Prosecutors and Politics Project

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Prosecutors wield significant power in the American criminal justice system. That power is subject to very few checks. Legislatures do not serve as a check on prosecutors. Instead, legislatures routinely increase prosecutorial power by enacting overlapping laws with draconian sentences that give prosecutors more power to extract guilty pleas from defendants. Courts also do not serve as effective checks on prosecutors. The courts have routinely declined to subject prosecutorial power to any meaningful limits in criminal cases. So long as a prosecutor has probable cause to charge a defendant—an extremely low threshold—then courts will not inquire into a prosecutor’s charging or plea-bargaining decisions. Nor are citizens who have been the subject of prosecutorial abuse able to sue to recover money damages. Prosecutors have immunity for their official actions.

Politics—specifically elections—are the only real check on prosecutors. The vast majority of state and local prosecutors are elected. Voters can vote out prosecutors who abuse their power or who do not act in the public interest, but the ability of politics to serve as a check on prosecutors may be more theoretical than real. It is true that prosecutors have sometimes been defeated in the wake of deeply unpopular policies. But most prosecutors run unopposed, and even when they do face a challenger, voters are rarely able to make an informed choice.

About the Prosecutors and Politics Project

The goals of the Prosecutors and Politics Project are trifold:

  • Bring scholarly attention to the democratic accountability of elected prosecutors
  • Through empirical study and careful analysis, increase our understanding of the relationship between prosecutors and politics
  • Publicly share this information and collaborate with other organizations to increase voters’ knowledge about their elected prosecutors and broader criminal justice issues

Gifts & Sponsors

The Prosecutors and Politics Project’s research into the campaign contributions of elected prosecutors was made possible, in part, by a generous gift from the Vital Projects Fund, Inc. 

If you would like to make a gift to support the work of the Prosecutors and Politics Project:

Online gifts: Give now.
Gifts by check: Make check payable to UNC School of Law, designating your gift in the memo line to Prosecutors and Politics Project and mail to: UNC School of Law, Office of Advancement, Campus Box 3382, Chapel Hill NC 27599-3382.
Gifts by phone: Please have your credit card information ready and call the UNC School of Law Office of Advancement:  919.445.0166 or 919.445.0184 or 919.445.0164.

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