How Prosecutorial Discretion Affects Criminal Cases

Understanding how prosecutorial discretion affects criminal cases is important to the outcome of any legal case. If you find yourself facing criminal charges consider contacting an attorney to better understand the role prosecutor discretion may have in your unique case. Learn more about your legal rights by contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall at 703-934-0101 today.

Legal Duties of Prosecutors

The Code of Virginia states that attorneys (including prosecutors) must abide by specific ethical duties imposed upon them by the laws including a duty to prosecute warrants or indictments. However, the code of Virginia also stipulates that prosecutors may at their discretion prosecute certain violations over others.

The Virginia State Bar recognizes that there exists flexibility in the legal system. In some cases, this flexibility is better described as prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutorial discretion means it is up to the prosecution to decide what criminal charges they want to present against a defendant and what evidence they want to disclose. This also means the prosecution has the right to withhold evidence for charges they decide not to pursue against a defendant. However, there are still ethical obligations and considerations to which they are legally bound.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical standards require prosecutors to file charges against defendants in situations where they

have probable cause and sufficient evidence. In cases where they know they do not have probable cause or enough evidence to support the charges, it is in the best interest of the state to avoid filing charges and avoid incurring the associated costs of pursuing a legal case that will not end in favor of the state. In many cases, the determination regarding whether or not there is sufficient evidence in a case will be a subjective decision made by the prosecution.

How Prosecutorial Discretion Affects Criminal Cases

Beyond this, prosecutors have a great deal of leeway when it comes to criminal charges. Just because a crime took place does not mean the prosecution is required to legally file charges. Prosecutors need to take into consideration the strength of the evidence and what a fair charge would be given any extenuating circumstances.

How prosecutorial discretion affects criminal cases is largely up to the prosecuting attorney. Prosecutorial discretion can change depending on what the prosecution is trying to achieve. To better understand how prosecutorial discretion may impact your criminal charges, consider reaching out to the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall.

Examples of Prosecutorial Discretion

If the prosecution wants a defendant to plead guilty to a minor crime, but they have circumstantial evidence for a handful of crimes that all relate to the same event, they might charge the defendant with a more severe crime, and use the serious offense as leverage to convince the defendant to admit guilt to the lesser crime.

In another example, prosecutors might choose to pursue a specific charge if they believe they can convince a jury to convict the defendant. However, if they believe they lack evidence for that conviction, the prosecutors can choose to pursue a lesser charge.

Different Types of Punishments

There are different types of punishments ordered by the court against people convicted of criminal charges. Some punishments are designed to coerce people into a certain behavior.

Contempt of Court. Someone who is refusing to testify can be held in contempt of court and placed in jail until such time as they agree to testify.

Rehabilitative Punishments. Other punishments are designed to rehabilitate someone to overcome whatever it was that led them to certain crimes. In these cases, a defendant may be ordered to take classes or engage in community service.

Retributive Punishments. Retributive punishments are meant to seek retribution for the crime that was committed. This can include imposing a fine or jail time

Community Service. Community service hours as part of the punishment for someone convicted of property damage can serve to give back to society by beautifying that

property and compensating for the damage done.

Legal Fines. Legal fines can help pay back the legal cost borne by the state for not only the crime itself but the legal proceedings that led to the criminal conviction.

Jail Time. Jail time can serve as a way to repay a debt to society and persuade offenders to obey the law going forward. People who have been punished through significant amounts of jail time will hopefully avoid situations that result in that same punishment in the future.

Finding a Legal Balance

There are many situations where fully prosecuting someone to the absolute legal limit for their crimes may not be in the best interest of the defendant or the state. In these circumstances, prosecutorial discretion affects criminal cases in the form of plea deals. In fact, it is for the best interest of the defendant or the state that many prosecutors are willing to enter into plea deals with a defendant.

Plea Deals

Plea deals can take the form of a defendant pleading guilty to their charges, and in exchange for their guilty plea, they receive a punitive punishment such as jail time or fines.

Charges of Lesser Crimes

A prosecutor can also look at the evidence and make the decision to convict a defendant of similar but different crimes. For example, the same situation and evidence could be construed as assault and battery or it could be construed as malicious wounding. Another scenario would allow a prosecutor to charge either joyriding or grand theft auto. Again, the actual criminal charge is completely up to the prosecutor in every criminal case.

Virginia Criminal Law

The Virginia State Bar gives attorneys the power to prosecute crimes in such a way that it remains in the best interest of the defendant and the state. The prosecution has a great deal of power to charge a defendant in a variety of ways. That said, it costs the state money to prosecute a defendant, and costs even more for the state every time a defendant goes to jail. Therefore simply convicting every alleged criminal and sending them to jail is not in the best interest of the state. Prosecutors can look at the information in a given case and determine that the defendant would be better off attending rehabilitative classes or undergoing community service. This is particularly relevant in situations where there is no criminal history and the crime in question might have been a one-time mistake.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you want to learn more about how prosecutorial discretion affects criminal cases, and how prosecutorial discretion may benefit your criminal case, contact the Law Office of Faraji A. Rosenthall at 703-934-0101 to get answers to your legal questions. We can review your situation and explain how prosecutor discretion may apply in your specific situation.