5 Reasons To Consider Becoming A Criminal Prosecutor

I began my career practicing civil litigation in the classic “BigLaw” style. However, I have spent the bulk of my “other” (non-LSAT Prep) career as a criminal prosecutor. The recent exoneration of CJ Rice, a wrongfully convicted defendant who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he apparently did not commit, reminded me of the immense value that prosecutors have in society. In no particular order, here are five reasons you may want to consider a career as a criminal prosecutor:

  1. Criminal Prosecution Is The “Purest” Form Of Law: When I initially interviewed for my job, I remember one of the senior assistants describing criminal prosecution as the “purest form of law.” After spending over two decades as a prosecutor, I would fully agree with that statement. The reason is simple. In most areas of law, lawyers represent clients. Whether they feel their client is right or wrong, good or bad, legally justified or unjustified, lawyers are required to represent their client “zealously.” In contrast, prosecutors are expected to evaluate all of their cases, and all of the positions they take in cases, purely objectively. It is hard to overstate the appeal of doing that, assuming you like to make arguments in court that you feel genuinely passionate about.
  2. Criminal Prosecutors Often Can Do More Good For Defendants Than The Defendant’s Own Lawyer: To a large extent, prosecutors hold the power in criminal cases. We decide whether to file charges, which charges to file, and what offers (“plea bargains”) to make. As a result, prosecutors hold immense power not only in ensuring justice for crime victims and society at large, but also for the criminal defendants themselves. If charges are unwarranted, or leniency in punishment is justified, prosecutors have the power to effectuate those results more than anyone else in the judicial system.
  3. Criminal Prosecutors Can Prevent Wrongful Convictions Much More Easily Than Defense Lawyers: As the CJ Rice story indicates, prosecutors typically can prevent wrongful convictions much more easily than criminal defense lawyers. Prosecutors can accomplish this in multiple ways. First, by ensuring that they engage in an intelligent, thoughtful and objective evaluation of a case, they can (and frequently do) avoid wrongful convictions by refusing to file charges in the first place. Second, if the development of facts (including input from the criminal defense lawyer) suggests a defendant has been wrongfully charged with a crime, prosecutors hold the unique role of being able to dismiss the charge(s). Third, if a defendant was wrongfully convicted, prosecutors again are the ones in the strongest position to “right the wrong.” Criminal defense lawyers can gather facts and make arguments to judges. But, as a practical matter, prosecutors are the ones who have the power to actually overturn a wrongful conviction most easily.
  4. Criminal Prosecutors Seek To Present The “Truth” During Trials: Let’s face it, the vast majority of people charged with crimes did, in fact, commit the crime. Those cases aren’t the ones that get all the media attention, or have books or Hollywood movies made about them, but they comprise the vast majority of criminal cases. If a case goes to trial, the prosecutor’s job is to be a zealous advocate for the truth – to ensure that a just verdict is reached by the judge or jury. Other lawyers, including criminal defense lawyers, are not tasked with presenting the “truth.” Their job is to zealously advocate for their clients within the boundaries of ethical limitations. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is fundamentally different than seeking to present the “truth” objectively.
  5. Criminal Prosecutors Occupy A Quasi-Judicial Role In The Justice System: Courts have deemed prosecutors to serve a “quasi-judicial” role in the legal system. That description is due to the expectations of objectivity in prosecutors. There is something uniquely rewarding about a job as a lawyer that allows you to do two things: (1) be a passionate advocate in a courtroom, and (2) maintain the unbiased neutrality of a judge. No other job in the legal system does that, and it is one of the countless reasons that so many people find the job of being a criminal prosecutor very appealing.

Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons you may not want to become a prosecutor, including many excellent reasons to become a criminal defense lawyer (or to avoid criminal law altogether!). No job is right for every person. If you have questions about your future path, or the wide variety of roles available to law school graduates, please feel free to email me at mark@scoreitup.com!