What is a Prosecutor?

The prosecutor is the chief legal official in the jurisdiction in which he is elected or appointed.  U. S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson summarized the role of the prosecutor in American society in a famous speech entitled “The Federal Prosecutor.”  Justice Jackson began his remarks summarizing American prosecutors generally stating: “The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway.”

If there was ever anyone to credibly opine on exactly what a prosecutor is or should be, it is Justice Jackson.  After all, he was personally asked by President Harry Truman to step away from his duties as a U. S. Supreme Court Justice in order to establish the international court that would try the Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II.  As a former U. S. Attorney General and sitting Justice of our Supreme Court, Truman knew that Justice Jackson would bring legitimacy to the procedure by serving as the legal architect of the trial procedure. Jackson insisted on due process and fundamental fairness in the proceedings in which he served as the United States lead prosecutor.  Of the 22 Nazi war criminals tried, 19 were found guilty with 12 of those sentenced to death, 3 sentenced to life in prison, 4 sentenced to a term of years and 3 were found not guilty.  Jackson’s work was received internationally with respect and credibility, and thereafter he returned to work on our Supreme Court.

Prosecutors in America often cite Jackson’s famous speech “The Federal Prosecutor” which was given by to a group of lawyers and prosecutors in Washington. Jackson’s intent was to remind prosecutors of the tremendous responsibility that comes along with the power of the prosecuting attorney. His prolific writings and speeches have been an inspiration to legions of legal practitioners, and his works can be read in full at roberthjackson.org.