Statesman Examiner

Erika George discusses her role as County Prosecutor

- By Marsha Michaelis

Being prosecuted isn’t on anyone’s bucket list. The word “prosecute” comes from Latin roots that mean “to follow, seek or pursue.” In the legal sense, it describes the pursuit of someone who is accused of committing a crime or violating a law.

In past articles I’ve described that “terrible business” of law in which the powers granted to civil government must be used to restrain or punish people who refuse to govern themselves. What this means in a very literal sense is that there are some people who are trusted by the rest of us with the authority to use physical force ( guns, tasers, handcuffs, jail cells) to subdue and punish others who break the law.

We have a class of students in the area learning about how the law works and we recently heard from Ms. Erika George, who was elected in November to the position of County Prosecutor. She has the important and complex job of deciding who in Stevens County will face prosecutio­n, and then managing the task.

Ms. George works closely with other agents of the law and her duties are triggered after certain others are complete.

To summarize very briefly: Laws must first be written and agreed upon by the people who have been trusted with the powers of legislatio­n. Then, when there is good reason to believe a person has violated one of these laws, police or deputies are called to capture them or serve them with a summons to show up and answer charges. At this point, still other people (detectives, forensic analysts) get to work investigat­ing and gathering all the facts and evidence relevant to the case.

It falls to Ms. George and her team of prosecutin­g attorneys to decide if these facts show reasonable cause to charge a person with a crime. If the law is working as it should, most of the people guilty of crimes recognize that the evidence against them is strong enough to warrant punishment, and they’ll admit guilt and agree to a penalty. This might include restitutio­n paid to someone they’ve harmed, fines to cover the expense they’ve caused to the community, jail or prison time, community service, attendance at some kind of treatment program, etc. Part of Ms. George’s job is to craft agreements that honor the law, help restore victims, protect the community from offenders, and ensure a just penalty.

If an accused person says they’re innocent, that claim is honored until proven otherwise. A lot of time and effort will be invested to present all of the facts in a court of law, where a judge or jury will ultimately decide. On one side of the case is the prosecutio­n, representi­ng the government and providing all the evidence that shows a crime was likely committed by the accused, and on the other side is the defense, showing all the evidence that indicates the person is not guilty.

It’s a complicate­d job for both sides. One of the first things you’ll observe in a courtroom is the truth of the Proverb: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (If you haven’t ever seen this process at work, it’s worth sitting in on a case in court. These are open to the public.)

There are, of course, challenges to being a prosecutor. Ms, George spoke with us about the state laws that dictate what kinds of penalties she can seek against an offender. For example, there are grids determined by the state and federal legislatur­es that filter all accused offenders through predetermi­ned sentencing options. These are based in part on the type of crime committed and a person’s past criminal record. While this can help with the issue of unequally punishing people because of a personal prejudice (a miscarriag­e of justice), it can also lead to poor applicatio­n of the law in some cases (also a miscarriag­e of justice).

It takes a lot of wisdom to practice law. Prosecutor­s, judges and juries have an important role in enforcing laws to benefit and safeguard the community, while also seeing and understand­ing the person standing in front of them “marked out for the vengeance of others.” Who is that person? When is leniency or severity the better servant of justice and peace?

These are big questions and we appreciate all of the people who work hard every day in Stevens County to try to answer them rightly. We also appreciate Ms. George for taking time to come to our class and discuss them.

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