Who are “the People” in Criminal Procedure?

Jocelyn Simonson-

The customary case caption in criminal court, “The People v. Defendant,” pits the community against one lone person in an act of collective condemnation. When I was a public defender in New York City, it was common for judges, clerks, and other courtroom players to refer to individual Assistant District Attorneys as “the People,” as in, “Do the people have an offer?,” “Would the people like to request a lunch break?,” or, if an ADA was not visible in the courtroom, “Are the People in the bathroom?” Calling an individual prosecutor “the People” sends a powerful message to courtrooms full of defendants and their supporters waiting for their cases to be called: a message that they are not part of “the People,” are not part of the public that matters. Even in jurisdictions in which the prosecution calls itself the “State,” “Government,” or “Commonwealth,” this idea—that the prosecutor is the People’s representative in the courtroom—pervades how we think and talk about prosecution and criminal procedure.

Continue reading