What kind of prosecutor will you write about?

One of the most famous literary prosecutors of all, Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird
One of the most famous literary criminal defense attorneys of all, Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. The prosecutor chews a pencil in the background.


We talked in the last courtroom blog about the judge. Now let’s talk about the lawyers. In a criminal case, the state or government is represented by the prosecutor. The prosecutor in state court is the district attorney, in federal court the US attorney.

Prosecutors usually employ assistants to try cases. These assistants are ADAs (assistant district attorneys) or AUSAs (assistant US attorneys). In high profile cases, the district attorney (DA) or US attorney (USA) may try the case herself.

So right off the bat, you have a choice to make. Will the prosecutor be a wet-behind-the ears young pup, or a grizzled old war horse, an ambitious climber on his way to the top, or a has-been on his way down?

These choices are great fodder for the writer.

Just like judges, prosecutors are human beings that bring all sorts of baggage with them. Some are pompous prima donnas; some, plodding bureaucrats; some, highly skilled professional trial lawyers. Some, true to their oath of office, are interested in justice; others are interested only in the brutal exercise of power.

In criminal cases in the US, the prosecution has the “burden of proof.” Because the accused is presumed innocent, the state must prove its case, or the defendant walks. To put it another way, if the case goes to trial and the state puts on no evidence, the
accused must be found not guilty. The accused does not have to prove he is innocent; the state has to prove he is guilty.

The burden of proof dictates that the prosecutor goes first at trial. This creates another interesting strategy call. As a general rule, the prosecutor wants her best stuff at the very beginning of the prosecution’s case and at the very end. So if she has a victim that can tell his story, she will put him on either first or last. Usually the other top spot will belong to the lead investigator, who will serve as the guy who summarizes all the evidence and puts it in a neat package for the jury.

Tip 2

So try this: Write a scene where a brand new baby ADA puts a recalcitrant victim on the stand, i.e., one who really doesn’t want to be there. Then write a scene where an old-head DA questions the grieving widow of a murder victim and has her breakdown half-way through the questioning.

It is the difference between night and day. Both types of scenes can serve you well as you learn to craft realistic courtroom scenes.


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