Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prosecutor Creates Bonus Based on Conviction Rates

A Colorado district attorney has established a bonus system for prosecutors based on the number of cases tried and convictions won. According to the Denver Post, for an assistant district attorney to earn the average $1,100 bonus the ADA must participate in at least five trials during the year, with 70 percent of the trials ending in a felony conviction. Plea bargains or mistrials are not counted in the bonus calculations.

"It is hard to find performance standards by which to measure trial attorneys," District Attorney Carol Chambers told the Post. Chambers created the prosecutor bonus plan. "This is the standard I think best meets the need to have a performance standard that attorneys know and can be aware of and that does not in any way encourage any outcome in any specific case," added Chambers.

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey told the Post he's seen plenty of cases where hard work didn't pay off in the jury box and added that he'd be concerned about unintended consequences of a rule like Chambers'.

"I would worry that if something is tied to a conviction rate, a deputy wouldn't try a hard case that required a trial. We want people trying cases that need to be tried," Morrissey said. "If they don't win, they don't win."

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett looks at attorneys' ethical standards, how they juggle their dockets and move cases along, their relationships with local law enforcement, and whether they take cases to trial. But he hasn't set a quota.

"I want my department in trial as much as possible, but I want them focused on doing the right thing on their cases," Garnett told the Post. "I don't want them distracted by some kind of bonus or award."

Garnett pointed to the American Bar Association directive for prosecutors: Seek justice, not merely conviction.

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