Prosecutors and Professional Conduct

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We have all seen them. The District Attorney or Assistant D.A. that just cannot wait to make a headline in the paper by trying their case in front of the jury. While all D.A.’s are not attention-seeking, all District Attorneys are elected in our state. Obviously, this fact has nothing to do with their constant desire to grandstand when the press is in the courtroom or around the courthouse. This type of behavior has been going on for as long as people have craved attention. In an effort to prevent certain types of behavior, all lawyers have been provided the “Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct” to guide them along. In fact, you cannot even graduate law school without having taken a class in Professional Ethics.
Knowing that all attorneys should be aware of these rules, I become extremely offended when I witness attorneys violating these rules, usually because they are unaware they even exist. So why don’t the attorneys know the rules? Well, it doesn’t help when certain private attorneys are serving as “special prosecutors” for various cases. That’s right; an attorney who was never elected by the residents of a particular county is serving as the prosecutor for various cases across our state. These “prosecutors” sometimes violate rules that are essential to any jury trial, and the most alarming trend is they don’t even know they’re doing it.
Take for instance, this case. Basically, a mistrial was declared after a jury couldn’t agree whether a mentally ill woman was sane or insane when she fled from police and caused a fatal car accident. The special prosecutor in this case is a private attorney who made some interesting comments after the Judge declared a mistrial.

“Ogden said he made a plea offer of a 10-year sentence with credit for time served. Wilson served more than three years in jail until she was released on bond in January. She is charged with fleeing a law enforcement officer resulting in a death – a charge that carries a maximum 40 years in prison with a conviction.

“We plan to retry her if we can’t work out a plea agreement,” Ogden said.”

This commentary on the case would be absolutely appropriate if it were not absolutely inappropriate. Rule 3.6 of the Rules of Professional Conduct states:

“A lawyer shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding.”

Furthermore, the Mississippi Rules of Evidence, Rule 410 declares statements related to pleas or plea discussions to be inadmissible in trial. The Rule mentions the prejudice a defendant may suffer by having these statements made public.

I, like anyone else out there, appreciate people willing to do something to assist our government in times of need. I am not a fan of people signing up to prosecute other people, and in the process violating rules they should already know and understand. We need to be more vigilant in our roles as advocates, and I am confident the attorneys at Coxwell & Associates understand this concept.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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