What is the role of a prosecutor in a drunk driving case? One answer might be to obtain a conviction. While true, this is really only part of a prosecutor’s role. In fact, one may argue that it is a secondary goal. A prosecutor’s primarily role in a drunk driving case is the same as it would be in any other criminal case, and that is to ensure that justice is done.
But, ensuring justice does not always mean obtaining a conviction. In a drunk driving case, as with any other criminal case, justice may mean something completely different, such as agreeing to the dismissal of the charges or agreeing to a reduction in the charges. The problem is that political and competitive pressures often keep prosecutors from doing the right thing. Instead, they care only about their statistics – how many convictions have the obtained. Everything else, including their Constitutional obligation to ensure justice, takes a back seat.
The therein lies the problem which is that many prosecutors in drunk driving cases don’t understand or even care about this role and instead do whatever possible to secure the conviction. This may even include actively helping the cops confabulate their testimony or worse looking the other way as the cops falsely testify. A somewhat more innocuous derivation of this Constitutional role would be to hide evidence or fail to provide it to the defense, especially favorable evidence.
Needless to say, doing any of these things is a violation of the prosecutor’s constitutional role. Ensuring justice rather than simply a conviction is not just a Constitutional slogan. Here is a partial listing of some of the important Constitutional aspects of a drunk driving prosecution:
- The guarantee of equality before the law
- Equal protection of the laws
- Prohibition of discrimination imposed upon the State
- Deprivation of life / personal liberty only in accordance with procedure established by law . (This is the defense attorney’s constitutional role – which is to ensure due process).
- Presumption of innocence of the accused
- The requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt
- The right of the accused to remain silent
- Arrest and detention in accordance with law and judicial guidelines
- Protection against double jeopardy
- Non-retrospective punishment
It is unfortunate that many prosecutors have become pawns in the overzealous enforcement of Michigan’s drunk driving laws. Were prosecutors to think first of their Constitutional role then it is true that there would be fewer drunk driving convictions but more importantly the fabric of our Constitution would be held intact.
A renegade cop together with a subservient prosecutor is far more dangerous to society than any drunk driver could ever be. Unfortunately, there is no Mothers Against Overzealous Prosecutors.