Prosecutors are obligated to provide timely and complete discovery, particularly with regard to exculpatory and impeachment material. The discovery process can be complex and time consuming. Failure to properly record the discovery documents provided to the defense can jeopardize cases and put prosecutors at risk of being charged with ethical violations. Thus, prosecutors are turning to technology to streamline the discovery process and to create a reliable record of what was turned over to the defense and when.
Are You Prepared?
Disaster has hit prosecutors’ offices in a variety of ways: flooding (East Baton Rouge, Houston), hurricanes (New Orleans, Miami), fire (Missouri; New Jersey) and terrorism (New York). Even less destructive forces, like a snow storm, can impede a prosecutor’s office ability to function. Planning in advance of an emergency is critical for the safety of employees and for assuring that essential work can continue. Here are three areas for consideration:
In September 2013, the Tennessee District Attorney Generals unanimously voted to establish the Tennessee Justice and Professionalism Committee (TJPC) as a standing committee of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference (TNDAGC) to pursue best practices for prosecutors. TJPC’s goal is to take the lead in improving Tennessee’s criminal justice system by keeping abreast of emerging issues and partnering with state and national criminal justice partners.
Prosecutor wellness is an issue that is justly receiving increased attention and resources. Here is an award-winning wellness program and some helpful materials from the American Bar Association.
MISSOULA COUNTY ATTORNEY SECONDARY TRAUMA PROGRAM
In 2016, County Attorney Kirsten Pabst joined clinical social worker Andrew Laue, LCSW to create the first of its kind secondary trauma program for prosecutors, designed to educate staff on the impact of trauma and provide tools to manage the effects of trauma, enhance resilience and increase employee longevity. Hailed as an innovative success, the National Association of Counties (NACo) recognized Pabst and Laue with a national Achievement Award and a 100 Brilliant Ideas in Government Award.
Our nation is in the midst of the worst addiction crisis in its history. The Center for Disease Control’s most recent report revealed that the rate of drug overdose deaths has increased 137% since 2000, including 200% increase involving opioids. Studies estimate the substance abuse recovery community in the U.S. alone is at 23.5 million people.
The Michigan Prosecutors’ Justice Initiative (MPJI), Ethics and Best Practices Committee was established in 2014 to ensure justice is delivered with the highest degree of integrity through the development of professional standards designed to improve public safety, protect the rights of the accused, secure justice for crime victims, and hold offenders accountable. The committee meets on a regular basis to discuss the challenging issues of the day and to provide guidance on a variety of subjects.
As police departments across the United States embrace the use of police body-worn cameras, it is imperative that prosecutors be involved in the process as early as possible. The cameras will inevitably capture a great deal of evidentiary material that will be used in every type of criminal prosecution. Thus, systems and policies must be developed to ensure that this evidence is properly captured and delivered to the prosecutor in a timely and usable way, and that prosecutors have the resources to view, store and redact the recordings.
The Committee: The Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys (VACA) Committee on Justice and Professionalism, established in September of 2014, serves as a forum for Virginia prosecutors to share information, collaborate on case reviews, remain current on legal and investigative trends, and avoid erroneous convictions. Committee members include elected Commonwealth’s Attorneys and deputies from a diverse range of counties and cities throughout Virginia. The committee had initially been funded in part by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and now is supported by VACA.