Good-faith errors shouldn’t be labeled as ‘misconduct’

In Washington, a prosecutor can offer evidence to the trial judge for admission, argue the evidence to the jury after it is admitted and yet be tagged with “prosecutorial misconduct” if the appellate court determines the trial judge erred in admitting the evidence.

We prosecute about 6,000 felonies a year in your Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, vigorously seeking justice for our community.

Prosecutors make scores of decisions in each case and in each trial. If an appellate court later finds one of those decisions to be an error, the mistake can be labeled “prosecutorial misconduct.”

Elected prosecutors in Washington have asked the state Supreme Court to categorize error as error and reserve the term “misconduct” for true instances of misconduct.

When good-faith mistakes, especially those approved by a trial judge, are defined as “prosecutorial misconduct,” it unfairly taints prosecutors and unwisely undermines public confidence in our justice system.

At trial, prosecutors argue defendants are guilty based on the evidence. In State v. Glasmann, a 5-4 opinion from 2012, the Supreme Court held it was improper for a deputy prosecutor to superimpose the words “guilty, guilty, guilty” over a booking photograph of the defendant during closing argument. I believe the high court intended to send a strong message about the use of visual technology in the courtroom.

We got the message. I required mandatory training in our office to ensure compliance.

Our people are committed to the highest standards of professionalism. We comply with directives from the courts, learn from errors, adapt to changes in the law and stand by our principles.

I respect our Washington Supreme Court, as do our deputy prosecutors. We do not always agree – we are lawyers, after all – but when the arguing is over, the court sets the rules and we abide by those rules.

We only ask that error be called just that – error.

As Henry Rollins said, “We humans are prone to error.” In a few cases, there are errors. In every case, your prosecutor’s office vigorously and tirelessly advocates for you, doing the right things for the right reasons. We successfully put the bad guys away, we volunteer in our neighborhoods, we do everything in our power to make Pierce County safer and stronger.

Prosecutors are not only advocates for our community – we are also tasked with seeking and delivering justice. We protect, respect and defend everyone’s rights.

As the people’s lawyer, this is our covenant with the community we represent.

Mark Lindquist is the Pierce County prosecutor.