Prosecutors only care about getting convictions and putting people in jail.
Wrong. Prosecutors are focused on one thing and one thing only: justice. Sure, this can mean convicting someone of murder or child molestation, which results in a prison sentence. However, in a majority of cases, justice means probation, drug treatment, mental health treatment or some other alternative to prison. In 2018, 58% of all sentences were either probation, some form of restorative sanction or county intermediate punishment.
We have a problem with “mass incarceration” in Pennsylvania, and prosecutors are to blame.
PA’s incarceration rate is below that of the national average, and in fact, it has decreased over the last several years in part due to initiatives PA prosecutors have supported. And, prosecutors do not, alone, have the power to incarcerate a single person. Our criminal justice system is a system with many parts. Our justice system is intentionally designed to avoid the concentration of power in any one entity.
Pennsylvania’s prisons are filled with non-violent, first-time offenders because prosecutors always try to get the maximum sentence.
The exact opposite is true: Pennsylvania’s prisons are reserved for violent, repeat offenders who have committed crimes such as murder, rape or robbery. Non-violent, first-time (and second-time and third-time) offenders typically get probation or some other type of alternative sentence. The numbers don’t lie. The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing 2018 Annual Report shows that 58% of cases result in no incarceration or a form of intermediate punishment, which includes treatment. Ninety percent of level 1 offenders receive probation or a lesser sentence. Level 1 offenders are convicted of the least serious offense with no more than one prior conviction. For non-violent offenders, Pennsylvania DAs are committed to seeking justice in ways that do not involve prison time, such as diversion, drug courts, mental health courts and other alternative programs.
Pennsylvania District Attorneys are resisting reform in our criminal justice system.
Absolutely false. Pennsylvania’s DAs have been leaders in making meaningful improvements to the system. Recently, we were in favor of Clean Slate legislation, which removes non-violent criminal records so people can get jobs. Pennsylvania DAs also supported the elimination of many instances of driver’s license suspension for crimes not involving vehicles. We are also advocates for new legislation to automatically expunge criminal records following a complete acquittal. Additionally, we worked on and supported legislation that permitted and encouraged officers to wear body worn cameras, were part of the recent passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to address prison populations and costs and worked to improve civil forfeiture laws.
We believe that positive change happens when people on all sides of an issue seek common ground and when proposals are measured first and foremost by how they will impact community safety.
District attorneys are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system.
No single actor in the criminal justice system is “all-powerful.” Our American justice system is specifically designed to prevent a concentration of power – especially when it comes to prosecutors.
- District attorneys don’t make the laws. The power to make laws rests with the legislature, and – on rare instances—with the citizens through ballot initiatives. Simply put, pretty much all crimes and their punishments are created by your state representatives and state senators.
- District attorneys don’t arrest people. Police make arrests, not prosecutors. Prosecutors get involved later, to make sure arrests are lawful and appropriate.
- District attorneys don’t convict people. Only a judge or a jury can convict someone of a crime. Prosecutors file charges only when supported by the law and the facts surrounding the case.
- District attorneys don’t sentence people. Only judges can sentence people, and only within the range of punishment set forth by the legislature. Prosecutors can, and usually do, make recommendations for an appropriate sentence based on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. However, the judge is free to disregard the prosecutor’s recommendation and that happens regularly.
District attorneys are not accountable to anyone.
District attorneys are more accountable than any other actor in the criminal justice system. Who is watching the prosecutors? Everyone.
District Attorneys are:
- Elected every four years.
- Scrutinized by defense attorneys, the media, victims, the police and watch-dog organizations.
- Monitored by local judges, the appellate courts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court.
- Required to abide by state and local laws, the Pennsylvania Constitution, the US Constitution, the Pennsylvania Open Records laws, discovery rules, Brady disclosure rules, and the State Bar rules of ethics.
District attorneys work in secret.
Literally everything a district attorney does is subject to scrutiny.
Here are ways that Pennsylvania prosecutors practice responsible transparency every day:
- The media cover our work extensively.
- Every trial is open to the public.
- Every court file is open to the public.
- Many records in the prosecutors’ offices are considered public and can be obtained through a “Right to Know” request.Through our adversarial justice system, defense attorneys scrutinize every action that prosecutors take in discharging their duties. In fact, it is the defense attorneys’ job to hold prosecutors accountable by bringing any concerns forward to the judge assigned to the case.
What is “responsible transparency?” There are limited times when a prosecutor cannot speak publicly about a case in order to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation or to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Other than that, our work is an open book. In fact, you should visit your local DA some time. They would love to see you and answer any questions that you have.
District Attorneys won’t charge police officers with a crime if they unlawfully hurt or kill a citizen.
DAs take seriously their responsibility to pursue charges where appropriate without regard to a defendant’s occupation. In fact, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association issued a Best Practices protocol that can be used by district attorneys to help them process, investigate and communicate determinations made in officer-involved shootings. This protocol also recommends that officer-involved shootings are investigated by an agency that is separate and independent from the agency involved in the shooting to ensure fairness and objectivity.