Even in cases in which the actions of the accused can be clearly defined as criminal, prosecutors routinely have to make tough calls amid a complicated system of checks and balances that often produces unpredictable results.
In cases that don't quite fit into such a tidy box, those decisions can be exponentially more difficult.
It is a case of the untidy variety now sits on the San Mateo County District Attorney's desk.
The Foster City police last week handed off the legal knuckleball to prosecutors who must now decide who - if anyone - to prosecute in the shooting of an apparently tipsy unarmed intruder who'd wandered into a stranger's home on the 600 block of Crane Avenue in the early morning hours of March 25.
The intruder, a 24-year-old San Mateo man, suffered multiple gunshot wounds, and was hospitalized for three weeks before doctors made him available for police interviews.
The shooter is a Brentwood man in his 40s who was a guest at the Foster City home.
No arrests have been made in the case. Police have withheld the names of both parties.
"Depending on how you look at the situation, each of the two parties is either a victim or a suspect," Foster City police Capt. Jon Froomin told Patch.
"Some people would say 'the intruder for coming into (the home), he's the suspect, and the shooter is the victim,' and others can look at as 'well, the guy got shot so he's the victim and the shooter is the suspect.' "
Froomin's statements underscore the complexity of a case that figures to evoke strong feelings from those on both sides of the hot-button gun issue regardless of what actions prosecutors take - or don't take.
The case bears some similarities to the controversial shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Neighborhood Watch commander in Sanford, Fla., that's raised questions about the so-called "stand your ground" law allowing the use of lethal force against perceived threats.
Unlike the Martin case, race is not a factor in the Foster City case, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told Patch.
"It is an interesting case for community discussion," Froomin acknowledged, noting that the comments sections of online news reports on the Foster City case reflected compelling arguments on both sides.
The case was sent to the DA after police concluded their investigation with an April 16 interview with the intruder.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti confirmed that her office had received the case for review from police. She wouldn't comment on the case, and didn't indicate when her office would decide whether to pursue a criminal prosecution.
Froomin confirmed that police have been in contact with prosecutors, but would not comment on the status of the case.
"We have not heard a definitive response," he said. "We've received a preliminary (response), but I'm not going to release a preliminary (response). As soon as we get a definitive response I can release that."