Prosecutors Paid Bounties for Convictions?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on November 26th, 2012

It is a cardinal rule of ethics in the legal profession that the duty of a prosecutor is not to seek convictions, but to pursue justice — even if that pursuit leads to a dismissal or acquittal of charges.  Sadly, that is less and less true in today’s world of winning at any cost….as the following news story illustrates:

19th Judicial District Attorney Offers Cash for Convictions

Arapahoe County, CO. – The 18th Judicial District Attorney, Carol Chambers, is giving bonuses to her deputy attorneys who tried more than five cases last year and have a conviction rate higher than 70 percent, 9Wants to Know has learned.

Critics say it’s unethical to give prosecutors a financial prize for winning a trial and may give defense attorneys a reason to appeal a case.

"The prosecutor’s ethical obligation is to seek justice for everyone," Colorado State Public Defender Douglas Wilson said. "Basing bonus pay of conviction rates flies in the face of that obligation and sounds a lot like the Old West bounties."…

The DAs for both of the metro area’s biggest districts believe paying for performance could leave the prosecutor interested in the outcome of the case.

"Our job is not to directly tie the conviction rate, trials or plea bargains to a monetary figure," First Judicial District Attorney Scott Storey said. "That would be like working on commission or something. And that’s not what we do."

The American Bar Association standards say a prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice, not conviction.

"What matters is that you go in there and you seek justice. And you do the best job you can and then you leave it up to 12 citizens to make a decision," Morrissey said.

How would you like to be accused of a crime…and know that the prosecuting agency has a bounty on your head — guilty or not?

  • In 1925 Indiana passed the “Wright Bone-Dry” law, the harshest anti-alcohol law of any state during Prohibition.

    That law awarded local prosecutors $25 for each alcohol conviction. An addition in 1929 gave police officers $25 for seizing cars carrying alcohol.

    With the Volstead Act it was immediately repealed and the Governor freed 1,027 people in prison, mostly for possession.

    There don’t seem to have been any appeals based on these blatant $25 stipends. Sigh.

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