Prosecutors and Bullying

The title of this post comes from the new essay, “Threats and Bullying by Prosecutors” by Bennett L. Gershman, a law professor at Pace University. The essay, available for free right here, is definitely worth a full read at only 19 pages, but below I will take a moment to highlight some of the sections and ways Professor Gershman deconstructs the ways prosecutors bully and threaten defendants. It starts out this way:

[Prosecutors] have been described as “virtuous,” “prudent,” “ethical,” “good,” “unique,” and “gamesmen.” But there is one persona that seems to have eluded characterization and commentary: the prosecutor as a bully. In fact, one of the most prominent features of U.S. prosecutors is their ability to threaten, intimidate, and embarrass anyone – defendants, witnesses, lawyers – without any accountability or apology. This is the conduct of a bully.

On Intimidating Grand Jury Witnesses

A state senator’s chief of staff is called in to testify against his boss. He doesn’t want to testify, but is granted immunity and told his refusal to testify can be punished with contempt, and lying is perjury. The witness says he can’t remember a meeting between his boss and a wealthy real estate developer…

The prosecutor, in an extremely agitated tone of voice exclaims: “You know you are lying. Don’t insult this grand jury. You’ll be in jail in a heartbeat unless you tell the truth. You’ll be finished. You will never work again.”
Are the prosecutor’s threats a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial power? Do these threats enhance or degrade the prosecutor’s ethical duty to serve justice?

More Highlights

Gershman goes on to highlight prosecutorial conduct in coercing guilty pleas, attacking defense experts, bullying defense witnesses (and even their own prosecution witnesses), compelling waiver of civil rights claims, retaliation, demagoguery, shaming, and coercing corporate cooperation.

Look for future posts highlighting more sections of this important essay. Any first-time offender will learn quickly how true this information is. He or she will feel bullied and coerced by the prosecuting attorney and wonder how this is part of the legal system they’ve been taught to trust. A fantastic guide for all first time offenders can be found at the first-time-offender website, which hosts the ultimate resource for anybody facing their first charge.