Southern Utah, 1021 UTBJ, Vol. 34, No. 5. 48

AuthorScott Garrett
PositionVol. 34 5 Pg. 48

Southern Utah

Vol. 34 No. 5 Pg. 48

Utah Bar Journal

October, 2021

September, 2021

A Mew From the Other Side: From Prosecution to Defense

Scott Garrett

Having spent the first eighteen years of my career as a prosecutor, I handled a wide variety of cases. One that particularly stands out was a sexual-assault case where the suspect, barely eighteen years old, was accused of abusing a couple of neighbor children. The abuse had started while the suspect was a juvenile and finished a few days after the suspect turned eighteen and was arrested.

Because the last event occurred as an adult, charges were filed in the district court. The most serious charge was a first degree felony, punishable by five years to life in the Utah State Prison. The defendant ultimately entered a guilty plea to an attempted first degree felony and was sentenced to three years to life in prison.

The defendant had family members that were incensed over the potential life sentence, believing it to be unduly harsh and overly punitive for one who had just barely reached the age of majority. They argued that had the case been brought in juvenile court, there would have been a small fine, treatment, and no jail time. They were not wrong.

The victims and their families were appalled by the defendant's conduct and believed that the imposition of a potential life sentence was barely sufficient to even scratch the surface of serving justice.

Justice and Mercy

In the middle of this, the attorneys were trying their best to find solutions to the issues, serve justice, and respond. One side arguing for justice and the other side arguing for mercy. What is the appropriate outcome in these types of cases? Arguments can be made both ways.

Over the years, I have learned that justice and mercy mean different things to different people and can even change within a person depending on the circumstances. It is usually tied to how well we know and like the suspect. The better we know and care for the suspect the more likely we are to advocate for mercy. This is a universal principle, and it is present in all of us.

Victims in the criminal justice system often find some level of healing and closure when they believe that justice has been served. That concept and phenomenon intrigued me as a prosecutor as the legal system is ill-equipped to restore victims to the position they were in prior to victimization. But the concept of serving justice is powerful and real. I observed it firsthand in many of the more serious cases I prosecuted, particularly the murder and sexual-assault cases. I watched as profound relief and a sense of peace poured over victims and family members as guilty pleas were read and prison sentences imposed. Victims and their close circle were devastated when they perceived that justice had not been served, and it made their healing process more difficult, and in some instances, perhaps unattainable.

As a prosecutor, I became somewhat of a champion and a voice for victims who were seeking healing and justice. That was an easy concept to get behind and proved to be very rewarding. The "tent of justice" seemed to be a large tent, full of community members, law enforcement, and concerned citizens, all wanting justice.

I recall attending prosecutor trainings and being told that prosecutors were true ministers of...

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