Cash for Convictions in Colorado: Is a Prosecutor Giving Bonuses For High Conviction Rates? (And Is Anything Wrong with That?)

Here’s an interesting story out of Aurora, Colorado from Denver-based boobtube station KUSA.  A public defender has filed a motion to have a special prosecutor assigned in a case because the local district attorney may have a policy of giving financial bonuses to attorneys with high conviction rates.

The potential problem here is laid out by a local attorney (not the public defender who filed the motion):   

Aurora attorney Derek Cole says giving money to prosecutors who had high conviction rates at trial could encourage them to take cases to trial and not offer plea bargains.

“If I am representing somebody in a trial and there is an extraneous factor that I don’t know, we may get some resistance from the district attorney and it may be because they want a bonus and it’s just not acceptable,” Cole said. “It upsets the balance.”

But, the District Attorney, Carol Chambers, says that’s not what’s going on:

“We have not done anything unethical. We do not give people money for convicting people. That is distorted and it is untrue.”

Chambers went on to note that trial victories was only one factor in determining bonuses.  The office gave out almost $165K in bonuses in 2010, but it’s discontinued the practice as a result of budget cuts.

It seems to us that if bonuses were given based upon a number of factors, one of which was success at trial, that’s cool.  But if bonuses were tied solely or primarily to conviction rates, that could be a problem.  The story doesn’t say what bonus amounts were awarded to attorneys, so it’s hard to know how much incentive a bonus might be for a prosecutor.

PSLawNet Blog Verdict: we need more facts.  But we figured we’d post because it raises an interesting ethics question.

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