Prosecuting Attorneys: A MertonianAnalysis of Deviance and the Criminal Justice System
Page, Becky A.
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I chose to study Prosecutors because they have a great deal of latitude in determining which defendants are prosecuted. In the American criminal justice system, the Prosecutor has the burden of proof in showing that a crime was committed and that a certain individual committed it. The Prosecutor must look at the facts of the case and determine if sjhe can prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crime. S/he must also determine if there is a reason not to prosecute the crime. At times a Prosecutor cannot proceed on a case due to: police investigation errors, lack of reasonable proof of guilt, insufficient evidence, lack of witness credibility/cooperation, legal technicalities like the defendant was not read his/her rights or was coerced, or a prosecutorial difficulty in proving criminal intent. If the defendant is charged with more than one offense, the Prosecutor must decide which ones can and should be prosecuted. Also, the Prosecutor must determine if the prosecution is in the best interest of the jurisdiction. It is important to understand the criminal justice system in general and the role that the Prosecutors play in it. After a crime is committed, an arrest is made. The person accused of a crime, the defendant, is processed by the police and a court date is set. The Prosecutor determines what the charge will be according to the provable facts of the case. The initial court appearance is called "the arraignment" and it is at this point that the defendant is officially charged. The information/indictment, which names the charges, is read on the record and the judge asks the defendant for his/her plea. If sjhe pleads "not guilty," bail is set. The judge asks if the defendant can afford an attorney and if not, counsel is appointed for indigent defendants. The Prosecutor is not present for this. The defense attorney may be present if the defendant has retained one. Following the arraignment, there is a pre-trial conference for misdemeanors, which are crimes that carry a penalty of less than a year in jail, or a pre-exam conference for felonies, which are crimes that carry a penalty of more than a year in jail. These conferences are simply meetings with the defense counsel, the Prosecutor and the judge to determine if the case may be disposed of (through plea bargaining) or if the case will go on through the criminal process. If there is no plea bargain, misdemeanors go to trial and felonies go to a preliminary examination where the Prosecutor must show that a crime was committed and that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed it. If the judge believes that probable cause exists, the defendant is bound over for trial where the Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. With this understanding of the justice system and the Prosecutor's role in it, we can begin to analyze how, through the deviance that they are trying to eliminate. The conclusions that I have drawn, based on my observations, are that being tougher on crime may actually increase it and make it harder for those caught up in crime to become productive members of society. The labeling of deviants in a society that strongly forces conformism, makes it easier for those individuals to become better deviants and to better fulfill the expectations of that label. Since they are unable or unwilling to conform to the norms set by society, it creates pressure to deviate. Adhering or conforming to the role expectations of a "deviant" is the only way that these individuals are able to conform to societal rules at all. Further, I also conclude that the Prosecutors, those who punish deviance, are deviants as well. My observations led me to believe that the Prosecutors go through the motions of performing their job but they have lost sight of the end goals that they were trying to achieve.