Why are the prosecutors in a criminal case often viewed as the "bad guys"?

I’ve noticed this in books and the media and in general when there’s a court case going on. The Prosecution is generally put in a position of being the “evil force”, and consumers of said media or spectators of said case tend to side with the defendant, hoping he or she will be acquitted.

People I’ve noticed most of the time in any given case tend to side with the Defense. One noteworthy exception however is Emmett Till’s case.

Not if the case is child abuse…etc. Then the prosecutors are king and the defense attorneys are the scum. Actually I find the latter to be the case way more often than this view of prosecutors you speak of. Not sure what cases you read about but certainly any case involving racism or stuff like that then yeah, prosecutors can get a bad rap at times…just depends on the case and what the allegations are.

Because what is called “justice” is often viewed as state-sponsored revenge. And the prosecutor has infinitely deep pockets to make his case, while the defense closes the briefcase when the defendant’s family runs out of money after mortgaging their house. As I recall, LA County prosecutor Gil Garcetti said he spent six million dollars trying to convict OJ.

Prosecutors do not take cases on a probabioity of guilt, they take cases on a probability they can convince a jury. Guilt or innocence is not relevant.

Every single one of us is only one false-accusation away from the risk, at least, of being charged and tried.

Prosecutors are necessary; crime exists, and must be punished. But, just as most of us feel a little sense of insecurity when we’re near an armed policeman, we, too, always have to remember that The State is vastly more powerful than we are.

A law teacher I know teaches the dictum: “It is better for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted.” So long as that is true, we’re pretty darned safe. But we are never perfectly safe. (“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is short of “beyond all doubt.”)

Cops and D.A.s are just a little bit scary, even to the most law-abiding of us.

Their job, officially, is to see that justice is done.

Their job, in practice, is sometimes to rack up all the convictions they can, perhaps to help get themselves, or the mayor, or the governor, re-elected.

You know all those Perry Mason shows that always end with Mason brow-beating a courtroom confession out of someone who was never suspected, whereupon the prosecutor graciously withdraws charges against the defendant? That doesn’t really happen.

Prosecutors often come off sounding like blood-thirsty head hunters. I’m not just talking about the ones you see on the TV crime shows. They talk like every defendant is the spawn of Hitler himself, sometimes even after the defendant is acquitted.

You’ve never watched “Law & Order”? The defense is almost always a slimy sleazy shitbag looking to get his client off on a technicality while the prosecutor is the only one fighting for justice for the victim.

In fiction, and maybe in real life too, we tend to sympathize or identify with the person who is in jeopardy, whose fate is in the balance and who is trying to escape trouble. They get the role of the protagonist, and that makes the prosecutors the antagonists.

This. Couldn’t have said it better.

Worse are the not-rare cases where a defendant is set free because it turns out the prosecutor was sitting on evidence that could exonerate the defendant. Clearly there are some prosecutors for whom winning the case trumps any actual concerns about guilt or innocence.

Because in the past, some prosecutors have been exposed proceeding with cases, where the person was KNOWN BY THE PROSECUTOR TO BE INNOCENT!

Scum of the earth to do something like that if you ask me.

Wouldn’t the prosecutor have been required to provide any such evidence during the discovery process?

Ideally, yes. :smiley:

This. It’s simply a dramaturgical device. At this point it’s finally become something of a cliche, audiences are sophisticated enough. Before, the protagonist had to be a ‘good guy’ wrongly accused, so the prosecution was often shown not caring one way or the other (or outright trying to frame them).

Another extremely wrong example is how every film shows prison guards as sadistic, evil monsters and the inmates as put-upon victims (if not out-rightly wrongly convicted). In reality corrections officers are just decent, working class people doing a very dangerous job for not a whole lot of money and prison inmates are mostly violent, amoral scumbags who would bash you over the head for your sneakers without a second thought…

I think it’s partially because we normally don’t hear about the really uninteresting cases where the prosecutor presents some evidence and an extremely guilty person who no one would sympathize with goes to jail.

Cases like that don’t make good fiction, and they don’t make good non-fiction either.

So instead, what we read about both in fiction and non-fiction, are the cases where there’s ambiguity, where there is something funny going on. And in those cases, as others in the thread have pointed out, there are plenty of reasons why the defendant makes the more natural protagonist.

Read up on a guy called Mike Nifong.

Then consider the fact that he’s not the only guy who’s done that.

Then consider what happens when a guy does that to a defendant who isn’t rich and/or white.

I’m going to bring up the whole “Making a Murderer” thing… but not for the reasons you probably expect. When this guy was originally on trial, people wanted to lynch him. Now that a TV show makes a counter-argument, they hate the prosecution and the police. It just goes to show you how easily people’s opinion can be swayed by the Pied Piper instead of actual facts.

Both the prosecution and defense are there to do a job. When prosecutors don’t do their job, whether through corruption, incompetence, or otherwise, the consequences could be (possibly) that an innocent person is imprisoned, or worse.

That burden is greater than prosecutorial incompetence that leads to a guilty person going free, emotionally and legally, if not morally.

From the point of view of fiction, I’ve seen about as many ‘heroic’ prosecutors as corrupt or negative portrayals.

In real life, if DAs could be de-coupled from the need to run for election, I know I’d feel more confident that they would seek justice rather than their own stats.

This touches on the dark side of law enforcement. Many among the police and prosecutors appear to have the mindset that once they believe someone is guilty, they will absolutely not let go of that notion. It seems as though no amount of solid evidence, heck not even an visit from the Lord God himself, could persuade them that they were mistaken. This unimpeachable mind is indeed scary if one is falsely accused.

Surely. Guilt is presumed, else the guy wouldn’t have been brought to court.

The point is that a prosecutor’s job is not only to prosecute, it is to serve the greater interest of justice. That includes actions like dropping charges where significant exculpatory evidence has been found, obeying the rules of evidence and disclosure, and exercising discretion where (for example) not proceeding with a case serve justice better than convicting someone.

Prosecutors are human beings and the vast majority of them are trying to do a good job the vast majority of the time. But they are susceptible to human frailties, including ego, greed, and a whole host of unconscious biases that drive their behavior.

That’s why maintaining a robust adversarial system is so important. Prosecutors are not generally bad, but sometimes they do bad stuff. And when you have a person with the full force and resources of the government behind them who can deprive people of life and liberty, then it’s very important that you ensure that they are doing their job properly and correctly. That’s why the system is designed to be biased in favor of criminal defendants. The defendant has no burden of proof; the prosecutor must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. It takes a unanimous vote for a conviction, but one dissenter can make it a mistrial. The prosecutor can compel people to testify, but not the defendant. And so on.

Often in fiction (or amongst naive people) you’ll hear about slimy defense lawyers who manage to get their clients acquitted on a “technicality” as if they are in possession of some magical Law Potion which they sprinkle in the judge’s coffee and poof! “technicality!” What these narratives miss is that the “technicality” exists for a reason - to protect the defendant against misuse of power by the state - and that it’s the defense lawyer’s job to ensure that such power is not misused, and that if their client is convicted, it’s done in the correct and transparent way.

Obviously it doesn’t always work out that way, because (it turns out) defense lawyers, judges, and jurors are also human beings. But, like democracy and capitalism, it’s the worst possible system except for all the others.