A Comparative Study of Prosecutor’s Perceptions of Courts Between the United
States and Canada
This study set out to examine and compare prosecutor’s perceptions of their court system in the United
States and Canada. In actuality, this study compared court systems and examined prosecutor’s roles in Michigan
only. Surveys were sent through the mail to all country prosecutors in Michigan. Questions were formulated to
target prosecutor’s perceptions of court organization, court finding, the death penalty, et al.
In most cases, courts are known as institutions that determine guilt, innocence (Nardulli,
1979), or settle disputes (Neubauer, 1997; Neubauer, 1006; Vago, 1988; Miller & Sarat, 1982;
Galanter, 1974). When it comes to the United States and its legal systems, people are usually
most familiar with the courts (Neubauer, 1997; 1996). It seems that this phenomenon should be
expected. After all, courts use law to adjudicate between parties (Neubauer, 1997; 1996; Vago,
1988; Miller & Sarat, 1982; Galanter, 1974). Miller & Sarat (1982) described this situation in the
following manner; “[t]he language of rights and remedies is preeminently the language of
law…” (p. 59). Furthermore, those rights and remedies assist “politically disadvantaged groups
(ie. Racial minorities, members of small religious groups, sexual minorities, prisoners, et al.).,
when they use the law to gain benefits and fundamental changes (Neubauer, 1997; Vago, 1988).
The perception of the courts’ important seems to hold consistent in Canada as well.
Criminal courts have a major impact o the accused (Ontario Law Reform Commission, 1989).
The Ontario Law Reform Commission (1973) stated:
Perhaps it should be stressed that the courts are not the
private domain of judges and lawyers. They exist for
people and in a very real sense belong to the people. That
their functions should be clearly understood and accept-
ed by the people and that they should be managed in the
best interests of the people is surely beyond dispute (p. 1).
It seems that since courts influence the lives of so many people, that the actors of the
legal system have pertinent roles. Actors in a courtroom include judges, district attorneys,
prosecutors (Neubauer, 1997; Neubauer, 1996; Galanter, 1974) and clerical personnel (Jacob,
1980; Galanter, 1974). For the purposes of this study, actors will be defined as judges, defense
attorneys, and prosecutors. However, this study will focus on prosecutors, because they often
seem to be underrepresented in research (C. Smith, personal communication, December 4, 1997).
Prosecutors play a role of vital importance in the “American political system.” The
prosecutor’s (district attorney or county attorney) primary duty is to protect the public
(Neubauer, 1997; Neubauer, 1996). Neubauer (1996) stated:
Compared to their counterparts in England and Europe,
American prosecutors enjoy unmatched independence
and discretionary privilege (p. 79).
Moreover, there is no other country who has a prosecutorial position where a “special hybrid of
quasi-judicial and political power” is exercised (p. xv) (Jacoby, 1980). As one can see, a
prosecutor’s role in the United States is extremely influential and can greatly impact the
individual and the community as a whole. Nevertheless, they are not a highly studied population
Similarly, Attorney General (responsible for the public prosecution system) and
prosecutors “…lie at the centre of the justice system” (Law reform Commission of Canada,
1990). Crown and provincial prosecutors are an integral part of public prosecution (Law reform
Commission of Canada, 1990). Ole prosecutors in America, Canadian prosecutors hold primary
responsibilities to serve and protect the public and to supervise private prosecutions. Unlike in
the United States, Canadian prosecutors do not have the same relative amount of independence.
It seems that the independence of crown and provincial prosecutors varies among provinces
(Law reform Commission of Canada, 1990).
This study examines prosecutor’s perceptions of courts, and the legal judicial system.
Prosecutor’s perceptions will differ between the United States and Canada due to differences in
the structure of each judicial system. The survey sample consists of prosecutors from Michigan.