Not every prosecutor gets a badge, but those that have them love them. They are a shiny symbol of authority (and maybe danger) that most bookish law students never thought they might have. When they are given out they are accompanied by the stern warning that you should never try to use them and god help you if you do. I did a little investigation into our (seemingly contradictory) attitude towards these badges and found out something about the potential for abuse, the danger they pose, and the unexpected benefits they might provide.
The internet is full of cautionary tales. Predictably, people try to use their badges to get out of being arrested. A Dallas County Assistant District Attorney was fired after flashing his badge during a DUI stop. He showed his prosecutor’s badge to police instead of his driver’s license. He then made several racially charged comments (while wearing what appears to be a fur coat). His lawyer explained that prosecutors are specifically told not to misuse their badges. The same thing happened to a Bexar County Assistant District Attorney in San Antonio. And to a San Francisco prosecutor, who asked to be let go because he was “well known” among local police officers.
In 2013, a Florida prosecutor tried to use his badge to get into a dance club. After being told to leave by bouncers, the prosecutor “flashed his gold badge at [the bouncer] and stated, ‘we work on the same side.'” He also said, “I will do what I want” and “I am the one who will dictate how things go.” Another Florida prosecutor used his badge to gain free admission to a strip club. A few hours later, he used the badge to avoid paying a 15% credit card surcharge on lap dances he purchased. He was later fired.
There’s more. A Georgia Assistant District Attorney ate a hot dog without paying. He was confronted by police and denied eating the hot dog despite the fact that he had ketchup and mustard on his shirt. The officer told him to just pay for the dog, but the prosecutor pulled out his badge and cautioned the officer, saying, “you need to be careful” and “are you sure you want to do this?” In 2014, a District Attorney’s brother flashed an honorary DA’s Office badge at officers as he tried to explain why they shouldn’t do anything about the incapacitated woman slumped in the back seat of his car.
Carrying your badge in your wallet may lead to more severe consequences than embarrassment and job loss. Gil Epstein, an assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County, Texas, had just left Houston’s Jewish Community Center after playing basketball in September 1996 when a robber confronted him. The robber shot Epstein after he saw Epstein’s prosecutor’s badge in his wallet. The badge was found lying at Epstein’s feet after the murder. Epstein’s killer, Marcus Cotton, was convicted of murder in 1997 and later executed.
The Boca Raton News has my favorite badge story, especially after reading about the tragedy of Gil Epstein’s murder. I’ll quote the entire thing:
“Manhattan, Kan. – A bullet-blocking badge saved a masked gunman who fired from a passing pickup as the prosecutor drove to work, officials said. The gunman, crouched in the back of the truck, fired fire shots through the windshield of a car driven by Eric Stonechiper, a Geary County special prosecutor. One bullet hit Stonechiper, 32, in the arm, and three lodged in the headrest. The fifth bullet hit the drug task force badge in a chest pocket. Stonechiper was treated and released from a Manhattan hospital and placed under police protection.”
Here is the opinion regarding the above-mentioned San Francisco DA’s DUI conviction. It helpfully contains the following definition:
Respondent engaged in the practice known as “badging.” Badging, involves the presentation of one’s employment identification by an individual, such as a judge, attorney, policeperson or a fireperson, to a law enforcement office in order to gain special treatment and/or avoid arrest based on one’s status as a public servant.
Here is a California Bar Journal article about the incident.