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Abstract

When Professor Abbe Smith asked “Can You Be a Good Person and a Good Prosecutor” in 2001 (and answered it mostly in the negative), she began a conversation that would result in me, a public defender, having to repeatedly answer the question from earnest law students and young lawyers. I haven’t yet forgiven Professor Smith. My first impulse when I’m asked the question is to hand out her home phone number. My second impulse is to answer: “Why are you asking me?” I’m a defense lawyer. Worse still, I am a public defender. I’m not, shall we say, naturally drawn to answering questions about who should become a prosecutor. Nor am I naturally drawn to “good people.” But here we are seventeen years later and the question is still on the table—perhaps more so than ever with the election of several “progressive prosecutors” in notable jurisdictions. I will start by saying that I would like to practice in a criminal justice system where the question of whether a “good person” can be a “good prosecutor” is a silly, even offensive, question. The fact that in this day and age it is instead a legitimate question fraught with moral significance speaks volumes about the system itself.

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