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5Ws+1H: What It's About: Baker: Prosecutors, defense attorneys both serve the law

Mar. 26—In the legal world, a defense attorney and prosecutor may have the same degrees and certifications, but those who practice law have different roles as part of a balanced justice system.

B.J. Baker, a Cherokee County attorney, said a prosecutor is "the spearhead of law enforcement."

"In Oklahoma, the prosecutor has full discretion to dismiss, to amend, or to pursue charges at all," Baker said. "[They] have full discretion and evaluation of case strength, harm to the community, and need for punishment, and [they] can form any plea agreement [they] feel is just."

Baker said since they have discretion, some prosecutors can sometimes lose sight of justice.

"Sometimes the system is designed to seek convictions, and I mean, it's a lot like a tunnel-vision horse with blinders," Baker said. "You can be deceived into prosecuting someone who didn't do it, or maybe being a little more zealous than you ought to be — a little harsh in the punishment, a little heavy handed in the pursuit of justice — because you feel like you are doing the right thing. But that's where defense attorneys come in."

A defense attorney often has to anticipate the actions of the prosecutor, who has to present elements of the case with testimonies, evidence, and facts to back it up.

Baker said defense attorneys are protectors of the Constitution, and they also protect the people's unalienable rights, which include the right to a trial, to being proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and to have a presumption of innocence.

"Most importantly, it's to go before a cross-section of your peers in front of a jury. Or they can review if a case is just and whether there is actually enough evidence to strip a person of freedom. They may apply their common sense to a just punishment, where maybe a prosector has grown a little too zealous, a little too harsh," Baker said. "This cross-section of the community that becomes a jury must consider the circumstances. They themselves or their family member could just as easily be sitting in that chair where my client sits on trial, under the great weight of the government," Baker said.

Before becoming a defense attorney, Baker served as a prosecutor for five years.

"Being a prosecutor is a noble profession," Baker said. "You're the protector of the community. You're a hero for victims. When I was a prosecutor, the most pride I got was working with the Child Abuse Task Force and prosecuting child crimes, because you're standing up for people who can't protect themselves."

Working as a prosecutor before becoming a defense attorney is the common pathway for many pursuing law. Baker said this is a way for the attorney to learn the ins and outs of a trial and the criminal justice system.