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Training for prosecutors and prosecutor's staff

Last edited: December 27, 2011

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In almost all countries, prosecutors are very powerful individuals. Programmers who plan trainings for prosecutors and prosecutor staff should implement careful strategies to promote attendance and a readiness to learn on the part of prosecutors.

Creating the infrastructure for training:

  • Consult with prosecutors in national associations to obtain experts in specific subject areas. Develop curriculum based upon new laws, protocols, national strategies, or policies.
  • Work to enable prosecutors to attend trainings on violence against women. There are far fewer prosecutors than police or judges, and in smaller jurisdictions there may be only one or two prosecutors on duty. It may be hard for them to get away, and the district may limit their travel funds. Provide grants with travel expenses, if possible. Find a private attorney from the same area who can cover basic court appearances so the backlog won’t grow too great during the training. Ask prosecutors, “How can we bring you this training?”
  • Provide prosecutors who can’t come to the training with webinars. Webinars, or web-based trainings, contain most of the content, some opportunities to ask questions, and are free-of-charge or available at the cost of a long-distance call. For example, the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, USA, offers a list of Upcoming Trainings, Webinars, and Events Around the Country and a list of Ongoing Virtual Opportunities.
  • Be sure that all hours of training provide prosecutors with credit for continuing education, if applicable. Partner with lawyers in each training if so required for credit; prosecutors prefer to be trained by peer lawyers in any case.

Foundation for prosecutor training programme planning:

The following strategies establish a foundation for prosecutor trainings on violence against women and girls

  • Conduct training on human rights in general and especially on women’s human rights.
  • Conduct training on dynamics of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, dating and domestic violence, and stalking and harassment.
  • Conduct training on specific myths of gender-based violence, such as the myth that women often falsely accuse men of rape or domestic violence.
  • Reinforce training on the overall context and patterns that characterize crimes of violence against women: it is often perpetrated by someone known to the survivor; it may involve little or no physical force; and it may not be reported immediately.
  • Conduct training on how the dynamics of domestic violence affect prosecutor decisions; for example, the history of violence between the parties and the level of fear expressed by the victim should be part of the charging decision.
  • Educate prosecutors and prosecutor staff on sensitive ways of interacting with survivors and their families.
  • Educate prosecutors and prosecutor staff on how survivor experiences may affect their ability or willingness to participate in the prosecution.
  • Improve prosecutor and staff knowledge of and access to community resources for survivors.
  • Conduct training on prosecutorial techniques which incorporate the dynamics of violence against women and the dynamics of intimate partner violence.
  • Train prosecutors on best practice standards of child custody decisions in intimate partner cases. Prosecutors often want to somehow place the victim under the court’s jurisdiction, even if the case started with the arrest of the batterer. They may say, “I care about the kids” and will condone child protection services pressuring her into counseling, and there could even be talk of charging her with witnessing violence to a child.
  • Inform prosecutors about the fact that when survivors choose to remain with the abuser or opt for alternative resolution methods, social services often removes the children from the survivor’s care. Prosecutors should work with social services agencies to ensure that survivors do not lose custody unjustly.
  • Train prosecutors on absent-victim prosecutions. Acknowledge their frustration with investing resources for little or no return in some cases and acknowledge that there are no easy answers to this problem. Absent-victim prosecutions may require more a thorough collection of physical evidence, photos, and reproductions of emergency calls, for example, depending on rules of evidence. There are far more third party domestic violence calls with the advent of cell phones: neighbors, drive-bys, workmates, and the general public have more education on domestic violence. Prosecutors can work with police on documenting the testimony of these witnesses so that it is usable in court.
  • Train prosecutors in case management techniques such as scheduling, budgeting, and monitoring so that prosecutors can be effective and efficient.
  • Educate prosecutors and staff on the often weak rates of success for batterer intervention and other offender programmes such as alcohol treatment or anger management programmes, and on the evidence-base of better practice in these programme areas, including what works best for certain perpetrators.
  • Educate prosecutors and staff on relevant laws on firearms, protective orders, child custody and support, divorce, and other laws that may impact survivors of violence.
  • Educate prosecutors on ethical considerations in prosecuting cases of violence against women and girls.
  • Educate prosecutors and staff about evolving best practices in violence against women prosecution strategies. For example, sentencing alternatives for violent offenders remain problematic in many countries, and new areas of concern in intimate partner violence, such as attempted strangulation and dual arrest, continue to develop. Prosecutors in limited resource areas can make use of websites hosted by prosecutor associations which will take questions and provide resources upon request.

Creating an effective prosecutor educational programme

Begin trainings on prosecutor techniques in violence against women cases with a session that acknowledges the resentment that most prosecutors feel towards victims.

  • Divide large groups into 3 or 4 rooms with faculty facilitators.
  • Present 3 difficult scenarios. For example, the case of a battered immigrant woman who does not speak the dominant language, is afraid to prosecute, and goes into her native community to hide, where the prosecutor cannot find her. Another example could involve a victim who testifies differently on the witness stand than in the police report. Give them 30 minutes to constructively vent. Ask open questions such as “What would you do in this situation?” or “How is this playing in your district?”
  • This gives the prosecutors the opportunity to vent without expecting to be trained, and drains off some of the negative energy around prosecutor experiences with victims of violence.
  1. Meet with facilitators after opening exercise to identify persons with negative attitudes toward training or themes that need to be highlighted.
  2. Have faculty sit with prosecutors at small round tables at lunch and dinner to discuss issues raised during the seminar. Model attitudes for the prosecutors, and provide a safe and trusting environment for them to talk.
  3. Give prosecutors a chance to introduce themselves and say 2 things they are hoping to come away with and 2 things that they are most frustrated by. This gives the faculty another opportunity to talk about negative attitudes in a respectful manner.
  4. Use videos of movie clips that show scenes of violence or domestic violence which present the story from the victim’s viewpoint in order to teach prosecutors to see violence against women in a just way.
  5. For every 90 minutes of lecture on new laws or techniques, do an interactive session such as role-play or Q & A. In addition, make some sessions wholly interactive.
  6. Develop case studies based upon learning objectives. Present one fact situation per day, but keep adding facts to the scenario. Use only 3-4 fact situations per week of training.

Using case studies in training prosecutors

  • Provide real cases as examples to develop prosecutor skills. For example, use a real police report that says that both parties used violence, both admit to using violence, and both have injuries.
  • Ask prosecutors what they would do based on the police report and what other evidence they would like to have. Then, when they bring up things like emergency calls, medical reports, etc., hand out the real emergency call transcript, the real medical report, etc. With this new information, the prosecutors get a different picture: the victim called the police, terrified, saying that he was hitting and choking her. Or maybe she called while he was breaking into the house and it took police 45 minutes to get there.
  • Use other pieces of information as the discussion develops, such as the statement of a victim advocate, the police and prosecutor record of prior complaints, etc. The prosecutors usually change their initial assessment of the case based on this information, and it drives home the point that all of these pieces are really important to the case.
  • Remind prosecutors that everything they see is produced by someone else: the police report, the transcript, etc. The prosecutor is the only person who is the recipient of all of these pieces of information, and they have to make their decisions based on what is presented to them. Make this point: If you ask for other pieces of the puzzle, this will inform how you approach cases and how you handle them and there will be greater justice for victims.

A Sample One-Day Training Agenda on “Bringing a Domestic Violence Case to Trial”

30 min: Introduction: Introduce yourself and partners. Ask audience to introduce themselves and identify their office, experience level, what they hope to learn today, what the most pressing problems faced by their office are.

15 min: Outline community needs and expectations of prosecutors. Briefly discuss applicable criminal domestic violence laws.

15 min: Discuss the effect of the dynamics of domestic violence on prosecutions: Understanding her reluctance to testify and the possibility that she might recant. Use case studies of intimidation techniques, i.e., jailhouse calls, threats to other family members or pets. Discuss how to reconcile respect for victim wishes with prosecutor duty to protect society from violence. No easy answers!

30 min: Discuss most important guiding principle: do not contribute to the re-victimization of the survivor. Obtain group input on ways that this could happen, for example: delays in investigating or charging the case, becoming angry, issuing ultimatums. How to reduce survivor withdrawal: Support her by ensuring that orders for protection are enforced and that there are consequences if intimidation tactics are used, utilize support of advocates, expedite the case, don’t say things like “YOU must press charges”- make sure she knows it is the state that is bringing the case.

45 min: Plan how to approach and investigate your case: Plan for an absent victim, even if you think the victim will testify. Develop physical evidence:  photos of crime scene, victim, and perpetrator; and forensic reports. Include tapes of emergency and witness calls, and dispatch logs. Obtain records of excited utterances and statement of perpetrator and witnesses. Make a diagram of the incident.

15 min: Break

15 min: Articulate the advantages and challenges of vertical prosecution: improving your ability to argue the case (the one who charges the case does the arraignment, pre-trial, trial, sentencing, and post-sentencing hearings) vs. the case is driving you crazy!

45 min: Unpack charging decisions. Small group break-out: What do you need to charge a case? Analyzing resources and using case studies with different levels of evidence to illustrate effective charging decisions.

30 min: Show video of dual arrest scenarios, discuss effect upon survivors.

60 min: Lunch or other break

60 min: Delve into the complex issue of bail in domestic violence cases: the importance of focusing on victim safety. Refer back to intimidation techniques and the importance of risk assessment standards (hand out). Elicit group feedback on information which will be useful to a court in determining bail.  Write all suggestions on white board or overhead.

Give the court as much information as possible: illustrative stories of offender’s intimidation tactics, prior crimes of domestic violence, prior crimes involving weapons or threats, current use of threats or weapons,  telephone or email harassment, availability of weapons, and victim’s injuries. The court needs to know what factors make it less likely that the perpetrator will appear for future court hearings. Elicit suggestions: unemployment, duration of current employment, past failures to appear in court, past flights from officers, uses of false identities, where he is living and for how long, if he owns property in another country, etc.

60 min: Discuss tips to enhance victim safety and offender accountability:

  • Involve advocates to provide continuous support to victims
  • Contact victim as soon as possible and maintain regular contact
  • Use the risk assessment often. Ask for victim input: is she frightened? Has anything changed, i.e., increase in threats, stalking, etc.
  • Create a safety plan for the victim, the advocate, and yourself to prepare for defendant’s reaction to criminal prosecution
  • Take time to prepare her for court
  • Assist with orders for protection and no-contact orders. Enforce them!
  • Make a plan with the advocate about keeping the victim informed:

- Craft careful and compassionate letters on declinations and dismissals

- Decide who will contact her about each step: arrest, bail, charges, hearing dates and times, court decisions and sentencing hearings, opportunities for victim impact statements, parole, and what to do if OFPs or parole conditions are violated.

- When delegating contacts to advocate, develop an ironclad method to keep the advocate informed!

15 min: Don’t re-victimize the victim. Even if she recants or changes her story at the last minute, don’t threaten her with perjury, contempt, or obstructing justice. Stay focused on her reasons as they likely reflect safety factors. (Allow attendees a chance to vent here. All prosecutors are frustrated with victim withdrawals.)

15 min: Break

75 min: Foil the defense plan to discredit or malign the survivor. Waiting until they say it and then objecting is not the best strategy; the judge or jury has still heard it and it may perpetuate stereotypes about victims of domestic violence that they already half-believe. Know what the defense lawyer might say by checking out his common practice, by asking the victim if the batterer has said anything to her about what to expect during the trial, or how he has defended himself in the past. Take note of what was said in plea negotiations or in passing.

If possible, use a motion in limine (a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial) to keep these statements out before they are made. It will support the victim’s desire to cooperate if she knows that intimidation and humiliation won’t be allowed in court, and it will help to lessen the control that the defendant has over her.

Know your rules of evidence and object strenuously and with particularity. Be prepared to ask for a mistrial with costs awarded if the defense oversteps. (Role play with egregious behaviour and questionable behaviour. Discuss.)

15 min:  Wrap up. Thank them for coming. Offer to stay around afterwards to discuss questions.

Source: Adapted from materials provided by Rhonda Martinson, Battered Women's Justice Project, 2010.


A sample agenda for one-day Sex Trafficking Training for Prosecutors in Minnesota, USA

15 min:           Welcome      

Basics for Building a Successful Prosecution Using the MN Law

Investigations - What evidence do you need? How can you get it?

Basic preparation ideas for trial

15 min:           Break

45 min:           Working with Victims to Prosecute Traffickers                   

Understanding victim’s trauma, needs and services:

  • so prosecutors can work with them to build cases
  • and better perceive them as victims so  they can then present them as victims  to the jury
  • Highlighting trafficking of MN’s native communities 
  • 45 min: Working with Law Enforcement to Build a Case

Understanding how law enforcement approach investigations, obtain evidence for prosecutors, communication with prosecutors to build a case

Presentation of current investigations

30 min: Cooperation Panel:      (Law Enforcement, Service Providers, Prosecutors)

Discussion with presenters on how to cooperate to build cases – what works; what doesn’t work; what exists for communication methods; what could be improved upon?

60 min:           Working Lunch:  Case Studies in small groups

Identifying and investigating a sex trafficking case

What evidence would you need?  How would you get it?

How would you prepare for trial?  Any strategies?

15 min:           Case Study Results Presented to Large Group

120 min:         Strategies for Prosecuting a Sex Trafficking Case Using Minnesota Law


Source: Adapted from materials provided by Beatriź Menanteau, Staff Attorney, The Advocates for Human Rights, 2011.


Tools for training Prosecutors:

Understanding Sexual Violence: Prosecuting Adult Rape and Sexual Assault Cases: A Model Four-Day Curriculum (The National Judicial Education Program, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, in cooperation with The American Prosecutors Research Institute, 2001). Information on victim advocate/prosecutor relationship, tips on preparing for trial and working with forensic examiners and other experts. English

The International Association of Prosecutors provides a newsletter, an E-Forum, and networking opportunities for members, among other benefits.

The Blueprint for Safety (Praxis International, 2010). Tools, protocols, and training memos for prosecutors in making charging decisions, working with victims, determining bail and pre-trial release, negotiating plea agreements and making sentencing recommendations in domestic violence cases. English.