Restraint in Exercising Prosecutor's Discretion to Calendar Cases
Opinion rules that it is prejudicial to the administration of justice for a prosecutor to threaten to use his discretion to schedule a criminal trial to coerce a plea agreement from a criminal defendant.
Defense Attorney represents Client on a pending criminal charge. Prosecutor offered Client a plea bargain. Defense Attorney informs Prosecutor that Client will not accept the offered plea bargain. Prosecutor tells Defense Attorney that if Client does not accept the offered plea bargain, "Client's going to be sitting in the courtroom all week and he's going to be on the calendar every Monday morning for weeks to come." Is it unethical for Prosecutor to imply that he will use the statutory calendaring power of the district attorney's office to delay Client's trial if Client will not accept the plea bargain?
Yes, threatening to use the discretion to schedule a criminal trial to coerce a plea agreement from a criminal defendant is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rule 1.2(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A prosecutor should use restraint in the discretionary exercise of the authority to calendar criminal cases. See comment  to Rule 7.3, "Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor," ("…the prosecutor represents the sovereign and therefore should use restraint in the discretionary use of government powers…").
If a lawyer overhears the conversation between Prosecutor and Defense Attorney, does the lawyer have a duty to report Prosecutor's conduct to the State Bar or other appropriate authority?
Rule 1.3(a) requires a lawyer who has knowledge that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct "that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects" to report the conduct to the North Carolina State Bar or other appropriate authority. Comment  to Rule 1.3 states that
[t]his rule limits the reporting obligation to those offenses that a self-regulating profession must vigorously endeavor to prevent. A measure of judgment is, therefore, required in complying with the provisions of this rule. The term "substantial" refers to the seriousness of the alleged offense and not the quantum of evidence of which the lawyer is aware.
Prosecutor's conduct may be an isolated incident resulting from a momentary lapse in judgment. If so, such conduct does not raise a "substantial" question as to Prosecutor's fitness as a lawyer. The lawyer who overhears the conversation may want to counsel Prosecutor with regard to his conduct, but the lawyer is not required to report the conduct to the State Bar. However, if the lawyer knows that Prosecutor routinely abuses the discretionary power to schedule criminal cases or, after being advised that this conduct is a violation of the Rules, Prosecutor continues the conduct, the lawyer should report the matter to the State Bar or other appropriate authority.