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John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has untangled some of the knottier aspects of the criminal justice system in the past, including the public defender system, reported Slate. The show looked to the other side of the courtroom, at a group that often has an outsize amount of power over a defendant’s fate: prosecutors. Just as we take phrases like “user agreement update” or “Tyler Perry presents” for granted, Oliver argues that “prosecutors will decide” has become such a common refrain in local news stories that you may not seriously consider what it means, even though it’s actually pretty important.
Not only can prosecutors determine whether to bring charges against a person, they can also pressure even innocent people to accept plea bargains to avoid the prospect of a harsher sentence from a judge or jury if wrongfully convicted. And if a defendant does choose to go to trial instead, prosecutors have a number of tactics to influence the outcome, including manipulating jury selection and withholding evidence that might help the defendant’s case from the other side.