Reid, Melanie


Over the years, prosecutors have been criticized for exhibiting aggressive, competitive traits while negotiating plea deals, investigating and preparing cases for trial, or arguing for their positions before, during, and after trial. Prosecutors are asked to interact with others in a highly adversarial criminal justice system on a daily basis on top of working in a highly competitive environment back in their own offices. This environment makes it difficult for a prosecutor to see the opposing party through a more compassionate lens. However, rather than continually focusing on how “bad” prosecutors can be and how to punish their misconduct, this article suggests we identify what makes a “good” prosecutor and find ways to support those qualities and instincts. A prosecutor, according to ABA Standards, is asked to exercise sound discretion, act with integrity and balanced judgment, protect the innocent, consider the interests of victims and witnesses, and respect the constitutional and legal rights of all persons. A prosecutor who can exhibit these qualities and exercise good judgment in the face of conflict would be the ideal. In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama explains that inner peace and true happiness comes from having a greater concern for others’ well-being and exhibiting kindness, empathy, and compassion towards others. When we recognize our connection as human beings and we exhibit compassion towards others, we, in turn, feel joyful in our own lives. A new, joyful model of prosecution would require a reframing of the prosecutor’s role and relationships. An empathetic prosecutor would be able to perceive what others feel, process the information, and respond effectively with compassion rather than taking adversarial attacks personally. This is difficult to do in an environment where prosecutors must juggle the stress of seeking justice, protecting the public, working with law enforcement, consoling the victim, managing a high case load, and responding to repeated counterarguments by opposing counsel. We must encourage and support a change in the qualities exhibited by those in such a position. The rise of progressive prosecutors has changed the prosecutor’s environment and made displays of empathy and compassion much more accepted and commonplace. We must build on this display of empathy and choose prosecutors that are balanced and demonstrate a cooperative, empathetic spirit as well as a decisive, rational sense of right and wrong. A joyful prosecutor will be more empathetic and exhibit more balanced characteristics for the betterment of everyone involved in the criminal justice system.

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