Here’s a footnote to my recent post on prosecutorial discretion. Of course, the Grand Jury verdict not to indict Darren Wilson in Ferguson was a product of prosecutor McCulloch’s decision to perform a non-directive prosecution accompanied by a “jury dump” without benefit of clear guidelines and instructions. This had the predictable result that the jury would carry on its own trial, not only absent vigorous prosecution, but by all accounts a prosecution that played more of the role of a defense attorney then a representative of law enforcement prosecuting a crime.
The way McCulloch proceeded in the case is almost never done by prosecutors and it illustrated perfectly the contrast between prosecution for me, and discretion for thee, the very mark of a legal system that is broken, failing to produce equal justice for all, under the law. This is perfectly acceptable to many Americans when it is not their ox that is being gored. So, we recently heard thunderous recriminations from the right over the President’s executive orders on immigration, but perpetual loud silence about the IRS’s failure to enforce the law prohibiting tax exemptions for claimed 501 (c) (4) organizations that are not exclusively engaged in social welfare activities. Now, we’re seeing rage against a prosecutor who obviously fixed an unjust outcome in a prosecution he did not want to engage is at all. The rage is justified, of course, and there are many lessons we can draw from Ferguson, but surely one of them is that we need to limit prosecutorial discretion. It gives prosecutors far too much power to ‘fix’ justice, which in various ways they do all the time.
(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)