For too long, a “win” for a prosecutor has been a tally of convictions and trial results often resembling a sports scoreboard. We often track success in our justice system with a simple count, choosing to minimize the complexities of every personal story. We have not adequately valued how our justice system treats those who come into contact with it. Yet if we continue to quantify and value “win-loss” metrics, without considering other indicators of the legitimacy and fairness of our system of justice, we will erode the trust our community must have in those charged with promoting public safety.
PROSECUTORS HAVE ENORMOUS POWER
Prosecutors wield far-reaching discretionary powers, such as determining which charges to pursue, whether to recommend bail, which witnesses to interview, and what sentences to recommend. Prosecutors also control the plea-bargaining process, by which an estimated 95% of cases are resolved.
PROSECUTORS ARE THE MOST POWERFUL ACTORS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Prosecutors play a role in bail decisions, whether children should be charged as adults, whether people should be offered diversion programs to prevent criminal convictions and whether to charge specific enhancement crimes that add decades of prison time to charges. They also decide whether to prosecute police who violate the law. The consequences of those decisions can mean the difference between the success or failure of someone touched by the system and the overall safety of the community.
PROSECUTORS’ SUCCESS HAS OFTEN BEEN MEASURED BY THEIR ABILITY TO INCREASE THE NUMBER, LENGTH, AND SEVERITY OF CONVICTIONS
For decades, prosecutors have won elections by championing tough-on-crime policies that empowered them to use their discretion to levy harsh punishments that have disproportionately affected low-income communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities.