The Arizona Republic, concluding a series on prosecutor misconduct, cites cases in which prosecutors stepped over the line without suffering consequences to themselves or the convictions they win. The question remains: What can be done about it, the newspaper asks. When a prosecutor steps over the line, it’s up to the defense attorney to call it to the court’s attention, and it’s up to the judge to decide whether an offense has been committed and whether it affects the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Yet, neither likes to do so. Prosecutors are arguably the most powerful people in the courtroom: They file the charges and offer the plea agreements. Defense attorneys worry that if they cross a prosecutor, future clients could be treated more harshly the next time they face that prosecutor in court. Judges worry about prosecutors who use court rules to bypass those judges who rein them in. Both know that prosecutors are rarely sanctioned by the court or investigated by the State Bar of Arizona for ethical misconduct. So overly aggressive prosecutors continue to have their way in the courtroom – as long as they win cases, experts say. “It comes from this ‘end-justifies-the-means mentality,’’’ said Jon Sands, the federal public defender for Arizona. “We’ll do anything we can to bring someone to justice.”