THE DEFENSE MOVES TO PROHIBIT THE PROSECUTION FROM REFERRING TO THEMSELVES AS THE PEOPLE IN A MANNER THAT IMPLIES THAT HE/SHE REPRESENTS THE JURORS AGAINST THE DEFENDANT
The prosecution may, as some do, maintain that it is correct to tell the jury that he/she represents the people of the state of California, and that “I am an advocate for them.” This statement improperly suggests to the jurors — who are supposed to be impartial fact-finders — that they are in fact aligned with the prosecutor against the defendant.
It is, of course, error to suggest such a notion. As the Supreme Court stated in People v. Eubanks (1996) 14 Cal.4th 580, 589-590), the role and interest of the prosecution in a criminal case is obviously not that of the jury and the phrase “the People” includes the defendant:
The nature of the impartiality required of the public prosecutor follows from the prosecutor’s role as representative of the People as a body, rather than as individuals. “The prosecutor speaks not solely for the victim, or the police, or those who support them, but for all the People. That body of ‘The People’ includes the defendant and his family and those who care about him. It also includes the vast majority of citizens who know nothing about a particular case, but who give over to the prosecutor the authority to seek a just result in their name.” (Corrigan, On Prosecutorial Ethics (1986) 13 Hastings Const.L.Q. 537, 538-539.) Thus the district attorney is expected to exercise his or her discretionary functions in the interests of the People at large, and not under the influence or control of an interested individual. (People v. Superior Court (Greer), [ ], 19 Cal.3d at p. 267.)
Unlike the adversary role of the prosecutor, the domain of the judge and the jury is true disinterest and objectivity in a criminal case. (Id. at 590.) To suggest to jurors that the prosecutor’s role and interest and the jury’s role and interest are one and the same is a total distortion of the constitutional role each must play and undermines the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to due process of law, the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the Sixth Amendment right to trial before an impartial jury.
This is not an argument that any reference to “the People,” as in the charging document, instructions, etc., is a per se violation. (See People v. Black (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 830, rejecting such an argument.) Here, counsel for the Defendant is narrowly focused on the prosecutor’s improper usage of the phrase to make it appear to the jury that the court, jury and the prosecution are on one side with the defendant on the other. This is not an accurate portrayal of each distinct and separate role that each plays. The defendant requests that the prosecution not be allowed to refer to itself as “the People” while in the presence of the jury.
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This post does not create an attorney-client relationship and does not constitute legal advice. Moreover, the law changes over time. Always consult an attorney before determining what motion s to file and what the current law is as to any particular topic.
Criminal defense attorney and author Jay Leiderman, a California State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist can be contacted through the contact page of this website: https://www.jayleiderman.com/contact/