The public is becoming more aware of police abuses of power as coverage of the protests against police brutality continues. More and more people are seeing the excessive use of force wielded on protestors by police firsthand.
Abuses of power don’t just occur in the streets. They also take place in the courtroom.
What Is “Abuse of Power”?
An abuse of power happens when someone in an official position of power takes advantage of that place of privilege illegally and intentionally. When prosecutors abuse their power, it’s known as “prosecutorial misconduct.” This happens when prosecutors break the law or breach a professional code of conduct while working on a case.
Types of Prosecutorial Misconduct
Prosecutors can break the law, engaging in prosecutorial misconduct, in four ways:
- Offering evidence that they know to be false or “inadmissible” in court
- Keeping exculpatory evidence hidden from the defense, or “suppressing Brady evidence”
- Encouraging witnesses to lie on the stand, or “suborning perjury”
- Prosecutorial bluffing
These four main categories cover many different methods prosecutors may use to abuse their power. Unfortunately, many instances of prosecutorial misconduct go unpunished, even when that misconduct puts innocent people in jail.
What Kind of Power Do Prosecutors Have?
Over the past few decades, prosecutors have been instrumental in accelerating mass incarceration in the U.S. They flood jails with prisoners, exacerbating racial inequality. Prosecutors drive mass incarceration in a few ways, including:
- Advocating for exorbitant bail amounts – Prosecutors play an oversized role in determining if defendants can put up bail and the amount they must pay. By advocating for bail amounts that are unnecessarily high, prosecutors essentially create a debtor’s prison, letting potentially innocent people sit in prison because they cannot pay their way out.
- Pushing for harsher charges – Prosecutors have the power to determine the charges defendants face, allowing discriminatory prosecutors to put forth unfairly harsh sentences at will.
- Plea bargaining – Tough-on-crime laws like mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes rules incentivize defendants, and disproportionally defendants of color, to plead guilty to lesser charges rather than risk exceptionally high stakes by going to trial even when they are innocent. As such, prosecutors wield exceptional negotiating power. Today, nine out of every ten cases are resolved through plea bargaining.
Unfortunately, prosecutors rarely face consequences for misconduct even when cases are thrown out as a result. Courts frequently grant prosecutors immunity from civil lawsuits, and prosecutors are almost never tried in criminal court for their actions. A 2003 study by the Center for Public Integrity found that 2,012 cases have been thrown out due to misconduct since 1970, yet only 44 of those resulted in any disciplinary consequences for the prosecutor. When they are charged, their punishments are often exceedingly lenient.
How You Can Help
Abuse of power by prosecutors not only impedes the judicial process and undermines the credibility of the criminal justice system, it also causes irreparable harm to victims. The Fair Fight Initiative raises money to represent these victims and increases awareness of these injustices through advocacy.
A donation to the Fair Fight Initiative helps victims of prosecutorial misconduct afford the ability to see justice served, something that has become a privilege rather than a right.
If you’ve been harmed by prosecutorial misconduct, we encourage you to apply for assistance. The Fair Fight Initiative receives many applications, so responses may be delayed.