Many people think convicting the bad guys is the toughest part of working as a prosecuting attorney. That is difficult, as I know from the time I worked as a county prosecutor. He/she must make certain all the evidence to convict is assembled, witnesses are available, and that she is prepared for any defense arguments about the procedure or evidence.
Usually, the defense lawyer works to keep evidence away from the jury because it may be prejudicial, irrelevant, hearsay, or not presented in the correct legal manner. Of course, the defense lawyer is motivated primarily because the proposed evidence almost always hurts her client’s case!
A prosecutor must anticipate these efforts to exclude evidence and also be prepared with a plan if the defense lawyer persuades the judge to keep the evidence or witnesses’ statements from going to the jury during the trial. These are all difficult jobs for a prosecutor. But the toughest job, in my estimation, is working with victims.
Keep in mind there are two types of victims: the innocent and the not so innocent. What do I mean? Here’s an example: two men are drunk and begin fighting over a woman. (What a great idea!) One of the men pulls out a gun and shoots the other. Both men had guns and either one was capable of pulling out the weapon, but the first one to do so and shoot, became the defendant and the other, the victim. Remember, either one could have acted first and the defendant/victim identification would’ve been reversed. This is an example of a not so innocent victim.
For prosecutors, these kinds of victims are difficult to work with because the victim and the new defendant could be similar in character but for the fact the “defendant” got the gun out first. In my experience, it’s difficult to work with these victims but not the hardest.
The hardest are what I call the ” innocent victims,” those who never got involved but became victims. Typical cases include child sexual victims, innocent women walking home who are accosted, and people standing in line at a convenience store who become victims of robbers. These are the kind of people I mean when I say, “innocent victims.”
I think working with these people is the hardest part of a prosecutor’s job because when they come to you, they want the defendant not only convicted but also hung by his neck, tortured, and then, finally, sent to prison for the rest of his life. Although I often agreed with their sentiments, I had to tell them that first, I couldn’t guarantee the jury would find them guilty. Even if they did, the sentencing guidelines in most states don’t require the death penalty. In fact, there’s a good chance they may get probation.
To have to tell an innocent victim that even if we get a conviction, there isn’t much the defendant will suffer by way of prison is so hard. People have an idea that all bad criminals go to jail and the public is safe. Far from reality.
Prosecuting cases with innocent victims isn’t harder for legal reasons. It’s harder because of the personal, emotional reasons.