A criminal defense attorney is a professional who mainly defends people and other entities accused of criminal conduct. A criminal defense attorney operates either as an individual or as a group of individuals. When operating as a group, the attorneys form a firm under whose name they operate. Additional defense attorneys can be employed by the legal firm and serve to present their clients in court. Most of them are in private practice although majority may start out working for the government. Their work consists of providing legal assistance and representation to people accused of breaking the law.
On the other hand, a district attorney, also referred to as a prosecutor is an employee of the government. A prosecutor normally represents the government in prosecuting criminal offenders (Siegel 598). He/she is the chief legal representative of the prosecution team. As a tradition, the office of the prosecutor has many employees who work under the chief prosecutor. In some countries, this is known as the office of the public prosecutor. Their duty is to garner sufficient evidence to prove the defendant is guilty. When individuals or companies are charged with breaking the law, the prosecution takes the mandate of presenting the case for criminal trial.
Both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are typically lawyers who have received legal training and possess a degree in law. In most countries, lawyers are required to obtain a postgraduate certification in law in addition to their law degrees. This enables them to practice law in that particular country. When allowed to present cases in court, they are said to have been admitted to the bar. They possess a practicing certificate is revocable if they engage in operations that are contrary to the regulations. It follows that the line between criminal defense attorneys and district attorneys is very thin. This is because they posses similar training as lawyers. The nature of their jobs is what set them apart.
The criminal defense attorneys’ work starts when an individual has been arrested on grounds of suspicion. In this case, being arrested does not imply that one is guilty of any offence. It only means that there is reason to believe one might be guilty of committing a certain crime. In majority of countries where the rule of law is upheld, there is the presumption of innocence until one is proven guilty. The standard of proof is that it should be beyond any reasonable doubt. The accused person is entitled to legal representation, and this is where the attorney comes in. The defense lawyer deals with issues surrounding the crime for which the accused is facing. They at times block charges from being instituted in court by the prosecutor.
The prosecutors work on the other hand starts when someone has been arrested on grounds of suspicion and court charges have been confirmed. The prosecution takes the initiative of carrying out investigations to prove the case. They may collaborate with the police and/or other departments in sourcing for such information. Once substantial evidence that can back a case in a court of law is obtained, charges are opened against the accused. The prosecutor represents the interest of the state and must prove that the defendant committed the said crimes. Their role is to prove beyond reasonable doubt the accused committed the crimes in question.
It is commonly held that a prosecutors job is to try his/her best to ensure that a guilty verdict has been declared on the accused (Siegel, 598). The defense attorney, on the other hand, tries to stop a guilty verdict from being declared. The jobs of these two offices are diverse and antagonistic in nature. While the prosecutor acts on behalf of the victim, the defense attorney will act on behalf of the defendant. Given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the challenge of proof lies with the prosecutor. The prosecutor works to convince the jury that the defendant committed the said crimes. The defense attorney presents an argument opposing what the prosecutor has said. He pokes holes in the prosecutor’s argument and creates a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guiltiness.
Another area of contrast between the two officers is in the power wielded by each. At the initial stages of the case, the district attorney has relatively higher powers compared to the defense attorney. He can inflict fear on the defendant by implying the possibility of the case ending in a guilty verdict. He also has the power to hand the defense a plea deal or bargain. This opens the room for the accused to plead guilty to the charges read for them or a lesser charges. If the accused agrees, both parties agree to much lenient charges.
Despite the nature of their work being different, prosecutors and defense attorneys must work together. For instance, it is a duty of both parties to ensure that justice is observed and takes its course. According to Siegel (411), it is the duty of the prosecutor to seek justice and not to merely obtain a guilty verdict. The same standard applies to defense attorneys, as it is wrong to obtain their clients freedom by improper and illegal means.
Another aspect of cooperation between prosecutors and defense attorneys comes in sharing of evidence. The prosecutor has a duty to share the evidence he plans to use against the accused with the defense attorney. This information should also be disclosed in time to allow ample preparation of the defense strategy. Basing on this evidence the defense lawyer prepares his/her defense. He/she works on negating the prosecutor’s evidence with the aim of securing the defendant’s freedom. The defense attorney uses loopholes in this information to cast a reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s case and convince the jury otherwise.
On the issue of witnesses, both sides have the right to call witnesses to shed more light on the case. The prosecutor uses his witnesses to convince the jury that the accused is guilty. On the contrary, the defense witnesses seek to provide information that can lead to acquittal of the accused. Witnesses from both sides are cross-examined by the other sides’ lawyers, and the information noted. The jury makes their decision in the light of the information presented by the witnesses.
Even though these two parties perform different jobs, they are equally important. Without the prosecutor, criminals in the country will walk free, as no charges are brought against them. The defense attorney help ensures equal access to legal representation. They help uphold the common principle that all are equal before the law. They also ensure that everybody is given a fair hearing before a court of law.
Siegel, Larry. Introduction to criminal justice. Belmont CA: Wadsworth Cengage Writing, 2010.
Siegel, Larry. Criminology. Belmont CA: Wadsworth Cengage Writing, 2012. Print