If you have a basic familiarity with the criminal justice system, you are probably aware that police and prosecutors both tend to represent the interests of the state. Their jobs are essentially to be the enforcers of the law and the adversaries of those who would violate it, respectively.
However, the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides rights that could limit police and prosecutorial power. A recent Justice Department investigation provides an example of potential violations of these rights.
The DOJ finds violations involving jailhouse informants
The protection of the Constitution should extend to everyone, including people who face criminal charges. Unfortunately, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that deputies and prosecutors were working together in potential violation of prisoners’ civil rights.
It is perfectly acceptable for police and prosecutors to work together under most circumstances. However, this investigation uncovered a pattern of using custodial jailhouse informants to provide incriminating testimony.
The specific problem was that the defendants had legal counsel. This is a right that people have under the Sixth Amendment. By using custodial informants who were acting as agents of law enforcement to tease out incriminating statements without counsel present, police and prosecutors were violating that right.
The role of the prosecution
Despite the adversarial nature of criminal law, both the defense and the prosecution should hold constitutional rights in the highest regard. Ideally, prosecutors would rather have a verdict of not guilty than a violation of a defendant’s rights.
In today’s political climate, law enforcement personnel and prosecutors might waver in their commitment to the Constitution. Whether during the initial case or during an appeal, it is the job of the defense to protect the rights of the individual and hold these powerful institutions to the highest possible standard of justice.