The role of an Assistant United States Attorney during trial is akin to that of a salesman. His goal is to “sell his case” and to persuade the jury by the forcefulness of his logic and evidence that the defendant is indeed guilty. Most prosecutors do not intentionally bring to trial cases where they themselves have doubts about the defendant’s guilt. They believe that the defendant they have charged in an indictment is guilty. Accordingly, at trial, they will seek to demonstrate through their evidence that the defendant is indeed “guilty as charged”.
In many cases, the burden of the prosecutor may be easily borne. The prosecutor’s evidence may include confessions, finger prints, eyewitness testimony and other overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. In such a case, the prosecutor’s ability to persuade and sell his case is of secondary importance to his ability to actually get the evidence before the jury for their consideration. In this kind of case, the evidence speaks for itself and the prosecutor will concentrate his skills on the Federal Rules of Evidence to make sure that he follows all appropriate rules so that the Trial Judge will admit his evidence before the jury.
Not all cases are overwhelming, from an evidentiary standpoint, in favor of the government. Some cases may involve very complicated facts, arcane legal issues, convoluted circumstantial evidence or a combination of all. Naturally, the prosecution of this type of case is much more difficult than the “easy one”. In these cases, the prosecutor truly earns his salary for not only must he still concentrate on complying with all evidentiary rules, he must also concentrate on “selling his case” to the jury. Because the prosecutor must convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he must be very persuasive if he is to prevail.
The government’s case is usually comprised of witness testimony, certain documentary evidence, and in some cases, expert and forensic testimony. The facts of a given case dictate what evidence the prosecution will have to work with. However, just how well he presents the evidence and the manner in which the case is tried, in many “close” cases will have a large impact on whether a given defendant is convicted or not. Many guilty persons have probably gone free because prosecutors simply did not present available and sufficient evidence of guilt in a persuasive manner and fashion. The simple truth is that prosecutors are like the rest of humanity: some are good at what they do, some are bad, and some are average. The degree of competence and polish that an Assistant United States Attorney possesses may never be dispositive during the trial of an “easy case” but where the issues are hotly contested and the facts are close, the level of competence one possesses may be the difference between a guilty person being convicted or acquitted.