The prosecutor may be the most powerful figure in the criminal justice system. They have power over everything from what charges will be filed to what the sentence will be after a conviction. They have influence over whether defendants get bail or have to remain locked up until they can be tried — or until they agree to a plea bargain. They negotiate those plea bargains, too.
If you have been arrested, it’s crucial to understand the role of the prosecutor. While the police investigate the case against you, prosecutors make the decision about whether to charge you and, if so, with what.
The criminal justice system is an adversarial system, and the prosecutor is your adversary. No matter how friendly and cordial they may appear, prosecutors are not there to represent your interests. You should rely on your defense attorney to do that, and to protect your rights.
In Colorado, most crimes are prosecuted by local district attorneys, who represent our 22 judicial districts. Some counties and cities also have criminal prosecutors, who are called city or county attorneys.
Prosecutors decide which charges to file
Based in large part on the evidence discovered by police, prosecutors decide what charges to file, if any. They often have a mix of evidence, some tending to show you are guilty and some tending to show you are not. Some “tough-on-crime” prosecutors charge the highest offense they believe they can prove.
Prosecutors weigh in on bail and bond
In theory, bail serves two purposes: encouraging defendants to return for their court dates and keeping truly dangerous people off the streets pending trial. In practice, bail is often set so high that average people can’t afford it. Prosecutors recommend to judges whether bail or a bond should be granted and in what amount.
Prosecutors offer and negotiate plea bargains
On TV, police often promise to help cooperative arrestees. In reality, only prosecutors have the authority to offer deals in exchange for cooperation. Typically, these deals involve the defendant pleading guilty to a lesser charge than was originally filed. This reduces the trial burden on courts.
Evidence in your favor must eventually be shared with your defense team, but prosecutors may wait until just before trial to share it. This sometimes means that the defense never learns of the favorable evidence because the defendant accepts a plea bargain long before trial.
An Effective and Experienced Attorney can counterbalance the prosecutor’s poswer
The prosecutor is a powerful figure in the courts, and their opinions and recommendations often carry significant weight with judges. An effective criminal defense attorney with a high level of training and experience understands how prosecutors operate and can work with them to reduce your charges and minimize any penalties. Or, they can fight for an acquittal at trial.