Frequently Asked Questions
What does a prosecutor do?
The job of a prosecutor is to represent the interests of the state in criminal legal actions. A prosecutor looks at each case, decides if it merits prosecution, and, if it does, what the charges should be. The prosecutor then has the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must strive for justice – for the victims, for the community and for the accused.
Former Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland eloquently described the duties of a prosecutor as:
“[A prosecutor’s] interest…in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor—indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones.” (1935)
Robert H. Jackson, another former Supreme Court Justice, articulated important values for a prosecutor:
“A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.” (1940)
What is a statewide Best Practices Committee for prosecutors?
A statewide Best Practices Committee for prosecutors is made up of prosecutors from all regions of a state, including urban, suburban and rural jurisdictions. It is a non-partisan group that includes elected prosecutors, senior prosecutors and prosecution coordinators. The committee is a brain trust for prosecutors on policy issues including how to improve the criminal justice system and how to evaluate emerging issues
What do Best Practices Committees do?
Best Practices Committees meet regularly to discuss how to improve the criminal justice system and how to evaluate difficult and emerging issue facing prosecutors. It is a process by which there can be a statewide conversation among prosecutors on important policy issues. Best Practices committees are proactive and can recommend specific improvements. The committees can collaborate on a variety of issues with other partners, such as the police, victim groups and researchers.
Why should prosecutors have a statewide Best Practices Committee?
Best Practices Committees allow prosecutors to be engaged in the policy issues of the day and to be proactive in improving the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is undergoing a revolution of change and introspection fueled by the realization that wrongful convictions can occur and that the trust between the community and law enforcement has eroded. These issues are of profound importance to prosecutors who are so central to the criminal justice system. Prosecutors have an ethical obligation to protect public safety and to respect the rights of the accused. This dual purpose is essential, but complex. The committees help prosecutors to keep abreast of the rapid changes in the criminal justice system and the ever-increasing flow of recommendations, studies and opinions. The mission of Prosecutors’ Center of Excellence is to assist prosecutors with these challenges.
Does my state have a Best Practices Committee?
Prosecutors are forming best Practices Committees all across the nation. States are in different stages: some have committees that have been in existence for years, others are in the formative stages and other states are in the process of considering such committees
. Whether a committee has been formed or is being considered, prosecutors from over 30 states have been meeting
to discuss the best practices movement and to examine emerging issues.
How can I form a Best Practices Committee in my state?
PCE provides technical assistance with creating Best Practices Committee, ranging from advice on foundational documents to membership, agendas, materials, sustainability, and much more
. Contact PCE
for more information.
PCE can help with:
- Supporting prosecutor Best Practices Committees
- Advice for prosecutors regarding training and policy development on PCE’s core issues
- Giving presentations on Best Practices Committees and PCE’s core issues
- Research for prosecutors on policy matters
- Technical assistance and consulting
- Convening meetings for prosecutors to discuss policy matters and to share new ideas