In other words, what makes a good prosecutor?
First, I suppose you have to define the job. I mean, some prosecutors prepare and present indictments (grand jury division) and some don't get to come to the courthouse because their cases are more specialized (e.g., the insurance fraud division). So let's go with my role: an ADA in the felony trial division. If you missed my post earlier about what we do, generally speaking, have a look here.
So, what makes a good felony trial prosecutor?
1. I don't think you can be good at this job if you forget your purpose. It sounds trite, maybe, but it's very true: our job is to do justice. Not get convictions, not send people to prison, not max out on sentencing whenever we can. Do justice. I know that because the guy who hired me said so, and because it's in the Book:
"It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done." Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 2.01.
So, the first and perhaps most important qualification is adherence to this principle.
2. You have to enjoy being in trial. I have always believed that you can't be really good at something unless you enjoy doing it. So while we all have off days, I think you have to love the theater of a jury trial, you can't be a timid, retiring wall-flower.
3. Relatedly, you have to be able to see the big picture. You have to look at your case, the defendant, and your witnesses and know whether you can achieve what you want to achieve. It's all very well standing on principle and insisting on a trial, but if you can't see your case crumbling before your eyes, then my guess is you are focusing on some small part of it and not seeing the bigger picture.
For example, say you have a DWI case. The police report might make it obvious the defendant was intoxicated and you might insist on going to trial because you believe the police officer. Why would he lie? (And, in my experience, they do have much better things to do than arrest innocent people.) But what if the video tape is missing? What if the cop is a rookie and trembles like a leaf on the stand? What if he trembles with nerves when you meet him in your office?? Is it better to lose or to offer a plea deal? Maybe your end goal was to ensure the defendant gets treatment for alcoholism, and he'll do if for a reduction in the sentence.
4. I think a good prosecutor has to be a good listener as well as a good talker. And by "good" I mean discerning. Listen to the victim, see what will make them whole. Maybe it's not prison for the defendant, maybe it's restitution for whatever was stolen or broken. Listen to the defense lawyer, he or she will usually tell you where your case is weak. You need to know that. Listen to your colleagues. They have experience in making the right punishment "rec." They have tried an insanity case before, so can help.
5. Keep perspective. This is the best job in the world, and it allows us to help people like no other job I've ever had. We're given a badge and a cool title. We are entrusted with a huge amount of discretion (which I will blog about in the near future), and we often get to choose whether someone goes to jail or not. But we're not superheroes, we're not deities, and just as we shouldn't expect others to see us that way, we shouldn't crush ourselves with the weight of our own unrealistic expectations. We can't win every trial, treat every drug addict, restore every victim to his or her former self. As long as we try, do our best, and remember that we're as human as everyone else in the courtroom, we'll be okay.
So, what have I missed?