Parole Board Robert, the Chair Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

While implementing the work-release program may lead to an increased risk to people outside of the prison environment that risk is at least theoretical, while the risks associated with overcrowded prisons are concrete. Moreover, William could attempt to develop and implement risk assessment and screening processes for the work release program. For example, he could ask for input from the correctional officers, who have had experience with the inmates, about who poses the least risk if transferred to a work-release program.

The District Attorney

Martha campaigned for her position as district attorney as a tough-on-crime candidate, critical of plea bargains and reduced prison citizens. Her tough-on-crime approach has been echoed by the mayor and the police chief, who have launched an aggressive arrest campaign. However, Martha's review of the cases reveals that many of them are not supported by probable cause. Despite the lack of probable cause, Martha is convinced that the targeted arrestees are involved in the city's drug culture. She has to decide how to direct her staff to handle these prosecutions.

If Martha directs her staff to dismiss weak cases or seek plea bargains, then she risks upsetting the voters who put her in office. She ran on a strong anti-crime platform, in which she was critical of people who offered plea bargains and were not aggressive in their prosecution of criminals. Furthermore, Martha may place the community at risk. Most of the arrestees have significant contacts with crime in her city. It is not a stretch to imagine that their incarceration would have a positive impact on crime rates in the city. Making the city safer was not only one of Martha's campaign promises, but also a logical desire for one who has chosen to pursue prosecution as a career.

On the other hand, if Martha directs her staff to take these cases to trial, she faces another set of problems. First, without probable cause, many of these cases may be dismissed early in the trial procedure. If the defendants were arrested without probable cause, then a competent defense attorney should be able to reveal that lack of probable cause during trial and get an acquittal for those defendants. This might actually result in an increase in danger to the public, because the police force would be viewed as incompetent, and future arrests and prosecutions might be tainted by the stain of a number of dismissals due to lack of probable cause. In addition, trials are very expensive. If Martha does not feel as if she has a chance of winning a significant proportion of these trials, then it is a waste of resources for her to insist that the cases go to the trial stage.

However, the problem is not simply due to the risk of what dismissals would mean to the community as a whole or to the fiscal bottom-line of the government. The risk also has to take into account what prosecution would mean for each individual defendant. In the United States, there are a number of rules that protect criminal defendants from an over-reaching by the government. "The Fourth Amendment makes probable cause the key term in the arrest process. The police need probable cause to make an arrest, whether they are asking a judge to issue an arrest warrant or justifying an arrest after it has been made" (Berman, 2012). However, many criminal defendants cannot afford competent legal counsel and appointed counsel is often overworked, underpaid, understaffed, and undertrained, leading them to miss critical constitutional issues, like the ones these defendants are experiencing. For Martha to continue with the prosecution of these individuals, or, worse, to push for her staff to attempt to get plea bargains from these individuals so that they will be convicted, would be to profit from the violation of these arrestees' constitutional rights.

For Martha, this really is not an ethical dilemma. She has a duty to the public, but her duty to the public is clearly defined by the professional rules and ethical guidelines for prosecutors. The exact wording of these ethical guidelines may vary from state to state, but the essence of them can be found in the American Bar Association's standards for prosecutors. Under standard 3-1.2(c), "the duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict" (American Bar Association, 2012). Moreover, under standard 3-1.2(d) "it is an important function of the prosecutor to seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice. When inadequacies
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or injustices in the substantive or procedural law come to the prosecutor's attention, he or she should stimulate efforts for remedial action" (American Bar Association, 2012). The Constitution is the law of the land, and there can be no justice when the Constitution has been violated.

Therefore, Martha has a duty to direct her staff to dismiss those cases where the police lacked probable cause for arrest. Moreover, she has a duty to approach the police chief and the mayor to talk to them about substantive reforms in the city's current arrest policies, including training officers on when probable cause exists. If they fail to respond positively to her efforts, then she has a duty to make their policies public and seek reform of those policies. While this will almost certainly result in Martha losing her next election, the reality is that she chose to run for a job with a deeply instilled moral and ethical obligation that she seek justice. She has no alternative.

The Officer

Linda, a police officer, detains a man because she believes he is acting like a drug lookout. The man has no identification, but produces what appears to be crack cocaine and $400 in cash from his pocket. Recently, Linda's sergeant has chastised officers for bringing in petty drug cases and clogging up the system. Furthermore, her fellow officers have been complaining about a lack of support from other officers because they are prosecuting minor arrests instead of helping with calls. However, in order to identify the suspect, Linda needs to arrest him and charge him, so that he can be identified from his fingerprints. At this time, Linda gets a call from her dispatcher asking her to serve as backup for a burglary in process. Linda can tell the dispatcher that she is unavailable, arrest the man, and head to the police station for processing, or she can let the suspect go and serve as backup for the burglary in process.

If Linda lets the suspect go, she may be letting go of an important piece in a drug arrest. Petty drug arrests, such as those who only have enough drugs on them to suggest personal use, do appear to be a waste of valuable criminal justice resources. However, it cannot be denied that drugs are huge component of organized crime. Furthermore, it is erroneous to assume that simply because personal use drug possession charges may be associated with very little risk of other criminal activity, that all drug violations are similarly low-risk. "The illegal drug market in the United States is one of the most profitable in the world. As such, it attracts the most ruthless, sophisticated, and aggressive drug traffickers. Drug law enforcement agencies face an enormous challenge in protecting the country's borders. Each year, according to the U.S. Customs Service, 60 million people enter the United States on more than 675,000 commercial and private flights. Another 6 million come by sea and 370 million by land. In addition, 116 million vehicles cross the land borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 90,000 merchant and passenger ships dock at U.S. ports. These ships carry more than 9 million shipping containers and 400 million tons of cargo. Another 157,000 smaller vessels visit our many coastal towns. Amid this voluminous trade, drug traffickers conceal cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and methamphetamine shipments for distribution in U.S. neighborhoods" (The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 2004). Police officers are frequently unable to access high-level dealers in these huge drug trafficking organizations without using lower-level employees, who serve as informants and aid in information gathering services for drug-prosecutions. Therefore, by letting go of this suspect, Linda may lose a valuable opportunity for a window into the prosecution of a major drug syndicate.

On the other hand, burglary is a serious offense with a pressing danger. Burglary means that a perpetrator is trespassing into a habitation or commercial property (Farlex, 2013). Burglary is associated with a very high degree of physical danger to any inhabitants of the targeted location, as well as a risk to the property within the building. If Linda fails to respond to the burglary call, it could take longer for back-up to arrive to the scene, which could endanger the lives of any people at the scene, as well as result in significant lost property. Moreover, to the community, while drug crimes may be a nuisance and result in an overall higher crime rate, crimes like burglary, which threaten…

Sources Used in Documents:


American Bar Association. (2013). Prosecution function. Retrieved March 5, 2013 from the American Bar Association website:

Berman, S. (2013). When the police can make an arrest: Probable cause. Retrieved March 5,

2013 from Nolo website:

Davidson, J. (2012, October 15). Prison overcrowding undermines safety, report says.

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