Just Because You Can…

I find myself at a stalemate with young prosecutors quite often. These individuals wield a wide range of discretion in making charging decisions and plea offers. A law degree, though, does not imbue one with life experience, wisdom beyond one’s years, or common sense. Nor does the oath of office taken by any human endow that person with special superhuman powers.

When entrusted with such discretion, power, the view of the surroundings can narrow to the point of tunnel vision. But I failed to realize that aspect. The world shrunk and I missed the bigger picture. Until my conscience woke me from the daze. The larger picture, the important factors that the law does not contemplate, and the broader human implications of decisions returned to focus and I could see more than the code book with its (not so) bright line rules.

Now, after 16 years as a lawyer, I would make some prosecutorial decisions differently than I made during the five years I served. My choices were completely acceptable and not a violation of the laws. In my hindsight, my occasional choices were harsh, unnecessary, completely lacked empathy and understanding for the broader scope of the world.

And I find myself saying to prosecutors, mostly young prosecutors, “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.”