Tuesday, March 04, 2014


Prosecutors would benefit from spending time in the slammer just as judges should spend time in the jail. Time in jail could humanize prosecutors and help them understand that defendants are not much different from anyone else. 

While the prosecutor sits in his small jail cell waiting for his beans and stale bread, he could while away the hours listening to cellmates complain of improper police conduct, lack of proper medical care in jail, lack of reasonable jail security and the fact that Florida jails and prisons have become profit mills run by private entities. 

Would it change the prosecutor's outlook on life? Did time in prison change Nelson Mandela, Solzhenitsyn or Mahatma Gandhi?

In Tampa Bay Florida prosecutors should go directly to jail to learn about humility and justice.
Prosecutor: Go to Jail

 Every defense lawyer has come across prosecutors who are as thick as bricks in say, treating first time non-violent offenders as if each represented the case of the century. Part of the problem is immaturity, after all many prosecutors are young attorneys in their first job and really are afraid to be anything but tough because they're not brave enough to argue for compassion. And mixed with this is a powerful self righteousness among many in law enforcement which is a byproduct of the convenient but delusional belief that they're some breed of avenging angels.

When I was a prosecutor years ago in Tampa Bay, Florida I found that many of the lawyers in the office became intoxicated with the power they were given. It started at the top because the chief prosecutor failed to instill a value system of justice and purpose in the prosecuting attorneys instead dictating a tunnel vision  persuading prosecutors to reject any view of innocence despite evidence to the contrary.

He failed to teach them that the true aim of good prosecutors should not be finding ways to win the most jail time but in finding the best possible solutions for victims and defendants effectively addressing the underlying reasons for the misconduct. No wonder the very man that the chief prosecutor trusted to watch over Clearwater prosecutors in drug trafficking cases turned out to be a criminal himself when it was revealed that he traded in sexual favors from defendants facing minimum mandatory prison sentences for reduced prison time corrupting prosecutors and himself.

Some time spent in jail away from the rest of us would give prosecutors a little humility. It's not unusual for prosecutors to be recent law school graduates, since being a prosecutor confers upon a rookie lawyer immediate trial experience laced with firm knowledge of the criminal justice system. Some prosecutors benefit from the confidence that winning many easy slam-dunk trial brings, while other prosecutors are crippled later in their careers by that early overconfidence and lack of hard work. 

A strong defense demands hard work. A strong prosecution demands hard work from law enforcement early in investigation all the way to an arrest, but despite what one might think, not from the prosecutor despite what one would think when hearing a typical prosecutor presenting a case. So a little jail time, say a rainy weekend in jail, might be just enough to bring prosecutors some much needed humility.

Also, time spent in jail would help prosecutors understand what it really means to spend time there. It would help them to properly evaluate which defendants should be best punished with something other than jail. You want my client to spend ten years in jail away from his family for a nonviolent crime such as grand theft. Fine, spend a weekend there yourself first, then let's talk about your experience and if it's really the best thing for my client.

Finally, under the law prosecutors are held to a much higher standard than other attorneys. They are sworn to seek justice, not just a guilty verdict. Yet many prosecutors few their job as trying to get the toughest sentence possible. Clearly many prosecutors would benefit from the renewal of a true sense of fair play and justice by learning what jail really entails, making it less casual and more difficult to send others to prison because of the knowledge of what wasted time in prison really means. 

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