Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s
The Role of the Prosecutor
Prosecutors have as their guiding principle the belief that all members of a community thrive when acts of violence, oppression, and discrimination are rooted out in a fair and just way that promotes justice and safety. Prosecutors work with law enforcement officers to ethically and legally investigate potentially criminal behavior, review police reports, charge people with crimes when that is the right thing to do, and argue the strength of the evidence to judges and juries. Our actions have profound impacts on victims, witnesses, and offenders. Justice demands we recognize those impacts. Seeking justice means being fair and asking ourselves every day, on every case, and even years after a case is over, whether we are being fair.
We hold people accountable, whether they are the most powerful or powerless members of our community. We fight for victims of crime, whether they are powerless or the most powerful. As prosecutors, we solemnly embrace our Constitutional duty to give the accused all the evidence whether that evidence points to guilt or innocence. We ask ourselves again and again, even years after a crime has been committed, whether we are holding the right person accountable in the right way. When we have not, we take action immediately.
Seeking justice means we must constantly ask ourselves whether the system in which we hold so much power is working in a fair way for all people, from all backgrounds, experiences and beliefs, and who may or may not be citizens of this country. Where the system fails to be fair, we fail to be fair unless we improve the system. And where we have failed, we must acknowledge those failures as important steps in improving our own work, and the system of justice in which we do that work.
We are prosecutors. We are not the police. We do not automatically support the actions of the police departments who investigate crimes. Instead, we independently evaluate police work in order to hold those who break the law accountable whether they are people arrested by police officers, or they are themselves police officers.
As prosecutors, we help those victims of crime who have called for help, and we reach out and support those who have been too afraid to ask. When we do this, we help to break down the cycles of violence and the barriers that obstructed their cries for help.
Seeking justice is holding offenders accountable, promoting their rehabilitation, and providing the framework necessary for them to lead productive lives. We all want safer communities. We struggle every day to carry out this responsibility with humility, knowing that justice demands measured and proportionate responses to criminal behavior. In extreme cases, justice demands prolonged separation of the most violent offenders from society in order to keep all members of our community safe. Prosecutors advocating for this separation must remain mindful of the significant impact of this penal consequence on the offender’s family and support system.
Except in the prosecution of serious and violent felonies, our work as prosecutors is not to punish forever those who have done wrong, but promote forgiveness, second chances, and rehabilitation that will ultimately help offenders and their victims and will make our communities safer.
Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” His vision will be realized because of the brave work that every person should do, and that every prosecutor must do to bend the arc toward justice.