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When the Government Goes to Trial

When the Government Goes to Trial

Every now and then, a court will speak to the core of the laws that govern our way of life.

Last week, the California Court of Appeal said something profound for the 21st century. Sure, it’s been said before but maybe not in this way, updated for the modern day, spelled out in language we all understand.

“Our criminal justice system has only one absolute requirement: the accused must receive a fair trial ….

That’s it. When you get right down to it, that’s the whole job of the trial prosecutor: Provide a fair trial.

Enforcing the law, protecting the public, supporting crime victims, any phraseology you choose for other aspects of criminal prosecution are subsets of that one job. It’s not about convictions, it’s not about courtroom mastery, it’s not about prison sentences. And it’s certainly not about won/lost records. It’s about fair trials. Fairness is the sine qua non of the criminal justice system, and no amount of technical brilliance or advocative skill can make up for a failure to provide it ….

Human systems are not capable of perfection, so we cannot guarantee the criminal defendant justice, although we seek it in every case. But we can—and have—promised fairness. And the prosecutor’s job is to fulfill that promise.

A prosecutor who gives the defendant a fair trial has completed that task, no matter the outcome. Successful prosecution is defined not by the result, but by the process ….

Acquittals are not failures. Unfair trials are.”


Even in the most serious cases, one might ask?

Especially in those cases.

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