When is the victim the prosecutor’s client?

The Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a prosecutor for allowing the victim in a case to dictate the terms of the defendant’s plea agreement, finding that the prosecutor “engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Respondent, however, did more than just include in a plea offer, at a victim’s request, a restitution amount in excess of what the court could order under the Restitution Statute. Rather,
Respondent ceded to Big Rivers the entirety of restitution decisions with respect to the First Plea Offer, permitting Big Rivers to use the criminal case, without prosecutorial oversight, as leverage in its civil dispute with JH.

This is the problem in many civil cases which involve breach of trust charges or other disagreements with former employers or contractors – sometimes, the charge itself is only brought to force a person to pay money in what would otherwise be a purely civil dispute. Often when the person who thinks they are entitled to payment calls an attorney, the attorney will see that it is either not a good case to file or that there is not much chance of recovering if they do file suit, and they will advise the person to call the police instead.
When charges are brought in cases that are really civil in nature, some prosecutors will allow them to die on the vine. They might get kicked at the preliminary hearing, they might receive an offer of PTI, they might be dismissed after restitution is paid, but the bottom line is that many prosecutors can recognize which cases are viable and which are not.
Some prosecutors, however, have insisted that they cannot dismiss a case because their victim is not willing. There are some prosecutors who will do nothing in a case unless the victim approves – there are some prosecutors who have gone as far as to claim the victim in a case is their client.
The victim is never the prosecutor’s client – if they were there would be an unavoidable conflict of interest. The victim in any case is a witness, and the State is the prosecutor’s client – the prosecutor’s goal is not to make the victim whole, and the prosecutor should not be prosecuting the case at the direction of the victim. The prosecutor’s goal is to achieve Justice – Justice might make the victim happy, it might make the defendant happy, or it might make no-one happy.
Although the interests of the victim and the interests of the State may often align, it is not necessarily so.
H/T Legal Profession

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