Most scholarship on prosecutors in the United States is diagnostic, prescriptive, or both; the motivating questions are, What is the problem with prosecutors, and how do we fix it? Answering those questions has been difficult, in part because there are at least seven different problems with American prosecutors. Six of those problems are relatively familiar: the power of prosecutors, the discretion they exercise, the illegality in which they too often are found to have engaged, the punitive ideology that shapes many of their practices, their often-frustrating unaccountability, and organizational inertia within prosecutors’ offices. These problems intersect, so they are difficult to address separately. The seventh problem is discussed less often but may be the most basic: the ambiguity of the prosecutor's role. That problem needs to be understood as well if progress is to be made addressing the other six.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Alm SS. 1999. The attorney for the United States. Hawaii Bar J 3:Oct.57–59 [Google Scholar]
  2. Bandyopadhyay S, McCannon BC. 2014. The effect of the election of prosecutors on criminal trials. Public Choice 161:1141–56 [Google Scholar]
  3. Barkow RE. 2009. Institutional design and the policing of prosecutors: lessons from administrative law. Stanf. Law Rev. 61:4869–921 [Google Scholar]
  4. Bellin J. 2017. Reassessing prosecutorial power through the lens of mass incarceration. Mich. Law Rev. In press. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2930116 [Google Scholar]
  5. Bibas S. 2009. Prosecutorial regulation versus prosecutorial accountability. Univ. Pa. Law Rev. 157:4959–1016 [Google Scholar]
  6. Bies KJ, Deporto IM, Long DG, McKoy MS, Mukamal DA, Sklansky DA. 2015. Stuck in the 70s: The Demographics of California Prosecutors Stanford, CA: Stanf. Crim. Justice Cent. [Google Scholar]
  7. Boehm DC. 2014. The new prosecutor's dilemma: prosecutorial ethics and the evaluation of actual innocence. Utah Law Rev 2014:3613–75 [Google Scholar]
  8. Boylan RT. 2005. What do prosecutors maximize? Evidence from the careers of U.S. attorneys. Am. Law Econ. Rev. 7:2379–402 [Google Scholar]
  9. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 1963.
  10. Brown DK. 2007. Democracy and decriminalization. Tex. Law Rev. 86:2223–75 [Google Scholar]
  11. Brown DK. 2016. Free Market Criminal Justice: How Democracy and Laissez Faire Undermine the Rule of Law Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  12. Burke AS. 2007. Prosecutorial passion, cognitive bias, and plea bargaining. Marquette Law Rev 91:183–211 [Google Scholar]
  13. Butler P. 2009. Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice New York: New Press [Google Scholar]
  14. Covey RD. 2008. Fixed justice: reforming plea-bargaining with plea-based ceilings. Tulane Law Rev 82:41237–90 [Google Scholar]
  15. Davis AJ. 2007. Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  16. Davis KC. 1969. Discretionary Justice: A Preliminary Inquiry Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press [Google Scholar]
  17. Douglass JG. 2001. Fatal attraction? The uneasy courtship of Brady and plea bargaining. Emory Law Rev 50:2437–517 [Google Scholar]
  18. Doyle JM. 2014. Learning from error in the criminal justice system: Sentinel Event Reviews. Mending Justice Sentinel Event Rev 2014:3–19 [Google Scholar]
  19. Dripps DA. 2016. Guilt, innocence, and due process of plea bargaining. William Mary Law Rev 57:41343–93 [Google Scholar]
  20. Eisen L, Fortier N, Chettiar I. 2014. Federal Prosecution for the 21st Century New York: Brennan Cent. Justice [Google Scholar]
  21. Eliason R. 2006. The prosecutor's role: a response to Professor Davis. Crim. Law Brief 2:115–25 [Google Scholar]
  22. Executive Office US Atty. 2015. United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report, Fiscal Year 2015 Washington, DC: US Dep. Justice https://www.justice.gov/usao/file/831856/download [Google Scholar]
  23. Ferguson AG. 2016. Predictive prosecution. Wake For. Law Rev. 51:3705–44 [Google Scholar]
  24. Fisher G. 2004. Plea Bargaining's Triumph: A History of Plea Bargaining in America Stanford, CA: Stanf. Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  25. Garland D. 2001. The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society Chicago: Univ. Chic. Press [Google Scholar]
  26. Garrett B. 2007. Structural reform prosecution. Va. Law Rev. 93:4853–957 [Google Scholar]
  27. Gershman BL. 2007. Litigating Brady v. Maryland: games prosecutors play. Case West. Res. Law Rev. 57:3531–66 [Google Scholar]
  28. Glaeser EL, Kessler DP, Piehl AM. 2000. What do prosecutors maximize? An analysis of the federalization of drug crimes. Am. Law Econ. Rev. 2:2259–90 [Google Scholar]
  29. Gold R. 2011. Promoting democracy in prosecution. Wash. Law Rev. 86:169–124 [Google Scholar]
  30. Green B, Yaroshefsky E. 2016. Prosecutorial accountability 2.0. Notre Dame Law Rev 92:151–116 [Google Scholar]
  31. Helsby J, Carton S, Joseph K, Mahmud A, Park Y. et al. 2017. Early intervention systems: predicting adverse interactions between police and the public. Crim. J. Policy Rev. https://doi.org/10.1177/0887403417695380 [Google Scholar]
  32. Inmates of Attica v. Rockefeller, 477 F.2d 375 (2d Cir. 1973)
  33. Jackson RH. 1940. The federal prosecutor. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 31:13–6 [Google Scholar]
  34. Jacoby JE. 1980. The American Prosecutor: A Search for Identity Lexington, MA: Lexingt. Books [Google Scholar]
  35. Judic. Counc. Calif. 2014. Statewide caseload trends, 2003–2004 through 2012–2013 Court Stat. Rep., Judic. Counc. Calif. San Francisco, CA: [Google Scholar]
  36. Kozinski A. 2015. Preface: criminal law 2.0. Georget. Law J. Annu. Rev. Crim. Proc. 44:iii–xliv [Google Scholar]
  37. Kreag J. 2017. Prosecutorial analytics. Wash. Univ. Law Rev. In press [Google Scholar]
  38. Levenson LL. 2015. The problem with cynical prosecutor's syndrome: rethinking the prosecutor's role in post-conviction cases. Berkeley J. Crim. Law 20:2335–98 [Google Scholar]
  39. Levine KL. 2005. The new prosecution. Wake For. Law Rev. 40:41125–214 [Google Scholar]
  40. Levine KL. 2006. The intimacy discount: prosecutorial discretion, privacy, and equality in the statutory rape caseload. Emory Law Rev 55:4691–750 [Google Scholar]
  41. Levine KL, Wright RF. 2013. Prosecution in 3-D. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 102:41119–80 [Google Scholar]
  42. Luna E. 2014. Prosecutor king. Stanf. J. Crim. Law Policy 1:148–103 [Google Scholar]
  43. Luna E, Wade ML. 2012. The Prosecutor in Transnational Perspective Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  44. McCannon BC. 2013. Prosecutor elections, mistakes, and appeals. J. Empir. Legal Stud. 10:4696–714 [Google Scholar]
  45. Miller ML. 2004. Domination & dissatisfaction: prosecutors as sentencers. Stanf. Law Rev. 56:51211–69 [Google Scholar]
  46. Miller ML, Wright RF. 2008. The black box. Iowa Law Rev 94:1125–96 [Google Scholar]
  47. O'Neill ME. 2004. Understanding federal prosecutorial declinations: an empirical analysis of predictive factors. Am. Crim. Law Rev. 41:41439–98 [Google Scholar]
  48. Parrillo NR. 2013. Against the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780–1940 New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  49. Pendergrass T. 2016. How bad prosecutors cause bad policing. Slate Aug. 16. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2016/08/how_bad_prosecutors_cause_bad_policing.html [Google Scholar]
  50. Pfaff JF. 2017. Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform New York: Basic Books [Google Scholar]
  51. Pizzi WT. 1993. Understanding prosecutorial discretion in the United States: the limits of comparative criminal procedure as an instrument of reform. Ohio State Law J 54:51325–73 [Google Scholar]
  52. Raeder MS. 2007. See no evil: wrongful convictions and the prosecutorial ethics of offering testimony by jailhouse informants and dishonest experts. Fordham Law Rev 76:31413–52 [Google Scholar]
  53. Ratcliffe JH. 2016. Intelligence-Led Policing London: Routledge, 2nd ed.. [Google Scholar]
  54. Richman D. 2003. Prosecutors and their agents, agents and their prosecutors. Columbia Law Rev 103:4749–832 [Google Scholar]
  55. Richman D. 2009. Political control of federal prosecutions: looking back and looking forward. Duke Law J 58:82087–124 [Google Scholar]
  56. Richman D. 2014. Framing the prosecution. South Calif. Law Rev. 87:3673–98 [Google Scholar]
  57. Richman DC. 2017. Accounting for prosecutors. Prosecutors and Democracy: A Cross-National Study M Langer, DA Sklansky 40–75 Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  58. Richman DC, Stuntz WJ. 2005. Al Capone's revenge: an essay on the political economy of pretextual prosecution. Columbia Law Rev 105:2583–639 [Google Scholar]
  59. Ridolfi KM, Possley M. North. Calif. Innocence Proj. 2010. Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997–2009 Santa Clara, CA: North. Calif. Innocence Proj. Publ. [Google Scholar]
  60. Simon J. 2007. Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime and American Democracy Created a Culture of Fear Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  61. Sklansky DA. 2007. Democracy and the Police Stanford, CA: Stanf. Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  62. Sklansky DA. 2011. The Persistent Pull of Professional Policing Washington, DC: Natl. Inst. Justice [Google Scholar]
  63. Sklansky DA. 2016. The nature and function of prosecutorial power. J. Crim. Law Criminol. 106:3473–520 [Google Scholar]
  64. Sklansky DA. 2017a. The changing political landscape for elected prosecutors. Ohio St. J. Crim. Law 14:2647–74 [Google Scholar]
  65. Sklansky DA. 2017b. Unpacking the relationship between prosecutors and democracy in the United States. Prosecutors and Democracy: A Cross-National Study M Langer, DA Sklansky 276–99 Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ Press [Google Scholar]
  66. Sklansky DA. 2017c. The progressive prosecutor's handbook. UC Davis Law Rev. Online 50:25–42 [Google Scholar]
  67. Sklansky DA, Yeazell SC. 2006. Comparative law without leaving home: what civil procedure can learn from criminal procedure, and vice versa. Georget. Law J. 94:3683–738 [Google Scholar]
  68. Sparrow M. 2016. Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Back, and the Keys to Reform Washington, DC: Brookings Inst. Press [Google Scholar]
  69. Starr SB, Rehavi MM. 2013. Mandatory sentencing and racial disparity: assessing the role of prosecutors and the effects of Booker. . Yale Law J 123:12–80 [Google Scholar]
  70. Steinberg A. 1986. “The spirit of litigation”: private prosecution and criminal justice in nineteenth century Philadelphia. J. Sociol. Hist. 20:2231–49 [Google Scholar]
  71. Stickler v. Green, 527 U.S. 263 1999.
  72. Stuntz WJ. 2004. Plea bargaining and criminal law's disappearing shadow. Harv. Law Rev. 117:82458–69 [Google Scholar]
  73. Stuntz WJ. 2006. Bordenkircher v. Hayes: plea bargaining and the decline of the rule of law. Criminal Procedure Stories CS Steiker 351–79 New York: Found. Press [Google Scholar]
  74. Stuntz WJ. 2013. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice Cambridge, MA: Harv. Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  75. Tomkovicz JJ. 2012. Twenty-five years of Batson: an introduction to equal protection regulation of peremptory jury challenges. Iowa Law Rev 97:51393–424 [Google Scholar]
  76. Thompson AC. 2002. It takes a community to prosecute. Notre Dame Law Rev 77:2321–72 [Google Scholar]
  77. Tonry M. 2012. Prosecutors and politics in comparative perspective. Prosecutors and Politics: A Comparative Perspective M Tonry 1–33 Chicago: Univ. Chic. Press [Google Scholar]
  78. United States v. Olsen, 737 F.3d 625 (9th Cir 2013.
  79. Vorenberg J. 1981. Decent restraint of prosecutorial power. Harv. Law Rev. 94:71521–73 [Google Scholar]
  80. Walters C. 1986. Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources New York: MacMillan [Google Scholar]
  81. Weinburg S. 2003. Breaking the rules: Who suffers when a prosecutor is cited for misconduct?. Cent. Public Integr. June 26. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2003/06/26/5517/breaking-rules [Google Scholar]
  82. Willis JJ, Mastrofski SD, Weisburd D. 2007. Making sense of COMPSTAT: a theory-based analysis of organizational change in three police departments. Law Sociol. Rev. 41:1147–82 [Google Scholar]
  83. Wilson MD. 2014. Anti-justice. Tenn. Law Rev. 81:4699–750 [Google Scholar]
  84. Wright RF. 2009. How prosecutor elections fail us. Ohio State J. Crim. Law 6:2581–610 [Google Scholar]
  85. Wright RF. 2014. Beyond prosecutor elections. South. Methodist Univ. Law Rev. 67:3593–616 [Google Scholar]
  86. Wright RF, Levine KL. 2014. The cure for young prosecutors’ syndrome. Ariz. Law Rev. 56:41065–127 [Google Scholar]
  87. Wright RF, Miller ML. 2010. The worldwide accountability deficit for prosecutors. Wash. Lee Law Rev. 67:41587–620 [Google Scholar]
  88. Zaring D. 2013. Against being against the revolving door. Univ. Ill. Law Rev. 2013:2507–49 [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error