The Sword and the Mercy: Behind the Curtain of an Oregon Prosecutor

This week, Chris Parosa, an eight-year Lane County deputy district attorney allowed Eugene, Oregon’s Register-Guard to pull back the curtain on the many offstage duties that also make up a typical week for a deputy district attorney.

He allowed a reporter to watch or query him about the job’s less-recognized tasks — some mundane, some horrifying — to show what Lane County’s 32 prosecutors do.  It is clear that the role of prosecutor extends far beyond what the public understands from Law and Order.

One surprising duty, perhaps, is deciding not to prosecute people…“We have to be sure we’ve got proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Parosa says. “I have to verify that there’s credible evidence for every charge.”

Even when there is, he says, “I have to ask myself: Is this a case that’s worth pursuing? Is this something the community wants me to be prosecuting, given our limited resources?”

Parosa and other prosecutors also handle volumes of cases at parole violation hearings.  While several defense attorneys are here on behalf of their clients, Parosa is the sole prosecutor in the room, and most of these cases are not his own.  As the judge calls each defendant, Parosa pulls the corresponding file from a cart of files, carefully studying it before providing his recommendation.

One of the worst parts of his job, the deputy D.A. says, is telling victims of alleged crimes that his office will not be filing charges for lack of sufficient proof.  “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had where I have to tell them, ‘I believe he did this, but I can’t prove it.’ ”

There’s also the matter of plea bargains. Parosa finds, “You can have the sword in your hand, but you can also show some mercy.” He confesses that he was the beneficiary of mercy, for when he was 18, he was busted for using a fake ID to buy alcohol while he was a student at the University of Oregon.  

Bill Warnisher, now one of his colleagues, was the prosecutor in that case.  “In his wisdom, he saw that I was a young kid who made a bad choice, and he deferred adjudication,” Parosa says. While his case was on hold, he successfully completed a diversion program. The charge was dropped and his record expunged.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity I had, and I often reflect on that when deciding what to do in my cases,” Parosa says. “It’s not our job to make everyone who comes through this office a criminal. … I love what I do because I get to come in every day and do the right thing.”

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