Tuesday, May 14, 2019

New ABA Formal Opinion on duties of prosecutors when negotiating plea bargain deals

Last week, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued a new formal opinion on duties of prosecutors.  See Opinion 486, available here

As you probably know, prosecutors have a special role in the judicial system because they do not only litigate on behalf of the state, they are also considered "ministers of justice."  This puts them in what appears to be somewhat of a contradictory position in that they have to, at the same time, prosecute the defendant while protecting the defendant's rights. 

According to the chair of the Committee, hundreds of times weekly, prosecutors negotiate plea deals with misdemeanor defendants who lack counsel and may agree to unfair dispositions, which creates a disproportionate risk of harm for the poor and minorities, who are disproportionately represented among the defendant population. 

For this reason, the new opinion reminds prosecutors of their duties to ensure that the accused has a reasonable opportunity to obtain counsel, that decisions to resolve a case through plea bargaining are grounded in the prosecutor’s independent assessment of the case, and that prosecutors reveal known collateral consequences, which may include deportation and the loss of eligibility for a wide range of public services, including food assistance and public housing. 

The ABA Journal has more on the story.

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