I’m not really Nancy Drew, I’m a prosecutor. Yet my job is hers, in that my goal is to figure out what happened and then do “the right thing.”
The role of the prosecutor hasn’t changed over the years — the mission has always been to be a minister of justice — but the tools available to the 21st century modern prosecutor have evolved, thereby enabling us to be more effective.
In the almost 30 years that I’ve been practicing law, science and technology have exploded. Evidence in a criminal case may once have been limited to witness statements taken at the scene along with some fingerprints. With today’s advancements, cases now often include witness statements obtained not by the patrol officer on the street, but by a trained forensic interviewer. And scientific evidence has expanded to include DNA and beyond. Further, cell phones and body worn cameras now regularly memorialize words and actions.
Why is this important to justice? Because justice is doing the right thing, and to do that, we need information. Justice is determining what happened, and then identifying a fair and just response. Enlightened interviewing techniques and advanced scientific analysis are just two avenues that are bringing prosecutors more information which allows them to make informed decisions.
Additionally, discoveries regarding the neurobiology of trauma – that is, how trauma may impact a person’s reaction to a situation – help prosecutors assess statements from all involved – from victim to accused. And the avalanche of data regarding adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs, is shedding light on the “why,” which then can assist in deciding how best to proceed.
What has been the reaction of prosecutors to the ever-increasing amount of evidence and other information available when reviewing a case? The resounding response has been not only encouraging, but prosecutors are pushing for even more evidence and data to ensure they are fulfilling their role as ministers of justice.
Furthermore, increased information has better enabled prosecutors to identify those wrongly accused earlier in the criminal justice process. Finally, prosecutors are utilizing the enhanced information regarding an accused’s circumstances in innovative ways, such as supporting mental health and veterans’ specialty courts.
The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that prosecutors hold a special role in our community – that of minister of justice. Advancements in investigative and interviewing techniques, along with the expanded breadth of scientific evidence, have provided 21st century modern prosecutors with more tools in which fulfill their minister of justice mission.
With the enthusiasm of Nancy Drew in pursuit of solving a mystery, prosecutors delve into this broader scope of evidence now available to determine the truth and a just result.