PROSECUTORIAL CHARGING PRACTICES PROJECT

PROSECUTORIAL CHARGING PRACTICES PROJECT

Local prosecutors are key players in our nation’s criminal justice system. Prosecutors decide whether to charge a person with a crime and decide what charges to file.  The Deason Center’s Prosecutorial Charging Practices Project offers a unique window into these critical prosecutorial charging practices. Through an innovative mixed-methods empirical study, this Project provides a holistic account of prosecutors’ charging practices from the moment they receive information about an arrest to the case disposition.

Launched in January of 2017, the Deason Center takes a deep dive into the work of three prosecutor’s offices in discrete geographic locations. To accurately analyze the prosecutorial charging process, the study explores how prosecutors engage with police, evaluate the evidence, and assess the public’s interest in prosecution or dismissal. Additionally, the study considers both subjective and objective data to determine critical factors in how these decisions are made and at what level criminal charges are brought. At its conclusion, the research team will produce a report with key insights about internal processes and with recommendations about best practices to the participating office.

Taking a hard look at prosecutors’ work in three district offices in discrete geographic locations, the Deason Center will provide a broader assessment of our findings about prosecutorial discretion, case screening, and charging practices in a forthcoming series of white papers.

A PROSECUTOR’S STORY

I’m driving back to the office after lunch, when I make a left turn into traffic ahead of an SUV. The next thing you know, there are blue and red lights in my rearview mirror. Shoot. I turned on green, thought I gave enough room. When did the police start using SUVs in this town? Anyhow, I pull over.

That’s when it hits me. I’ve got a gun in the trunk. I’ve got a concealed-carry permit, and it shows I’m an [assistant district attorney], but the officer won’t see that at first. I’m brown, he’s stopped me, and now he’ll know I have a weapon.

This happened right after Minnesota [when Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop], and that’s all I can think about. I’m sweating, my hands are shaking. I’ve never been that scared in my life. I’m a prosecutor, and I’m worried about getting shot during a traffic stop.
[After the officer took my license, registration and gun permit, he realized he had pulled over a prosecutor].

So, he looks at me and says, “You haven’t done anything wrong. I just thought you might have had a drink at lunch, and I wanted to make sure you got back to the office safely.” Uh-huh, right. He’s a rookie officer who just realized that the brown guy he stopped is a prosecutor, and he has to find a way out of this.”

In retrospect, it’s almost a little funny. Like, who was more scared — me for my life or him for his job?