Q: The news media
heavily covered a local crime, but the prosecutor wouldn’t comment. Why not?
A: When a major crime goes to trial in Ohio,
the county prosecutor will lead the effort to prosecute. Prosecutors are
elected Ohio officials, charged with the distinct and challenging duty to seek
justice while keeping the public informed. When a local prosecutor declines to
comment on a criminal case, it is more than a personal decision to keep the
information to a minimum; it is also a rule of professional conduct in Ohio.
Ohio lawyers must abide by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. Violations
may lead to sanctions, including disbarment. The rules limit what lawyers can
and cannot say leading up to a trial in order to safeguard the accused’s right
to a fair trial. Potential jurors could be tainted by a public statement of
counsel, and the rules are designed to prevent jurors from learning any
information that may impair their ability to be fair and impartial.
Q: Isn’t the
prosecutor’s main duty to convict criminals?
A: No. The prosecutor’s main duty is to seek justice. Unlike
a defense attorney, who represents a specific client, the prosecutor must make
decisions affecting the public interest as a whole. This means that the
prosecutor has the duty to prosecute those who the prosecutor believes are
guilty of committing crimes while also ensuring that the proceedings are fair
and that justice is served. Sometimes this means the prosecutor will drop or
reduce the charges if the prosecutor believes the suspect is innocent or there
is insufficient evidence of guilt.
Q: What kinds of
information can the prosecutor give to news reporters before a trial?
A: Before and during a trial, a prosecutor can give
media information that is in the public record—information that citizens could
obtain for themselves. According to the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct,
other information the prosecutor may provide to media includes:
· the identity,
address and occupation of the suspect;
that could be helpful in finding a suspect who has not been located or has
escaped from authorities;
· warnings to
the public if the suspect is loose and is believed to be a serious threat to
the safety of others;
· a plea to the
public for any information that may assist in the conviction of a defendant.
Q: What are
prosecutors prohibited from telling the press before a trial?
· comment on
the character, credibility, reputation or prior criminal record of a suspect or
witness before the trial;
· comment on
any potential guilty plea before it occurs;
results of any tests or examinations given to the suspect or conducted on the
evidence to be presented, or the refusal or failure of a person to submit to a
test or examination;
any confessions or other statements by the suspect to police;
the guilt or innocence of a suspect;
evidence that they know will not be admissible in court.
This “Law You Can Use” column was
provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Summit
County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh and Columbus attorney Dan Trevas. Articles appearing
in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the
law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are
urged to seek advice from an attorney.
Labels: crime, prosecutor, trial