Prosecutor's Offer of Special Treatment to Defendants Who Make Charitable Contributions
Opinion rules that it is prejudicial to the administration of justice for a prosecutor to offer special treatment to individuals charged with traffic offenses or minor crimes in exchange for a direct charitable contribution to the local school system.
Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 204 (Revised).
District Attorney X would like to offer more favorable plea bargains to persons charged with traffic violations and minor criminal offenses upon condition that the individual charged make a direct charitable contribution to the local school board. In exchange for such contributions, the District Attorney would also like to offer to agree to the granting of continuances and PJCs (prayers for judgment continued) in traffic citation and minor criminal cases. The charitable contributions would not be court fines and would not be channeled through the court system. The District Attorney contends that by making a direct contribution to the school system, defendants are paying more money than they would be required to pay if they were fined by the court and the school system receives more money than it would receive from court fines alone. Would this practice be ethical?
No. The offer of special treatment from a prosecutor to individuals charged with traffic violations or minor criminal offenses in exchange for direct donations to even the most worthy charity implies that justice can be purchased. Such conduct is clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 1.2(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. See also Rule 7.2(a)(9). This practice would also be contrary to a prosecutor's special responsibility "to seek justice, not merely to convict." Comment to Rule 7.3.
This opinion does not limit or prohibit the exercise of the authority granted to a prosecutor to recommend a particular plea arrangement which includes restitution or reparation pursuant to G.S. §15A-1021.