The Impact of State Prosecutors on Police Practices

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  • 0:00 Prosecutors and Police
  • 1:06 Roles in the Criminal…
  • 2:12 Importance of Arrest Reports
  • 3:35 Advising and Investigating
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Police arrest people, but that is not where their role ends. In this lesson, we will explore how officers and prosecutors must work together to keep the criminal justice system working.

Prosecutors and Police

Have you ever watched a really good cop movie? There are a bunch of them out there, full of action and suspense, drama, and adventure. They're great.

The problem is that they only deal with one very limited aspect of policing. After the dust settles and the arrests are made, that officer is going to be facing stacks of paper work. Why? Because the arrest is only part of the process. The suspect still gets to stand trial and must be proven guilty before being convicted and sent to prison.

Now, it's not the officer who takes care of this, it's the state prosecutor, or an attorney who represents the government and formally brings a legal case against the suspect. Despite the fact that the officer is not in charge of conducting the trial against the suspect, the officer obviously wants to see a conviction after all of the work that went into the arrest. This means that the officer needs to think about ways to assist the prosecutor.

Roles in the Criminal Justice System

Now, before we go any further, let's take a minute to really define the roles of both the police and the prosecutor in the criminal justice system. Police officers are responsible for maintaining public safety and apprehending suspects for violating the law. In order to make an arrest, they don't need to have absolute proof that the suspect is guilty; they just need to have probable cause, which means that they can make a reasonable assumption that this person may be involved in the crime. Their purpose is not to punish people for breaking the law, just to detain them so that they can stand trial.

That's where the prosecutor comes in. The prosecutor is responsible for formally charging the suspect with a crime, as well as demonstrating to a judge and jury that this suspect is guilty. Since our justice system is set up so that suspects are innocent until proven guilty, the prosecutor has a larger burden of proof and must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that this suspect committed the crime. If this burden is not absolutely met, the suspect goes free.

Importance of Arrest Reports

So far, this seems simple enough. Police arrest someone, prosecutor charges them, and proves that they did it. However, the prosecutor was not at the scene when the arrest was made, so they need to know what happened. This means that one of the most important things for police officers to do in order to help the prosecutor secure a conviction is to fill out detailed arrest reports. By giving as much detail as possible, the officer gives the prosecutor the information needed to proceed.

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