PDAA Ethics Training: Do the Right Thing for the Right Reason
By Edward McCann Jr.
Every day, prosecutors across Pennsylvania make decisions that have significant and life changing impacts for people in our communities.
How should prosecutors approach this serious responsibility?
The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct gives us an ethical roadmap for doing our job. Rule 3.8 tells us that “A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.”
We don’t represent clients; we represent an ideal. As a minister of justice, we are supposed to do the right thing, and there is no possibility of doing the right thing without being ethical.
That is why the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) puts so much emphasis and resources into training prosecutors on professional ethics. I have been teaching the PDAA ethics training program for several years, focusing on young prosecutors who need to learn that no conviction is worth cutting ethical corners to get it. I tell them that we are inextricably bound to each other. When trust is broken by the wrongdoing of one of us, it has a negative impact on the credibility of the many who take their ethical responsibilities seriously, do their jobs with integrity, and have a commitment to serve the public.
PDAA trains prosecutors to be the advocates for everyone involved in a criminal case. That means, among other ethical requirements, turning over evidence that could be favorable to a defendant, closely reviewing investigative files for exculpatory evidence, and remaining free of conflicts of interest. It means taking into account the circumstances facing each defendant and whether the circumstances support incarceration or an alternative sentence, such as completing a drug treatment program.
Our emphasis on ethics training was borne of the idea that we – as the association of prosecutors in Pennsylvania – must strive to place the values of fairness and integrity at the center of everything we do. Not only do we have a duty to act ethically ourselves, but we must also strive to create a culture throughout the entire Commonwealth.
The phrase “do the right thing for the right reason” is more than just a slogan for our membership. It is instead a fundamental principle that guides our duty to do justice in our communities every day.
Edward McCann Jr. is the First Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County.