Welsh Dishes on What Being District Attorney Really Means
“The position, as I see it, really means you try and seek justice the best you can when a crime occurs. That can mean a lot of things based on what crime has occurred,” Welsh told exploreClarion.com.
According to Welsh, in a “best case scenario,” the district attorney’s office will get involved in a case from the very earliest steps.
Citing the recently tried Atcheson case as an example, Welsh noted that when the incident occurred, he immediately got a call and went to the scene at Desperado’s Bar in New Bethlehem.
“The District Attorney really has to look at making sure that any sort of investigation that’s done, all of the evidence is collected as necessary to ultimately make the decision of – number one, was a crime committed? And, number two, are you able to prove what happened?”
Once the charges are filed, and the court system’s mechanisms begin to take over, there may still be continuing investigation into a case, Welsh noted.
“Sometimes, as you’re going through things, you’ll find there’s some weak evidence in this case, but we never talked to person X. Then we go and talk to person X, and they give us great evidence we can present.”
Welsh said that the perspective of the victim of a crime also always plays into how the cases are handled.
“The Victim’s Bill of Rights requires that before we agree to any sort of plea agreement, we always need to let the victim know what’s going on and consult with them.”
While the victim’s perspective is important, it is still only one part of the overall equation.
“It’s not always the most important aspect because sometimes there are greater issues,” Welsh noted.
“We have domestic violence cases, that happen very often, where we have victims that may have been repeat victims of domestic violence, and they contacted the police and clearly they were victims of domestic violence, but they’ll come in maybe two or three months later and say ‘I want to drop all the charges, and I don’t want anything else to happen in this case.'”
“But, as the district attorney’s office, you’re looking to try to have justice served, and you have to make that decision. If we can still prove that something happened, even if the victim doesn’t want to move forward, is it in society’s greater interest to be able to go forward and hold people accountable, to make sure there aren’t more victims in the future.”
These are the kind of issues faced by the district attorney on a daily basis.
Plea agreements are another place where difficult decisions may come into play. In some cases, whether or not a defendant may be offered or be willing to make a plea bargain is more obvious than in others, according to Welsh.
“What you most often see going to trial are two types of cases: they’re either a very serious case where the penalty is high enough where the defendant will say: ‘Well, I’m going to go to jail for a long time, I might as well try going to trial on this case.” — or, you might have a case where the evidence is not as strong, and there could be an argument going either way.”
However, in other cases, particularly cases with more relatively minor charges or cases where there is very strong evidence, the defendant is more likely to enter a guilty plea. However, what the defendant is willing to plead guilty to is another question.
One of the first things involved is, again, the victim’s perspective.
Before a plea deal involving a guilty plea to a lesser crime will be offered, the victim of the crime is always consulted.
“If it’s something like an aggravated assault and a simple assault, we’ll talk to the victim, and the victim may say they’re fine with the simple assault plea so long as there’s restitution being paid.”
Welsh also noted that in some cases, the evidence for the lesser crime may be stronger than the evidence for the more serious crime, which, again, will be explained to the victim before a plea agreement is offered.
“We try not to go against what the victim wants,” he explained.
There are even cases that, as time goes by and the investigation continues, they discover the case simply can’t be proven.
“Ethically, I can’t go forward on a case where I don’t think someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In the end, it all circles right back around seeking justice for all of the people of the community, from the victims to those accused.
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