While police officers are the first line of defense in keeping Georgians safe in our homes, roads, and schools, District Attorneys (DA) are tasked with prosecuting the people accused of violating the criminal laws of this state.
The DA and the criminal defense attorney form the adversarial pairing that creates the basis of our criminal justice system. Both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are also charged with the heavy responsibility of upholding and protecting the United States Constitution.
The DA’s in west Georgia include:
1. John Herbert Cranford Jr. – Coweta Circuit (Carroll Coweta Troup, Heard, and Meriwether Counties);
2. Elizabeth Dalia Racine – Douglas Circuit (Douglas County); and
3. Oliver Jack Browning – Tallapoosa Circuit (Haralson and Polk Counties).
But, what is the responsibility of the DA? How does the DA affect the community that he or she serves?
The DA is an elected official of the executive branch of government. He or she serves as a link between law enforcement officers and the trial of cases.
There are many misconceptions about the role of the DA in the criminal justice system. The most common is that the DA’s job is to convict as many people as possible. While that may seem true on television and in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Generally, he or she has the duty to see that the law is enforced in order to keep our community safe. However, this duty extends to the mandated ethical requirement of seeking justice and not merely convicting a person charged with a crime. This little known aspect of a prosecutor’s job is important because it allows the DA to negotiate criminal cases and help defendants avoid convictions or prosecutions under some circumstances. Alleged victims of crimes are served by this negotiation process as well because they can receive closure without having to testify at a trial.
The DA also has discretion regarding which cases are to be prosecuted. For example, he or she can place a case on the dead-docket (a case placed on hold for prosecution), nolle prosequi a case, (dismissal after indictment), or dismiss a case prior to indictment.
The DA’s responsibility is echoed by Canon 5 of the American Bar Association Canons of Professional Ethics. It provides: “The primary duty of a lawyer engaged in public prosecution is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. As an officer of the court, the DA has an obligation to ensure that proceedings are conducted in accordance with the rules of evidence and the laws of this State.”
The vast majority of the prosecutors working in the west Georgia area are reasonable, professional, and mostly willing to work on the legal and factual aspects of criminal cases. The negotiation process not only benefits the defendant and the alleged victim(s). Reasonable negotiations benefit the county and the state by saving precious resources that would otherwise be used for costly trials and court appearances.
My duty is to protect my clients. The DA’s duty is to seek justice. “Seeking justice” is a very broad term. Oftentimes, I disagree with a prosecutor on what is just in a case. When there is a disagreement, I agree to disagree and put the case before a judge or a jury.
That is the nature of our adversarial system of justice.
However, my sons and I live in this community. As a citizen, I am grateful that we have prosecutors who are willing to pursue crimes committed in west Georgia.