Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

The Power of the Prosecutor

Posted by Maggie on February 19, 2008

Joe thinks prosecutors have too much power. There are decent and fair prosecutors out there, but not even they always get to make the right choices. Because they have bosses, and those bosses have to win elections.

The AJC reports today on a typical example of prosecution gone bad in Fulton County. Michael Murphy is 17 now, last year he and his mother were approached by a large group of angry teens who had a grudge against Murphy’s mom. Shots were fired, one of the teens ended up dead, and now Murphy has been charged as an adult with murder. He’s been in custody since June, 2007. So what? It’s a murder case, and even though it sounds like there are some serious self-defense issues, it’s still murder, right?

Yeah, except for the fact that the autopsy shows the victim was hit from the back, meaning it’s more likely the shot came from the crowd, who was also firing. A good DA looks at that information and sees that trying this case is probably not worth their time. And a Assistant DA in Fulton County did just that. He was going to send the case to Juvenile Court to be dealt with on lesser charges. But instead, he was instructed by his boss, DA Paul Howard, to go forward and indict.

Now Howard insists the indictment speaks for itself and that the case is justified in going forward. But an indictment is not a conviction. And given the situation, you’d think the least they could do is let this kid out. But no bond has been granted. Instead the Judge berated the kid for having a gun. (And this is in Georgia! Where we’re regularly expanding the gun rights of our citizens! In fact, it seems like given the political climate, we’d be leaning in the kid’s favor instead of against him.)

Now Prosecutors can often be kept in check by defense attorneys and Judges. But the more serious the charge, the more leeway that prosecutor is going to get. All Murphy has going for him right now is time, but it looks like that’s time he’ll be spending in jail. I’m hopeful the case will turn out now, but how much is being lost in the mean time?

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