Should prosecutors have to justify not charging people?In your opinion, should prosecutors offices have to explain  to the public why they decline to file charges in cases?what would be some of...

Should prosecutors have to justify not charging people?

In your opinion, should prosecutors offices have to explain  to the public why they decline to file charges in cases?what would be some of the ramifications of such a requirement? 

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The district attorney is an elected official, to the best of my knowledge, in all jurisdictions.  That is what creates his or her accountability.  If we are not pleased with what a prosecutor does or does not do, we can simply not vote for that person again.  We elect the district attorney with the understanding that he or she is going to use prosecutorial discretion, which includes passing judgment on the decisions of all the attorneys working for the district attorney.  Very few lay people have a clue what it takes to successfully prosecute a criminal case, what evidence is available, what evidence may or may not be admissible, or whether there would be a viable plea bargain option to save the taxpayers' money.  If people can substitute their judgment for that of the district attorney, few people would ever run for this office.  If the prosecutor must justify every action to the public, this is exactly what would happen. 

Similarly, we afford the police discretion to arrest or not arrest someone, and if it were otherwise, with the public weighing in and demanding an explanation for every failure to arrest, very few people would be willing to be police officers, either. 

We are all far too much the victims of the tyranny of polling, as is evident in this presidential year.  Once we open the door to the this sort of thing, requiring a prosecutor to explain his or her actions, a logical step would be to have the public vote on whether or not someone should be prosecuted.  This takes us back to the Romans, where the audience voted with thumbs up or thumbs down on the death penalty of the coliseum.  This might seem like an exaggeration, but, really, there ought to be limits to the power of public opinion, particularly when that public opinion is so terribly uninformed. 


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I do not really think that this is necessary.  First of all, there doesn't seem to be a real problem with the way things are now.  Second, if prosecutors decide not to file charges, the person who used to be a suspect should not have to have the case against them (which could not be proven) aired in public.  The prosecutor should not be able to say "well, there was this evidence against the person" and defame them unless they are willing to actually prosecute.

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As #3 said, DA's are elected officials. So, with that in mind, they might find it to their advantage, in high profile cases at least, to make public their reasons for declining to proceed with a case.

As to whether or not they should be required to formally declare why they are not prosecuting a case, I would think not. I wouldn't approve of anything that would slow down our judicial system any more. We are already overloaded as it is.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If there is a pattern behind the choices being made that points to discrimination, then the district attorney should be required to make a statement with each case at the time charges are filed or a choice is made not to file. 

It seems that potential discrimination is at the heart of the question here. If allowed to go unchecked, a pattern of discrimination could become endemic to a local system and become a real problem.

discussion1984 | Student

I don't see why. I guess the reasoning would be that when you commit a crime, it is an action against public society, and so if charges are not raised against a "criminal," the public must know why no action has been taken against someone who has commited harm against them. I don't buy it. I think all charges are pre-determined if behind closed doors it is understood that someone will be charged guilty of a crime.