What happens when a prosecutor violates ethics rules?

Prosecutors in Florida are bound by the same rules of conduct that all attorneys must follow, as established by the Florida State Bar Association. That means they can also be disciplined, as are other attorneys who break those rules. Disciplines can range from private and public reprimands to permanent disbarment from practicing law. Even more harmful may be the cases they prosecuted and whether those cases are subject to reversal on appeal, should their conduct have contributed to denying the right of due process to defendants.

Looking at cases over a range of time dating back to 1970, The Center for Public Integrity finds that prosecutors have been disciplined for a variety of violations, just as their defense-oriented counterparts have been. Prosecutors have committed crimes, including drug possession and forgery, and in states where they are allowed to have a private practice on the side, they have also been disciplined for conflicts of interest in certain cases. Here’s a look at the types of misconduct found:

  • Violating discovery rules
  • Behaving improperly in court
  • Prosecuting cases without probable cause
  • Using evidence that is wrong or misleading
  • Being unprepared and incompletely fulfilling duties
  • Inappropriately contacting jurors, witnesses, judges and defendants
  • Improperly making public statements regarding a pending case

Categorizing a total of 44 cases investigated by state bar authorities, the center finds:

  • In 1 case, the prosecutor received probation
  • In 2 cases, authorities disbarred prosecutors
  • In 3, the cases were remanded for additional proceedings
  • In 7, the complaint was dismissed or no punishment was imposed
  • In 12, authorities suspended prosecutors’ license to practice law
  • In 24, costs of the proceedings were assessed to the prosecutor

This information is only from cases in which the center considers that misconduct affected the fairness of criminal cases or infringed on defendants’ constitutional rights.

This article is informational only. It is not meant to be, nor should it be, considered legal advice.

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