Welcome to South Florida
I came in this summer with the intention to interview prosecutors on their ethics. Broad, I know. So far, I’ve had short conversations on the topic as I’ve introduced my research to many of the ASAs. They’ve all offered bits on how the state attorney’s office (SAO) is different from other offices, or how much influence they must recognize they have, or how a bad relationship with the “other side” or a judge impacts an outcome. While I’m trying to focus on the changing nature of the death penalty here in Florida, I am using the death penalty question as a springboard for questioning who has the power to decide who is charged and with what, and what ethical obligations do they see themselves fulfilling. There may be no clear answer to this, but I am curious as to what individuals think. The death penalty is a consequential example of a more durable question of responsibility for punishment.
Prior to beginning my internship, I read up on prosecutorial ethics, and the majority of journals or excerpts included race issues and how much it affects who is sent to jail in this country. However, for this matter, I believe that this jurisdiction is an exception (so far!). With a Latin majority county and a hugely diverse state attorney’s office with many more females than males and a new swath of young black ASAs, it seems like there is a stronger sense of understanding of crime when the office reflects the population.
This office also seems different when it comes to the pressure to win in trial. The ASAs claim its existence is minor. However, I think it’s more about a lack of pressure to bring a case to court in order to come out with a definitive “win” (a jury finding guilt). I’m not yet sure if this has to do with an atmosphere of justice than it is a fear of losing while in trial. Still, it will be difficult to discern, just based on interviews with savvy ASAs, if a desire to seek justice, and “only the truth” trumps an adversarial atmosphere. In addition, I wonder if the well-researched fact that prosecutorial misconduct is hard to uncover – as it is rarely reported – perpetuates the misconduct.