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What is a Special Prosecutor?

A Special Prosecutor is an independent attorney appointed to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute cases where there is a potential for conflict of interest or bias within the regular justice system. They ensure a fair and impartial process, particularly in high-profile situations involving government officials. How might this role shape justice in upcoming cases? Join the conversation to uncover the impact.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A special prosecutor is a prosecutorial lawyer from the private sector chosen to investigate, indict and prosecute government officials. While prosecuting a government official suspected of illegal activity would normally fall to a US attorney, a district attorney or an attorney general, the close political relationship of one branch of government to another would suggest that a prosecution conducted by someone employed by the same government, or same branch of government may not be impartial. In these cases, the government may ask a private sector lawyer to serve as special prosecutor, so that no partiality exists in pursuing the case.

Many countries employ a special prosecutor when it comes to cases where a government official stands accused. Partiality may exist with lawyers working for the government already because they may have a direct relationship with the accused, they may have gained political power through the defendant’s political position, or they may be employed by the accused. On the other hand, if the government-employed prosecutor is openly opposed to the defendant’s political party, he or she may prosecute injudiciously. Thus in most cases, a special prosecutor must be employed so that no relationship between the defendant and the prosecutor exists.

Many situations call for a special prosecutor.
Many situations call for a special prosecutor.

In the 2006/2007 trials that accused Scooter Libby of leaking confidential information about a member of the CIA, Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor. A special prosecutor with significant fame was Leon Jaworski, who was appointed as the prosecutor in the case of the United States v. Nixon. Jaworski, after pursuing the case for 11 months quit suddenly. He was angry that President Ford had already issued a presidential pardon to former President Nixon, prior to the conclusion of the trial. Further, as he’s stated in interviews since, he missed his home in Texas.

Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was well known for his pursuit of President Clinton during first the Whitewater Scandal, and then the Monica Lewinsky Sex Scandal. Though Starr as prosecutor did impeach Clinton, the senate voted to acquit him.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent LanguageHumanities contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent LanguageHumanities contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Buster29

Some state and county court systems also call special prosecutors to handle high profile cases. Sometimes the regular prosecutors have to take themselves off a case because of a personal or professional connection with the defendant, too.

My wife had to testify in a local murder trial that was receiving national media attention. The special prosecutor was a state-level attorney who had a high conviction rate. He tried some legal tactics that were a little questionable, but he did get a conviction during the first trial. A judge later overturned the verdict, citing prosecutorial misconduct. The special prosecutor failed to reveal the existence of an FBI report to the defense attorneys.

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    • Many situations call for a special prosecutor.
      By: michele.pautasso
      Many situations call for a special prosecutor.
    • A special prosecutor is often called in during a public scandal.
      By: Africa Studio
      A special prosecutor is often called in during a public scandal.
    • Many countries employ a special prosecutor in cases where a government official stands accused.
      By: James Martin
      Many countries employ a special prosecutor in cases where a government official stands accused.