CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

American University CrimProf Angela J. Davis Speaks out Against the Power of Prosecutors

AdavisFrom Seattle American University CrimProf Angela J. Davis recently discussed some of her views from her forthcoming book "Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor,"  with editors from the Seattle Times.

Prosecutors, notes Davis, are "the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system" — more so even than judges. Why? "The charging and plea-bargaining power they exercise almost predetermines the outcome of most criminal cases. Over 95 percent of all criminal cases are resolved by a guilty plea."

Views on class and race, even unconsciously, lead prosecutors to make shoot-from-the-hip decisions easily at odds with true justice, Davis asserts: "I saw it all the time in the D.C. system. A rich kid comes in (though few are arrested) with parents and family lawyer, explaining 'Little Johnny has a drug problem and let's put him in a program, not lock him up.' The prosecutor usually agrees. But a poor, black or Latino kid comes in on a parallel drug case, maybe with a public defender, and the prosecutor figures — 'I can't let you back into the neighborhood; I'll send you to jail.' "

Davis would have national, state and local bar associations conduct in-depth investigations to determine the adequacy of current prosecutorial misconduct controls, and possible reforms. She'd have bar associations set up state and/or local prosecution review boards — not only to receive specific complaints brought by the public, but to undertake random reviews of prosecutions and (with colleges and universities) launch surveys to reveal discriminatory practices by race or class. The idea is that an outside eye could discourage arbitrary, hard-to-justify choices by prosecutors without chilling the essential, fair law enforcement we all depend on. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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