Prosecutors, power, and humor…

John Oliver recently devoted time on Last Week Tonight to looking at US prosecutors.  Oliver discussed plea bargaining, the pressure put on defendants to accept plea deals, and prosecutorial hard bargaining tactics. There is nothing new here, but it is a nicely done piece (especially if you don’t mind the F-word being used liberally).  If you have been wondering about prosecutorial power and the charging power, this is nice synopsis. Oliver ends the piece by talking about how electing new prosecutors could be the single most effective way to change the system (since large scale legislative reform seems unlikely). You can view it here:


One thought on “Prosecutors, power, and humor…”

  1. Thank you for posting the link to this video. I used to watch John Oliver’s videos regularly, but it has been a while since I last watched. I think that the video raised a large number of important issues that law students should think about. Three key points stuck out to me as most disturbing. First, John discussed the fact that prosecutors do not need to turn their full case file over to the defense until right before trial. This is highly disturbing because the defense cannot make an informed decision about a plea deal without the full case file. John calls for open file laws, which sounds like a very good idea.
    This brings me to the second issue raised in the video that stood out to me, the fact that prosecutors have been caught withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense even after disclosure is required. This brings into question the first point I discussed above about open file laws. If the prosecution is hiding evidence anyway, would the open file law even benefit defendants? The answer is definitely yes, the open case file law would still help defendants because ostensibly it is a tiny percentage of prosecutors actually withholding evidence. But it is still worth noting that an open file law is not a perfect fix. The point John made about the lack of discipline for withholding exculpatory evidence was also disturbing. I think that almost all prosecutors take their office seriously and do an ethical job, and do a great service for the community, but this tiny percentage that does engage in misconduct should face discipline for the negative impact they have on the lives of the innocent.
    The third and final point in the video that stood out to me was the fact that District Attorneys have so much power yet nobody really knows who their DA is locally, and a very small percentage of people vote in local elections. Voter apathy in America is a problem, and it was interesting to think about how this impacts not just the political branches of government, but also directly impacts the criminal justice system.
    John takes hard stances on a lot subjects, and I found this video to be interesting like most of his others. While I often don’t agree with things he says, this video was highly thought provoking and I appreciated hearing his thoughts.

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