A Common Sense Approach to Ethics

This morning I read about another prosecutor getting suspended for ethics violations. Ethics can be a complicated field of law. I believe there are 59 Rules listed under the heading Rules of Professional Conduct.  There are scores of cases on the subject.  It can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be, particularly for prosecutors.  Here are my four simple rules.

  1. Don’t become the lowest common denominator. I think this is simple, but for clarification I will explain it like this. You are prosecuting a bad guy. You think he broke the law and should be punished.  Don’t stoop to his level of conduct.  Don’t break the law just because you think he did.
  2. Don’t lie. Cops get to lie to suspects. They don’t get to lie on the witness stand. Fact witnesses sometimes like to lie. Prosecutors are never allowed to lie. Don’t let your witness lie on the stand.
  3. Don’t cheat. Not disclosing evidence in a timely manner is, for all intents and purposes, the same as not disclosing it. Not disclosing evidence is the same as hiding it. Hiding evidence is cheating.
  4. Don’t disobey court orders. If you don’t like a judge’s order, do what we do: Appeal it or move on.

That’s it. An entire rule book and years and years of jurisprudence boiled down into four simple rules. Actually, I think rule number one takes care of it all. I would add one other bit of advice. If you are questioning yourself about a potential course of conduct, then the answer is you probably shouldn’t do it.

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