(Below is a revised version of a past article.)
Recently I had an experience with the Collin County District Attorney’s office that gives some great insight into the minds of some (certainly not all) prosecutors. I refer to it as the "Win At All Costs" mindset.
I have seen this mindset from prosecutors locally and in articles around the country. The Win At All Costs mindset can often rear its ugly head in the appellate process. Prosecutors who handle the appeals of cases are often far removed from the courtroom. Book law vs. Practical law. Can we make an argument vs. should we make an argument.
The Win At All Costs arguments get away from why we have the judicial system in place.
Consider cases around the country where inmates request DNA to prove their innocence. A Win At All Costs prosecutor would argue not about whether or not that person is guilty, but whether or not he should be allowed to test the DNA sample. This moves away from the primary concern – is he innocent or guilty?
Collin County prosecutors have gotten caught up in this mindset as well. Recently, death row inmate Charles Hood requested a hearing to have a new trial alleging the then elected District Attorney was having an affair with the Judge. He wasn’t asking for a new trial yet, but rather a hearing to determine if he should get one. The court ruled against holding the hearing, and Collin County’s Appellate Chief John Rolater proclaimed it was “a significant procedural victory.” Nothing about if the affair resulted in an unfair trial, but rather pleasure in blocking a court from even hearing if Dean got a fair trial in the first place.
The illogical Win At All costs mindset is what I too saw first hand from our local prosecutors, and it was shameful.
A while back we requested a hearing for a new trial for a client. He had a different attorney who told him he couldn’t lose (always a bad sign). He relied on this poor advice and never got a jury trial because of it. He was convicted and felt like he didn’t get a fair shake at things. We agreed and offered to represent him. We requested, and were granted a hearing on a motion for a new trial. At this hearing, the judge would decide for himself whether or not the client gets a new trial. Maybe the judge would agree, maybe not. But we felt the judge deserved to hear the evidence.
We prepared for the hearing and headed into court. The judge asked if we were ready, we said "yes," but the prosecutors said "we just have a quick issue to take up first."
Instead of having the hearing and deciding whether or not the client got a fair trial, the prosecutors decided to argue procedural issues. Their arguments were not whether or not the client got a fair trial, but whether or not he should even get a hearing to determine if he got a fair trial.
They proceeded to argue for quite some time that we were not entitled to even have a hearing to determine if the client had a fair trial. (The judge eventually ruled against the prosecutors and allowed the hearing)
The Code of Criminal Procedure states that "It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys . . . . not to convict, but to see that justice is done."
Can the argument of whether or not to even have a hearing be done? Sure. Does it seem to me like this is a way to see that justice is done? Not by a long shot.
Hunter Biederman is a DWI / Criminal Defense Attorney in Collin County. He publishes his blog (www.friscodwilawyer.com) which focuses on the Collin County and Texas legal system. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) DWI-FRISCO.