

o Brought in to share their unique areas of expertise (i.e., medical examiner;  someone who works for the county CSI examiner)

o Do not necessarily have any personal connection with the case (before being  asked to provide testimony)

o Will provide their informed, educated opinions

o Can be paid for their services!

∙ Lay Witnesses 

o Individuals with some kind of connection to the case

o Asked to describe something they heard or observed

o Generally, cannot be paid for their “services!!!”

Defense’s Case

∙ Before defense begins, will present a motion for a directed verdict (usually unsuccessful) ∙ Defense has the opportunity to present physical evidence and witness testimony of its  own

∙ Possible Strategies

o Contrary evidence is introduced

o Alternative theory of the criminal event is proposed

o Alibi is offered

o Affirmative defense is presented 

∙ Key issue: Will the defendant take the stand?  most criminal defendants do not take a  stand at trial 


∙ Evidence given to counteract or disprove evidence presented by the opposing party ∙ This happens in more complex cases 

∙ After defense presents its case, prosecution may call rebuttal witnesses to address issues  raised during defense’s case…

o Afterwards, defense may call additional rebuttal witnesses of their own to respond to prosecution’s rebuttal witnesses!

o Rebuttal witnesses are often not called at all!

Closing Argument

∙ Arguments made by prosecution and defense after their respective cases have been  presented

∙ Gives attorneys the opportunity to summarize the most important points of their cases…  o … and leave a lasting impression in the minds of those who will be deciding the  case

Jury Instructions

∙ Jury instructions may be long and complicated

o Jury’s responsibilities

o Applicable laws and charges are clarified

o Standard guilt is explained

∙ The concept of Reasonable Doubt might be explained to a jury in various ways… o A level of doubt of approximately 7.5 on a scale of 110

o A doubt based on reason and common sense

o Persuasion to a moral certainty

o A doubt that would cause prudent persons to hesitate before acting in a matter of  importance to themselves


∙ Guilty  Conviction

o Jury can be polled after verdict is read

o Judge will normally set a date for sentencing and ask for a pre­sentence  investigation report

o Prosecution and defense must prepare arguments for sentencing hearing  ∙ Not guilty  Acquittal

o Defendant is free to go

∙ Hung jury  Mistrial

o Case may be retired, depending on prosecutor’s discretion; most states

Short-Answer Questions: 

“CSI effect”

∙ Popularity of criminal forensics shows like “CSI” have given the public unreasonable  expectations regarding physical evidence

∙ Some jurors will refuse to convict without it (despite an otherwise strong case) ∙ The reality: Most crimes (even violent ones) will NOT have DNA evidence left  behind!

Jury nullification

∙ An acquittal or mistrial (because of hung jury) results even though the evidence presented strongly indicates that the defendant is guilty ­some or all of the jurors REFUSE to  convict based on legally irrelevant factors

∙ “Prosecutor’s worst nightmare”?

o At least some jurors are completely disregarding strength of prosecution’s  evidence!

∙ “Legally irrelevant” factors?

o Have nothing to do with the defendant’s guilt – rather they are circumstances that  might make the defendant’s actions understandable 

Defense might attempt to encourage it by playing on jury’s emotions… and trying to make the accused as sympathetic as possible!

∙ Possible reasons for the jury nullification result:

o Sympathy towards defendant’s actions

o Fondness for defendant (potential issue w/ celebrity defendants!)

o Dislike of victim (“He had it coming!”)

o Opposition to the law in question (For example: Juror is opposed to 

criminalization of narcotics, and it’s a drug possession case)

∙ Prosecutors rarely know for sure if this is the reason behind an acquittal or  mistrial… Although they may suspect it!

o Doesn’t matter – verdict will stand regardless!

Peremptory Challenges

∙ Prosecution or defense requests a potential juror be dismissed – but does not have to  provide a reason why! 

∙ NOT based upon any bias indicated in a potential juror’s response to voir dire question  (otherwise, would have been challenged for cause!)

∙ Might be based only on a “hunch” of the prosecutor or defense attorney o Something about the potential juror makes attorney uneasy!

∙ Could potentially be based on potential juror’s:

o Appearance

o Body language or facial expressions 

o Vocal inflections when answering voir dire questions

∙ Effective use of peremptory challenges considered to be more of an art than a science  o Professional jury consultants are sometimes used (particularly by defense) There are limitations to use of peremptory challenges… 

∙ According to the Supreme Court, CANNOT be based upon potential juror’s race or sex o Determination based upon:

 Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment (“no state shall… deny to  any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”)

 6th amendment­related concerns that jurors should be drawn from a cross section of the community 

∙ Some individual states also prohibit elimination on the basis of religious affiliation  How do we know that race or sex isn’t the basis of a peremptory challenge?

∙ If prosecutor or defense attorney suspects that opposing counsel is eliminating jurors on  the basis of race or sex…

o Can challenge the elimination request with the judge

 Opposing counsel may deny that is what was going on!

 Attorney who is questioning the peremptory challenge’s legality must  make a “prima facie” case supporting allegation

Peremptory challenges are controversial!

∙ Some in the legal community believe they should be eliminated altogether! WHY? o Based on hunches and stereotypes, not any overt display of bias!

o How do we REALLY know if a potential juror was not actually improperly  eliminated (i.e., on the basis of race or sex)?

∙ Once all unsuitable potential jurors are eliminated and the trial jury is selected…  the jury will be seated, and the trial can begin!

Challenge for Cause  

∙ Potential jurors are removed “for cause”

∙ Dismissal based upon response to a particular question submitted by prosecution or  defense during voir dire

o Response reveals bias, or potential for bias

o Prosecution or defense can challenge juror for cause based on juror’s response  ∙ Prosecution and defense attorneys each have an unlimited number

o They can challenge as many potential jurors for cause as they’d like!

∙ Judge presiding over jury selection must approve a juror’s dismissal

∙ In high profile cases, many potential jurors have formed an opinion on the case because  of the tremendous media coverage… many potential jurors may be challenged for cause! Retribution, Deterrence, Incapacitation, and Rehabilitation 

∙ Retribution is a punishment inflicted on a person who has harmed other people and so  deserves to be penalized

∙ Retribution means that those who commit a particular crime should be punished alike in  the offense of the suffering their crime has caused others; a type of punishment that is  deserved; when people have a desire for this type of punishment it is known as a basic  human emotion

∙ a punishment that should apply only to those who have done wrong

∙ Deterrence is a tool used to prevent others from committing similar crimes and to send a  message to people who want to commit crimes, also known as would­be criminals ∙ General deterrence presumes that members of the general public, on observing the  punishments of others, will conclude that the costs of crime outweighs the benefits;  ∙ The public must believe that they will either be caught, prosecuted, and/or given a  specific punishment for whatever type of crime they decide to commit; punishments must be severe enough in order to instill fear of the consequences of committing crimes to the  public

∙ Specific deterrence targets the decisions and behavior of offenders who have already  been convicted; the amount and kind of punishment are calculated to discourage that  criminal from repeating the offense; punishment should be severe enough to the point 

where the offender says they will not commit another crime because they do not want to  be punished again

∙ Incapacitation assumes that society can use detention in prison or execution to keep  offenders from committing further crimes

∙ Incapacitation looks at the offender’s potential actions, which allows the sentences to be  future oriented; if an offender is seen to be more likely to commit future crimes, then the  judge can/or will impose a harsher and more severe sentence; imprisonment serves as the  usual method of incapacitation 

∙ Rehabilitation refers to the goal of restoring a convicted offender to a constructive place  in society through some form of training or therapy; focuses on the offender not the crime they committed

∙ Offenders are treated instead of punished and are soon able to return to society when they show signs of being cured; judges would set sentences with maximum and minimum  terms in order for parole boards to release inmates when they have been rehabilitated;  rehabilitation programs provided education, counseling, skill training, and other services

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