Taking Ethical Obligations Seriously: A Look at American Codes of Professional Responsibility Through a Perspective of Jewish Law and Ethics

Samuel J. Levine, Touro Law Center


This article examines the complex nature of the prosecutor's broad obligation to seek justice through a consideration of the similarly broad directive in Jewish law requiring that "in all [of] your ways acknowledge [God]." While many have critiqued the broad directives governing a prosecutor's ethical duties, through this comparative analytical framework it can be seen that the prosecutor's broad ethical directive to seek justice serves as a workable and appropriate standard for prosecutorial ethics. In many ways, a prosecutor faces an ethical obligation unlike other attorneys. Ethical obligations require that a prosecutor forgo conduct that would increase the likelihood of obtaining a conviction, such as engaging in a method of cross-examination that would impugn the credibility of a truthful defense witness, in favor of conduct that will increase the likelihood of obtaining justice. Both Jewish law and the regulation of prosecutorial ethics can address only a limited number of scenarios. As such, there exist scenarios that may be categorized as presenting ethical or legal dilemmas that require appeal to metaprinciples of decision making and application. Comparing scenarios under the broad directives of Jewish law to the broad directives of prosecutorial ethics can help consider the implications of justice in a variety of situations.