Ethical Issue: Prosecutors

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Prosecutors Scenario

Ethical Issue: Prosecutors

Officer Nixon, a 20-year veteran, and Officer Rook, who has been on the force for less than a year, respond to a reported domestic violence call. When they arrive, they observe a man staggering up the walkway to the residence. He drops something and bends down to pick it up. The officers notice that the man is holding what appears to be a set of car keys. They see him put the item in his pocket before he reaches the front door. As the officers park their vehicle, the man opens the door and enters the residence.

The two officers exit their vehicle and approach the front door. The only car on the street is a blue station wagon. Officer Nixon touches the hood of the station wagon, and discovers it is still warm to the touch. Before they reach the door, a woman opens it and greets them. She tells the police that she called them because she and her husband had a verbal argument, and when her husband left the house, she started to worry about him. Now that he is home, she states she no longer needs their services. She denies being hit, despite the dispatcher’s indications to the contrary. No injuries are visible.

The husband joins his wife at the door, and the police ask him some questions to corroborate his wife’s story. The police notice that he is slurring his words, and has other objective symptoms of intoxication. The husband admits they only own one vehicle, and it is the blue station wagon parked on the street in front of the residence. The wife states that she has not driven the car all day. The husband states that he parked the car there when he returned home from work 4 hours ago. They ask him to empty his pockets. In his front pocket, there are a set of keys. He tells the officers that he put the keys in his pocket when he came home from work, and he has not taken them out since.

The husband fails to perform satisfactorily when field sobriety tests are administered. A preliminary alcohol-screening device reveals that the husband’s blood alcohol level is .20, twice the legal limit. In this jurisdiction, in order to arrest someone for a misdemeanor charge of driving while under the influence, the police must actually observe the individual driving the vehicle. If the individual is not observed driving, the conviction will be thrown out.

Officers Nixon and Rook arrest the husband for driving under the influence, and book him for processing. During processing, the husband is visibly agitated.

Officer Rook is designated to write the report and deliver it to the prosecutor’s office. P. Ross Acute is the issuing deputy district attorney. He is reviewing this police report to decide whether to file charges against the husband. The report accurately depicts the facts. While he is reviewing the report, Officer Nixon comes into his office.

Officer Nixon tells the prosecutor that the police report had been mistakenly dropped off before being signed off by a supervisor, which is required under city policy and procedures. Officer Nixon swaps the previous report for a new report, explaining that the new report was signed off by a supervisor and is more complete.

D.D.A. Acute notes that the main difference between the old and new reports is that it states that the officers observed the husband driving and then parking the blue station wagon as the patrol car pulled up at the residence.

What should the prosecutor do?

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