Georgia Prosecutor Ethics

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Author(s) or Editor(s): 
Charles C. ('Chuck") Olson and Dennis C. Sanders
Author(s)' contact information: 
Charles C. Olson General Counsel Prosecuting Attorneys’ Counsel of Georgia Suite 400; 104 Marietta Street Atlanta, GA 30303-2743 404.969.4001
Dennis C. Sanders District Attorney, Toombs Judicial Circuit Former Chair, Investigative Panel, State Disciplinary Board 110 Central Avenue Thompson, GA 30824 706.595.7175

The role of the prosecuting attorney is unique among lawyers, even among government attorneys. The most obvious is that prosecuting attorneys does not have an identifiable client but instead is said to represent all the people of the State. Because of this, the prosecuting attorney is often referred to as a “minister of justice” in almost reverential tones.

“Because of the prosecutor's unique position and responsibilities, conduct that is tolerable on the part of a private person may be intolerable when done by the prosecutor on behalf of the state.” [cite omitted] The fact that the prosecuting attorney is a minister of justice carries with it obligations not imposed on other lawyers. For example, the duty to seek justice requires prosecutors to limit statements to the press about a case, and to bring to a court’s attention conflicts of interest on the part of a defense attorney.

The uniqueness of the prosecutor is emphasized in the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (hereafter “GRPC”) by the fact that prosecutors are one of only two classes of lawyers (the other being government attorneys in general) that have a rule specifically devoted to them.

Moreover, even though the Rules state that “[t]he purpose of these Rules is not to give rise to a cause of action nor to create a presumption that a legal duty has been breached. . . . . [f]urthermore, the purpose of the Rules can be subverted when they are invoked by opposing parties as procedural weapons,” the reality is that any alleged breach of the Rules becomes “prosecutorial misconduct” in motions and briefs filed by the criminal defense bar. When intentional misconduct occurs, it can result in cases being dismissed, motions for new trial being granted, convictions reversed on appeal and termination of the offending prosecutor. When the misconduct results in the wrong person being convicted, the costs to society, the victim(s) and the State can be significant. The misconduct “can become an issue during elections.” In extreme cases, misconduct can lead to criminal prosecution.

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