The district attorney (DA), who is also known as the commonwealth attorney in some states, is the lawyer who represents the state in criminal proceedings. In general, DAs often run unopposed, and there is usually low voter turnout for these elections. Due to the significant power and influence of the DA, it is important to vote in your next election to influence future cases.
Determining Criminal Charges
The DA holds the power when deciding which, if any, charges will be filed against a person of interest. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be diversion programs that could be an option for low-level crimes, especially simple drug possession. The opportunity for a pre-trial diversion program may not only keep a defendant from being incarcerated, but it may also allow charges to be dropped or expunged later in some localities. People with substance abuse disorders and mental illness are groups that are over-represented in jails and prisons. With more localities paying attention to the alarming trend that some groups of people need extensive help, not incarceration, there are often more resources available to reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Due to the power of the DA to bring almost any charge against a defendant, a DA who is more lenient or tougher on crime will affect the options for criminal charges. For example, if a murder occurs, it is up to the DA to determine whether they want to file 1st- or 2nd-degree murder charges. In most instances, the possible punishments for these charges are vastly different. 1st-degree murder can result in life in prison (with or without parole) or even the death penalty in some states. In contrast, 2nd-degree murder might have a minimum sentence of five years.
Availability Of Plea Deals
Plea deals are one of the most important strategies that are used in criminal cases and whether a plea deal is offered is at the sole discretion of the DA. Plea deals are beneficial for both the prosecution and defense. For all parties involved, this eliminates the need for a potentially lengthy and expensive trial. Depending on the severity of the charges, it may take a year or more before the case actually goes to trial. If the case will be a jury trial, it is time-consuming to screen potential jurors, especially in felony and capital cases. For the defense, a plea deal may help them avoid a more severe charge and harsher punishment, if found guilty. Other aspects of the plea deal can include the range of punishment for pleading guilty. Some defendants may be offered time-served if they have already been held in the custody of a jail during the pre-trial phase. Another option might be sentencing a defendant to a lengthy term of probation.
Integrity Of Evidence
When voting for a DA, it is important to consider the integrity of the evidence presented by a candidate if they have prosecutorial experience. A DA needs to build a case off of facts that can be supported by evidence. Additionally, having integrity means turning over all evidence to the defense. A Brady violation occurs when the prosecutor does not turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. Although the tactic of hiding evidence is a violation of constitutional rights, it still occurs. Integrity also means that a DA feels it is more important to convict the right person than it is to win a case. When people vote for a DA, they rarely consider the record of the candidates because they may feel like this is irrelevant to their life. However, anyone can be wrongfully accused of a crime, and having a DA that practices with integrity can mean the difference between being found guilty and proving your innocence.
Being a DA is a powerful role that should encourage more people to run for the office and vote. Speaking with your vote can make a significant difference in how criminal cases in your jurisdiction are handled. Contact a campaign team like that of Harrington For District Attorney to learn more.