Column: Prosecutors play role in protecting freedomJuly 8, 2020
By ANTHONY QUINN
Over July 4, we celebrate American independence. More generally, as Americans, we celebrate freedom as fundamental to our way of life. Prosecutors play a central role in protecting the freedom we enjoy.
Freedom may not be the first thing you think of when you think about prosecutors. However, prosecutors impact freedom in two important ways: we ensure the rights of suspects and defendants; and we keep our communities free from harm.
Prosecutors have the power to take a person’s liberty. That is not an action we take lightly. Our system has many checks and balances built in, referred to as due process, before a citizen’s freedom can be limited.
If a police officer believes there is enough evidence for probable cause that someone has committed a crime, he or she will make an arrest or submit a request for charges to the prosecutor. The prosecutor then reviews the facts from the investigation to decide whether criminal charges are appropriate. If the prosecutor files charges, he or she will send them to a judge, who reviews the information again to determine whether probable cause exists before allowing the case to go forward.
If the judge allows a case to go forward, then the person charged is entitled to certain rights. The defendant has the right to an attorney, and will be appointed an attorney for free if he or she cannot afford one. Defendants have the right to a public and speedy trial by jury. They have the right to call witnesses and subpoena other evidence for the case. The burden of proof for a conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendant has the right to appeal any conviction or sentence imposed. These rights are protected every step of the way.
This due process exists because freedom is fundamental to the criminal justice system, and to our American way of life. Our founding fathers did not want our citizens’ freedoms removed unless it is determined by a high standard that they have, in fact, committed a crime.
Prosecutors are required to not only protect the defendant’s rights, but the rights of everyone else as well. John Locke said, “All mankind being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” We cannot enjoy the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution if we suffer harm or fear of harm at the hands of others. Prosecutors work to keep our streets safe so the public can be free to walk in the park, sleep securely at home, drive on our roads or run a business. The criminal justice system deters crime and gives people a sense of justice and security as they go about their daily lives.
As we spend time celebrating independence this summer, I will continue working every day as your prosecutor to protect your rights. Whether it is as a suspect, a criminal defendant, a crime victim, a homeowner or a business owner, you are entitled to the freedom we celebrate. I’m here to make sure we continue to be a place where that freedom is respected.
Anthony Quinn is a Dubois County prosecutor in the 57th judicial circuit. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-482-4725.
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