Monday, March 28, 2011

Colorado DA implements a plan that creates incentives for DAs to violate their duties

Should prosecutors receive bonuses if they score relatively high conviction rates? The Wall Street Journal Law Blog is reporting (here) that according to a plan devised by Colorado district attorney Carol Chambers assistant district attorneys are eligible to earn an average $1,100 reward if they participate in at least 5 trials during the year and get felony convictions in at least 70% of their trials. Plea bargains don’t count.

Am I missing something or is this institutionalizing a systems that by definition creates a conflict of interest between the (personal/financial) interests of the DA and the duties under rule 3.8 that require prosecutors to act as ministers of justice and not just as advocates?

According to the story, Chambers told the newspaper that her bonus system is similar to incentive plans used by private employers. The problem is that prosecutors are not like lawyers in private practice. The rules of professional conduct impose on them different duties, particularly a duty to act in the best interest of justice. This means that the prosecutor has to make sure that justice is served, not just that people are convicted to keep the numbers up.

Everyone knows that most convictions in this country are achieved via plea bargains, but, the bonus system in Colorado encourages prosecutors to pursue trials in lieu of plea bargains to qualify for a bonus. Thus, the bonus system actually could encourage prosecutors to act against their duty as a minister of justice.

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