The Virtuous Prosecutor in Quest of an Ethical Standard: Guidance from the ABA

Among his other endeavors, the public prosecutor strives to maintain an upright stance in the stained halls of criminal justice. He correctly senses that the people demand more of him than diligent, workmanlike performance of his public chores. Virtue is the cherished ingredient in his role: the honorable exercise of the considerable discretionary power with which our legal system has endowed his office. Daily, the ethical fibre of the prosecutor is tested -and through him, in large measure, the rectitude of the system of justice.

Here, I shall discuss only three of the many ethical problems along the prosecutor’s way: selective prosecution, prejudgment of credibility, and conflict of interest. While perhaps not the hardest questions, I think they are both important and perplexing. Also, they are united by a common element. In different ways, each concerns the real or imagined impact of factors extraneous to the strictly legal assessment of a criminal case. And each has received the attention of the ABA project with less than completely gratifying results.