Abuse of Prosecutorial Discretion

Explain the role of the prosecutor and criticism of their abuse of discretion


The Role of the Prosecutor and Criticism of Discretionary Abuse

In the Canadian legal system, the role of the prosecutor is crucial. Charged with upholding the public interest, prosecutors play a vital role in maintaining law and order, ensuring fair trials, and seeking justice. However, like any position of power, the prosecutor’s discretion can be susceptible to abuse, leading to valid criticisms of their actions.

The primary responsibility of a prosecutor is to initiate and conduct criminal proceedings on behalf of the state. They review evidence, assess the strength of cases, and make decisions regarding charging individuals with criminal offenses. Their duty extends beyond obtaining convictions; it also involves ensuring that justice is served, which includes considering the rights of the accused and the interests of society as a whole.

One criticism often directed at prosecutors is the abuse of their discretionary powers. This criticism stems from instances where prosecutors may engage in misconduct, favoritism, or selective prosecution. One area where abuse of discretion can occur is in charging decisions. Prosecutors have the power to decide whether to charge an individual with a crime, what charges to bring, and whether to offer plea bargains. This discretion can be misused if prosecutors engage in overcharging, undercharging, or charging individuals for political or personal reasons rather than based on the merits of the case.

Another aspect of discretionary abuse involves the handling of exculpatory evidence. Prosecutors have a duty to disclose any evidence that may be favorable to the defense. Failure to fulfill this duty can result in wrongful convictions and a miscarriage of justice. Intentional suppression or withholding of evidence, known as Brady violations, undermines the integrity of the legal system and violates the accused’s right to a fair trial.

Critics argue that prosecutors, at times, prioritize conviction rates over justice. This mindset can lead to tunnel vision, where prosecutors focus solely on securing a conviction rather than seeking the truth. In such cases, the rights of the accused, including due process and the presumption of innocence, can be compromised. This approach can contribute to wrongful convictions and perpetuate systemic biases within the criminal justice system.

Additionally, concerns arise regarding the lack of accountability and transparency in prosecutorial decision-making. While prosecutors have discretionary powers, their actions are typically shielded from public scrutiny. Limited oversight and inadequate mechanisms to hold prosecutors accountable can enable abuse of power without consequences. This lack of transparency undermines public trust in the legal system and hampers efforts to address issues of abuse.

In conclusion, the role of the prosecutor in the Canadian legal system is vital, as they seek to uphold justice and protect the public interest. However, criticisms regarding the abuse of discretionary powers are valid and must be addressed. Striking the balance between prosecutorial discretion and the safeguarding of individual rights is essential to ensure a fair and just legal system. Implementing effective oversight mechanisms, promoting transparency, and holding prosecutors accountable are key steps toward addressing these concerns and upholding the principles of justice.

Link to Slaw Article on Prosecutorial Discretion in relation to the SNC Lavelin Affair