CA's Aren't Just Enforcing the Law, They're Making It

“The Commonwealth’s Attorney Party”: How Prosecutors Dominate the Virginia General Assembly and Rewrite the Criminal Law

“Prosecutors Aren’t Just Enforcing the Law—They’re Making It,” The Appeal (Apr. 20, 2018)

  • “Whose fault is it that criminal justice reform failed in New York? While there’s plenty of blame to go around, there’s one behind-the-scenes player whose influence gets little attention: the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York (DAASNY).”

  • “This phenomenon is not New York-specific. Every state has an equivalent organization of prosecutors with strong policy perspectives, which often have enough sway to simply shut down criminal justice reform at the legislative level. . . . As Jessica Pishko wrote in The Nation, “district attorneys’ associations are powerful political actors. They do not just “enforce” the law; in fact, they help to make it.” Across the country, DA associations are using that power to defeat a wide range of bipartisan reform efforts. Though the criminal justice system has come under increasing scrutiny, these organizations continue to successfully hinder legislative reform. When it comes to criminal justice, associations like DAASNY are largely responsible for the gulf between policy and public opinion.”

  • “The judicial branch is meant to be a relatively neutral force that protects the individual defendant from the power of the state. But, in a criminal system that handles most cases by plea deal, judges have less oversight over the criminal process than ever before, giving prosecutors a leash so long it is functionally non-existent. The presence of a judge has been replaced by the whims of a prosecutor.

  • “This is why the legislative influence of DA Associations is so concerning. It gives prosecutors a stronghold over not only executive and judicial power, but legislative power, as well. More than any other position, prosecutors threaten the traditional balance of powers within the criminal justice system. Ultimately, this more than anything else has shifted tough-on-crime from hypothesis to axiom.”

“Prosecutors Are Banding Together to Prevent Criminal Justice Reform,” The Nation (Oct. 18, 2017)

  • “District attorneys’ associations exist in most states. . . . . For the most part, these prosecutors’ associations adopt a “tough on crime” stance, advocating for legislation that would give them greater discretion to lock people up. “They all too often act as a roadblock to significant reforms,” says Udi Ofer, director of the Campaign for Smart Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union. “In state after state, we’ve seen DA associations hold back reforms that are supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.””

“The Perverse Power of the Prosecutor,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (Feb. 22, 2018)

  • “One of the more important shifts in criminal justice reform over the past five or so years has been a growing awareness of just how powerful and influential prosecutors truly are. Perhaps startled to find themselves under such attention after decades of little to no scrutiny, prosecutors are now pushing back. One common rebuttal prosecutors make is that they don’t actually have that much power. It is the legislature, they argue, which passes the laws and thus really calls the shots. Prosecutors simply impose what the legislature enacts.

  • “Such claims, however, are quite disingenuous, since they conveniently overlook one of the most important sources of prosecutors’ power: their oversized influence over the legislative process. District attorneys are not passive players in the politics of crime, sitting idly by awaiting their orders from on high. In states from Pennsylvania to Louisiana to California, district attorneys aggressively, and effectively, lobby against reforms they dislike and for new laws that they do.”

  • “In other words, as reformers start to pay closer attention to the power of prosecutors, they need to keep their eyes not just on how prosecutors have driven up incarceration rates in their day-to-day decisions—like deciding how many people to charge with felony charges or what type of sentence to impose on them during plea bargaining—but also on how they shape the broader politics of criminal justice. Many former prosecutors are now judges and legislators, and current district attorneys frequently work hard to impose tougher laws and to stifle reform. Regulating prosecutors will require looking at not just their direct powers, but their significant indirect political influence as well.”

“Philly DA Larry Krasner withdraws office from statewide prosecutors group,” Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov. 16, 2018)

  • "Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has withdrawn his office from Pennsylvania's largest prosecutors' association, saying the advocacy group has supported regressive or overly punitive policies and represented "the voice of the past."

  • "Krasner, whose first 11 months in office have attracted national attention for his reform-driven agenda, said Friday that he believed that the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association was at least partly responsible for an explosion in the state's prison populationover several decades, and that it continues to back ideas that would make the problem worse."