How Prosecutor Elections Fail Us - Ohio State University

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How Prosecutor Elections Fail UsRonald F. Wright*I. INTRODUCTIONWhen government officials have discretion, the rule of law also requires thatthey be accountable. This ideal carries even into the world of criminal justice,where the individual prosecutor's power dominates the scene. We hope that everyexercise of prosecutorial discretion takes place within a framework of prosecutorialaccountability. 1There are several methods for holding prosecutors accountable in this country.Judges enforce a few legal boundaries on the work of prosecutors, and legislaturessometimes have their say about criminal law enforcement. Prosecutors withpositions lower in the office or department hierarchy must answer to those at thetop. As licensed attorneys, prosecutors must answer to the bar authorities in theirstates. But none of these controls binds a prosecutor too tightly. At the end of theday, the public guards against abusive prosecutors through direct democraticcontrol. In the United States, we typically hold prosecutors accountable for theirdiscretionary choices by asking the lead prosecutor to stand for election from timeto time.This is not true in most places around the globe. In the various civil lawsystems in other countries, the idea of electing prosecutors is jarring. In the civillaw depiction of the public prosecutor's job, training and experience hold criminalprosecutors accountable to public values and legal standards. Prosecutors in a civillaw tradition perform a ministerial function as they progress through a career-longbureaucratic journey. He or she simply assembles and evaluates the availableevidence; if that evidence meets the relevant standard of proof to support aconviction for each element of a crime, the prosecutor has the duty to initiate aprosecution.This lawyerly evaluation-nothing more and nothing lessconstitutes the prosecutor's job.2.Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Wake ForestUniversitySchool of Law. I owe thanks to Sara Beale and the other participants in the Ohio State symposiumon prosecutorial discretion, including Doug Berman, Stephanos Bibas, Darryl Brown, Sharon Davies,Bruce Green, Alan Michaels, Robert Mosteller, and Ellen Yaroshefsky. Wayne Logan and MarcMiller provided their usual perceptive comments as readers. I also appreciate the excellent researchassistance of Jeff Kuykendall, Daniel Moebs, and Joanna Wright.I Cf. Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, Some Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied inJudicialReasoning, 23 YALE L.J. 16 (1913) (relational theory of common law rights, defining rightsof some in terms of duties owed by others).2 See generally Yue Ma, A Comparative View of Judicial Supervision of ProsecutorialDiscretion, 44 CRIm. LAW BULL. 31 (2008); William T. Pizzi, Understanding Prosecutorial

OHIO STATE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW[Vol 6:581Consider the rhetoric of the civil law system. The Italian Constitution limitsprosecutors to the "initiation" of criminal proceedings, whenever supported byadequate evidence. 3 Obviously, the reality of prosecutorial power in civil lawtraditions is complex, and it interacts with a proactive vision of the judicial role.But the rhetoric that depicts the prosecutor as a ministerial figure lowers the stakesand treats prosecutorial discretion as a modest problem.Contrast this tradition of ministerial restraint to the celebration of open-endedpower that runs through the rhetoric about American prosecutors. For instance, theAmerican Bar Association's Standards for Criminal Justice tell us that theprosecutor "may in some circumstances and for good cause consistent with thepublic interest decline to prosecute, notwithstanding that sufficient evidence mayexist which would support a conviction." 4 When a single governmental officialholds this much power, the methods available for checking the work of that officialdeserve our close attention.Does the democratic check on prosecutors work? There are reasons to believethat elections could lead prosecutors to apply the criminal law according to publicpriorities and values. Voters choose their prosecutors at the local level, and theycare enough about criminal law enforcement to monitor the work of an incumbent.The conditions, in some ways, are promising.Yet the reality of prosecutor elections is not so encouraging. A nationalsample of outcomes in prosecutor elections-described here for the first timereveals that incumbents do not lose often. The principal reason is that challengersdo not come forward very often, far less often than challengers in state legislativeelections. Uncontested elections short-circuit the opportunities for voters to learnabout the incumbent's performance in office and to make an informed judgmentabout the quality of criminal enforcement in their district.Even in those exceptional campaign settings when the incumbent prosecutorfaces a challenge and is forced to explain the priorities and performance of theoffice, elections do not perform well. The themes that incumbents and challengersinvoke in their campaign speeches represent a lost opportunity to judge whetherthe prosecutor has applied the criminal law according to public values.This article surveys the typical rhetoric in prosecutor election campaigns,drawing on a new database that collects news accounts of candidate statementsduring prosecutor elections. Those statements reflect the candidates' claims abouthow voters should evaluate the work of a chief prosecutor. Sadly, these campaignstatements dwell on outcomes in a few high visibility cases, such as botchedmurder trials and public corruption investigations. Incumbents and challengershave little to say about the overall pattern of outcomes that attorneys in the officeDiscretion in the United Sates: The Limits of Comparative Criminal Procedureas an Instrument ofReform, 54 OHIO ST. L.J. 1325 (1993).3 CosTrrUZIoNE (Constitution] art. 112 (Italy).4A.B.A.STANDARDSFOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE:FUNCTION § 3-3.9(b) (3d ed. 1993).PROSECUTION FUNCTIONANDDEFENSE

2009]HOW PROSECUTOR ELECTIONS FAIL USproduce or the priorities of the office. The debates do not pick up genuineideological differences among candidates; they are misguided attempts to measurenon-ideological competence.In sum, prosecutor elections fail for two reasons. First, they do not oftenforce an incumbent to give any public explanation at all for the priorities andpractices of the office. Second, even when incumbents do face challenges, thecandidates talk more about particular past cases that about the larger patterns andvalues reflected in local criminal justice.In the concluding section of this article, I consider briefly a few possibleresponses to these failures of prosecutor elections. One strategy might strengthenelections themselves, either by improving the quality of information available tovoters or by aligning voter incentives at the state and local levels. Another strategywould promote alternatives to election campaigns, by expanding the occasionswhen prosecutors would reveal and explain their structural choices to the publicnot waiting for new elections every four years.In combination, these reforms offer some hope for holding prosecutors toaccount. Better evaluations by the voters will not succeed alone, but they can workalongside other external controls to encourage prosecutions in line with publicvalues.II. DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY OF PROSECUTORSMany actors get involved in criminal law enforcement, and the public uses amix of devices to control those actors. Take the police, for example. There was atime when political patronage systems built into local government controlled thework of police, with some peripheral support from tort doctrines and stateprocedural rules.5 Over time, however, legal doctrine and legal institutions becamemore important in the effort to hold the police accountable for their choices. In thelatter half of the twentieth century, the federal constitution became a more potentsource of limits on the police, and other legal doctrines and legal institutionsreinforced the trend.6 Today, limits on the work of police officers derive from thefederal constitution, state constitutions, statutes, ordinances, judicial rules ofcriminal procedure, internal departmental regulations, and various other legalsources. 7 Electoral accountability still matters in the work of the police; sheriffsare typically elected, and police chiefs are among the most visible and important5 See George L. Kelling & Mark H. Moore, From Political to Reform to Community: TheEvolving Strategy of Police, in COMMUNITY POLICING: RHEToRIC OR REALITY 5 (Jack R. Greene &Stephen D. Mastrofski eds., 1991).6 See Darryl K. Brown, The Warren Court, Criminal Procedure Reform, and RetributivePunishment, 59 WASH. & LEE L. REv. 1411 (2002); Ronald F. Wright, How the Supreme CourtDelivers Fireand Ice to State Criminal Justice, 59 WASH. & LEE L. REv. 1429 (2002).7 See generally MARC L. MILLER & RONALD F. WRIGHT, CRIMINAL PROCEDURES: CASES,STATUTES, AND EXECUTIVE MATERIALS (3d ed. 2007); Stephanos Bibas, The Real-World Shift inCriminal Procedure, 93 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 789 (2003) (book review).

584OHIO STATE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW[Vol 6:581appointments of local elected officials. 8 Over the last half century, however, therelative importance of legal controls on the police has increased.A blend of legal and electoral controls also works on judges. State courtjudges face constitutional limits-founded on separation of powers principlesalong with statutory limits on their pre-trial and trial rulings. Procedural rulesguide many of their choices before conviction, and sentencing guidelines orstatutes channel their traditional discretion in selecting the sanction. 9 Again,electoral controls are also relevant for judges: they are elected in manyjurisdictions, and elsewhere they are appointed by elected officials. 10 Still, thelegal controls at work on judges are vigorous, and the debates about electoralcontrols ask whether even a residual electoral check on judges is worth keeping."In short, limits based on positive law have moved to the center of our effortsto control the work of police and judges. The positive law strategy has been lessThe legal controls over criminalsuccessful, however, with prosecutors.prosecutors are relatively weak, and over the long run, we do not seem to bemoving toward more vigorous legal limits. By default, more of the work ofaccountability for prosecutors must come from the voters.In this section, I offer a quick tour of the legal sources of accountability forprosecutors, stressing their limited reach.' 2 I then turn to elections, detailing someof the theoretical promise of this technique to align criminal law enforcement withpublic values.8See David N. Falcone & L. Edward Wells, The County Sheriff as a Distinctive PolicingModality, 14 Am. J. POLICE 123 (1995); Albert J. Reiss, Jr., Police Organization in the TwentiethCentury, 15 CRM4E & JUST. 51 (1992).9 See David Boerner, Sentencing Guidelines and ProsecutorialDiscretion, 78 JUDICATURE196 (1995); Jennifer Earl, The Process is the Punishment: Thirty Years Later, 33 LAW & Soc.INQUIRY 737, 762 (2008); David M. Zlotnick, The Future of Federal Sentencing Policy: LearningLessons from Republican Judicial Appointees in the Guidelines Era, 79 U. COLO. L. REV. 1, 51(2008).1o See DAVID B. ROTrMAN & SHAUNA M. STRICKLAND, BUREAU OF JUST. STAT., STATE COURTORGANIZATION 2004 (2006).11 See Sanford C. Gordon & Gregory A. Huber, The Effect of Electoral Competitiveness onIncumbent Behavior, 2 Q.J. POL. SCI. 107 (2007); Gregory A. Huber & Sanford C. Gordon,Accountability and Coercion: Is Justice Blind When It Runs for Office?, 48 AM. J. POL. Scl. 247(2004).12 For more complete reviews of the limited strategies for control of prosecutor discretion, seeANGELA J. DAVIS, ARITRARY JUSTICE: THE POWER OF THE AMERICAN PROSECUTOR (2007);Stephanos Bibas, Essay, Transparency and Participationin CriminalProcedure, 81 N.Y.U. L. REV.911 (2006); Donald A. Dripps, Overcriminalization,Discretion, Waiver: A Survey of Possible ExitStrategies, 109 PENN. ST. L. REV. 1155 (2005).

2009]HOW PROSECUTOR ELECTIONS FAIL US585A. Limited Legal Sources ofAccountabilityThe power of the state to punish for crimes is profound, and the prosecutordirects this awesome power. How might "We the People" control the choices ofsuch a pivotal public servant?The most obvious choice involves a parsimonious criminal code. If thelegislature defines crimes narrowly and sets penalties at modest levels, it confinesthe power of the prosecutor to misuse the criminal sanction. Less power availablemeans less power to abuse.This technique, however, does not flourish in the American political climate.Voters expect prosecutors to take the lead in addressing crime, and they expect13legislators to give them the legal tools to do the job. Legislatures do exactly that.Just as the U.S. Congress passes statutes that set workplace safety standards inbroad terms and empowers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration toenforce those standards and give them specific meaning, 14 legislatures do much thesame with prosecutors. They pass criminal statutes, create prosecuting agencies,authorize them to enforce and give more detailed meaning to the criminal laws,and appropriate their annual budgets.Instead of confining the work of prosecutors, criminal codes add to theirpower. As the years pass, the legislature expands the legal tools available toprosecutors. Criminal codes tend to cover more behavior and increase the range of5punishments that could attach to conduct that is already declared criminal.It would be an overstatement to say that legislation always expands the reachand impact of the criminal code. In settings where the criminal law regulatesbusiness practices, or where the pool of potential criminal defendants is alreadywell-organized, legislatures do sometimes repeal criminal statutes.' 6 Legislaturesalso seem willing to restrict the punishments available for crimes or theinvestigative tools available to law enforcement; perhaps they economize in these17areas more often than they tighten up the criminal code.Nevertheless, it is fair to say that criminal codes do not limit the choices ofprosecutors in the United States in the same way that codes limit the power of13 See Rachel E. Barkow, Federalism and the Politics of Sentencing, 105 COLUM. L. REv.1276 (2005); Sara Sun Beale, Essay, The Unintended Consequences of Enhancing Gun Penalties:ShootingDown the Commerce Clause and Arming FederalProsecutors,51 DUKE L.J. 1641 (2002).14 See THOMAS 0. McGARrrY & SIDNEY A. SHAPIRO, WORKERS AT RISK: THE FAILED PROMISEOF THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION(1993).15 William Stuntz put it this way: "The definition of crimes and defenses . . . empower[s]prosecutors, who are the criminal justice system's real lawmakers. Anyone who reads criminal codesin search of a picture of what conduct leads to a prison term. will be seriously misled." William J.Stuntz, The PathologicalPolitics of CriminalLaw, 100 MICH. L. REv. 505, 506-07 (2001).16 See Darryl K. Brown, Democracy andDecriminalization,86 TEX. L. REV. 223 (2007).17 See Ronald F. Wright, Parity of Resources for Defense Counsel and the Reach of PublicChoice Theory, 90 IOWA L. REV. 219 (2004).connected with wiretapping authority.Think in particular of the reporting requirements

OHIO STATE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW[Vol 6:581prosecutors elsewhere in the world, in civil law systems. Criminal codes here douse of state power by a government official.not solve the problem of uncontrolled8They embody that problem.'Since legislators do not constrain prosecutors through the terms of thesubstantive criminal law, they might hold them accountable through othertechniques. The state budget might include line items that fund extra prosecutorsto pursue designated crimes, such as child sex offenses, that the legislature hopesSimilarly, legislation might create within theto give a higher priority.' 9Department of Justice a sub-unit devoted to a particular law enforcement activity,such as firearms prosecution or asset forfeiture.20 Appropriations that targetparticular categories of prosecutions and laws that structure justice agencies havesome effects on the prosecutor's work.In a few exceptional areas, the legislature attempts to compel the prosecutor tofile more charges. A few mandatory sentencing laws, such as the drug traffickinglaws in New York, purport to mandate prosecution when the available evidence isstrong enough. 2' Some jurisdictions have laws that encourage or mandate chargesfor domestic violence crimes.22While these legislative directives can be meaningful, their current impact issmall. Budgetary line items that direct prosecutors to devote resources to one typeof crime rather than another are still exceptional. Most of the funding that arrivesin the prosecutor's office does not have strings attached; the chief prosecutor canallocate the funding to meet local priorities. 23 When the legislature designatesfunds to beef up certain types of enforcement, the prosecutor can redirect someother generic funds formerly devoted to that type of case. As for the unusual"mandatory charge" or "no drop" laws, they still leave it to the prosecutor towhether the minimum factual basis for the charge is provable in a givendetermine42case.18 See Richard H. McAdams, The PoliticalEconomy of Criminal Law and Procedure:AReply to Comments, in CRIMINAL LAW CONVERSATIONS (Paul Robinson, Kimberly Ferzan & StevenGarvey eds., forthcoming 2009). Some academics, including Paul Robinson and Michael Cahill,have not quite given up hope for code reform, but they certainly recognize the miles of twisted roadlying ahead. See Paul H. Robinson & Michael T. Cahill, The Accelerating DegradationofAmericanCriminal Codes, 56 HASTINGS L.J. 633 (2005); Paul H. Robinson, Michael T. Cahill & UsmanMohammad, The Five Worst (and Five Best) American Criminal Codes, 95 Nw. U. L. REv. 1 (2000).19 See Kay L. Levine, The New Prosecution,40 WAKE FOREST L. REv. 1125 (2005).20 See Daniel C. Richman, "ProjectExile" and the Allocation of FederalLaw EnforcementAuthority, 43 ARIz. L. REv. 369 (2001).21 See Jacqueline Cohen & Michael H. Tonry, Sentencing Reforms and Their Impacts, inRESEARCH ON SENTENCING: THE SEARCH FOR REFORM 305, 348-49 (Alfred Blumstein et al. eds.,1983) (evaluating New York mandatory minimum penalty laws).22See MILLER & WRIGHT, supra note 7, at 890-96.23SeeKRISTENA.HUGHES, BUREAU OF JUST. STAT., JUSTICE ExPENDrrTURE AND EMPLOYMENTIN THE UNITED STATES, 2003 (2006).24 See Stephen J. Schulhofer, Rethinking Mandatory Minimums, 28 WAKE FOREST L. REv.199 (1993).

2009]HOW PROSECUTOR ELECTIONS FAIL USOn the whole, then, legislatures in the United States do not effectively controlthe exercise of power by prosecutors. Legislatures show more interest inmonitoring and limiting other executive branch agencies, such as health and safetyregulators. The criminal enforcement bureaucracy gets regular funding, occasionalincreases in its statutory authority, and little ongoing accountability to explainenforcement priorities or decisions in particular cases.Judges also refuse, for the most part, to assume the responsibility formonitoring and controlling the work of criminal prosecutors. When defendantsinvite judges to override prosecutor choices about the selection or pre-trialdisposition of charges, judges view those requests through the lens of theseparation of powers doctrine. Such choices are seen as quintessential executivechoices.26 The judge only insists that the charges have some minimal factualsupport in the available evidence. The judge does not evaluate the prosecutor'sdecision to decline prosecution and has nothing to say at all about the relativepriorities on display in the mix of cases that a prosecutor files.27Granted, judges do have the statutory authority in many jurisdictions toapprove the dismissal of charges after the police or prosecutor files them.28 Evenmore important, judges hold the power to accept or reject guilty pleas, along withthe plea agreements that the parties present to them.2 9 These judicial powers,however, operate within a system of mass justice. The judge knows less about thealleged crime and the defendant's background than the parties know, so the judgeonly rarely overrides the recommendations of the parties. The caseload wouldbecome overwhelming if judges balked regularly at proposals to remove a casefrom the trial docket.Separation of powers concerns, together with the exigencies of high-volumecriminal courts, work together to block judges from becoming an important limiton prosecutorial discretion. Judges stand ready to catch the extreme outliers, 30 butthey do not get involved in the smaller and more common errors of prosecutorialjudgment.The legal profession regulates its own members.Thus, the rules ofprofessional responsibility as enforced by state licensing authorities are also apotential source of limits on the choices of prosecutors. Again, however, we get25 Cf Rachel E. Barkow, Separationof Powers and the CriminalLaw, 58 STAN. L. REV. 989,1021 (2006) (noting the differential application of separation of powers doctrine to criminalenforcement bureaucracies and to other administrative agencies).26 As Judge Gerard Lynch famously phrased it, we now operate an "administrative" criminaljustice system, where the important decisions typically happen in charging and plea negotiations,before the case ever makes it to trial. Gerard E. Lynch, Our Administrative System of CriminalJustice, 66 FORDHAM L. REv. 2117 (1998).27 See Marc L. Miller & Ronald F. Wright, The Black Box, 94 IOWA L. REv. 125 (2008).28 See MILLER & WRIGHT, supra note 7, at 909.29 Id. at 1161-86; Daniel Richman, Institutional Coordination and Sentencing Reform, 84"Tx.L. REV. 2055 (2006).30 See United States v. Armstrong, 517 U.S. 456 (1996).

OHIO STATE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW[Vol 6:58 1limited accountability from these regulators. 3' Scholars have searched forevidence that prosecutors are disciplined on a regular basis and have found fewsuch disciplinary proceedings and all with light punishments attached.32If these legal institutions outside the prosecutor's office do not meet the needfor controls over prosecutor decisions, what are the prospects for internalregulation? That is, what forces within the prosecutor's office might producedecisions that remain true to declared sources of law, in keeping with currentpublic priorities in the enforcement of that law, applied with reasonableconsistency across cases? Some legal scholars are now exploring the capacity ofchief prosecutors to promote consistent choices, guided by legal values andprofessional traditions, among the line prosecutors in their offices.33While there is much promise in the power of chief prosecutors to hold theirline prosecutors accountable, the source and motives of the chief prosecutor'schoices are still mysterious. To some extent, we rely on the chief prosecutor'sprofessional conscience: the prosecutor must remain individually committed to theideal of responsible prosecution. Our most beloved descriptions of the job speakto the importance of a prosecutor doing the job well without any prompting fromthe outside. The prosecutor "may strike hard blows" but "is not at liberty to strikefoul ones." 34 Such familiar quotes speak to the professional integrity ofprosecutors as individuals, not the institutional constraints on their work.35With so much depending on the choices of the chief prosecutor and the wayshe enforces those choices in her office, it would be prudent to consider the forcesthat shape the individual choices of that chief prosecutor. As we have seen, thereare no robust limiting forces that come from the legislature, judges, or statelicensing authorities. Instead, in the United States, we rely on elections to keep thechief prosecutor within bounds that the public can accept.31 See R. Michael Cassidy, Characterand Context: What Virtue Theory Can Teach Us Abouta Prosecutor'sEthical Duty to "Seek Justice," 82 NoTRE DAME L. REV. 635 (2006). The recentproceedings involving North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong are exceptional.See Robert P.Mosteller, The Duke Lacrosse Case, Innocence, and FalseIdentifications:A FundamentalFailureTo"Do Justice," 76 FORDHAM L. REV. 1337 (2007).32 See Fred C. Zacharias, The ProfessionalDiscipline of Prosecutors,79 N.C. L. REV. 721,725-43 (2001); Bruce A. Green, ProsecutorialEthics as Usual, 2003 U. ILL. L. REV. 1573.33 See Miller & Wright, supra note 27; Ellen S. Podgor, The Ethics and Professionalism ofProsecutorsin DiscretionaryDecisions, 68 FORDHAM L. REV. 1511 (2000); Richman, supra note 29,at 2055-57; Jeffery T. Ulmer & John H. Kramer, The Use and Transformationof Formal DecisionMaking Criteria: Sentencing Guidelines, OrganizationalContexts, and Case Processing Strategies,45 SoC. PROBS. 248, 262-65 (1998); Ronald Wright & Marc Miller, The Screening/BargainingTradeoff,55 STAN. L. REV. 29 (2002).34 Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).35Cf Ronald F. Wright & Rodney L. Engen, Charge Movement and Theories of Prosecutors,91 MARQ. L. REV. 9 (2007) (contrasting theories of prosecution that stress individual choices withtheories that stress institutional contexts).

2009]HOW PROSECUTOR ELECTIONS FAIL USB. LocalizedAccountabilityThe American people elect their prosecutors directly. These are the big gunsof democratic legitimacy; in theory, elections can control the prosecutors' actions,keeping them consistent with public values without resorting to detailed andprospective legal rules.Chief prosecutors in the federal criminal justice system-the ninety-threeUnited States Attorneys-are appointed, but prosecutors in the much highervolume state systems are typically elected. All but three states elect theirprosecutors at the local level. Even in the three outliers (Alaska, Connecticut, andNew Jersey), the elected state attorney general appoints the chief prosecutors at thelocal level. About eighty-fivepercent of the prosecutors in the state system are36elected to four-year terms.Note that democratic control of prosecutors takes its most powerful form:local control. Many prosecutors are elected on a county-wide basis while manyothers serve districts that only serve a few counties. The local prosecutor remainsclose to the community, where democratic accountability is thought to bestrongest. 37 This tight connection between the criminal prosecutor and the localvoters grew out of the Jacksonian period, with its emphasis on placing the daily38work of governance into the hands of citizens.Local prosecutor elections create a radically decentralized criminal justicesystem. There are 2,344 separate prosecutor's offices in the state criminal systemsof this country.39 While the budgets for state prosecutors' offices depend largelyon state funds in some states, 4 the ultimate political authority for spending thatbudget rests with the chief prosecutor who answers only to the local voters. Thelocal District Attorney does not report up to any statewide hierarchy (such as thestate Department of Justice) when setting priorities and practices of the office.4 'Despite the heavy weight we place on election of prosecutors to assure thelegitimacy of their work, there is remarkably little empirical study of prosecutor36STEVEN W. PERRY, BUREAU OF JUST. STAT., PROSECUTORS IN STATE COURTS, 2005, at 3(2006).37See Harry Blair, Participation and Accountability at the Periphery: Democratic LocalGovernance in Six Countries, 28 WORLD DEV. 21 (2000); Stuti Khemani, Decentralization andAccountability: Are Voters More Vigilant in Local than in National Elections?, (World Bank Pol'yResearch, Working Paper No. 2557, 1981), availableat 632624.38 See Joan E. Jacoby, The American Prosecutor:From Appointive to Elective Status, THESept.-Oct. 1997, at 25.See Perry, supra note 36.PROSECUTOR,3940 See BUREAU OF JUST. STAT., U.S. DEP'T OF JUSTICE, SOURCEBOOK OF CRIMINAL JUSTICESTATISTICS, 2003, at 5 (2005).41 See MILLER & WRIGHT, supra note 7, at 894. District Attorneys often have the authority torequest expert assistance from the state Attorney General, or to request that the Attorney Generalassume control over a case when a conflict of interest arises. But the baseline remains local controlover individual cases and office priorities.

590OHIO STATE JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW[Vol 6:581elections, whether by legal academics, political scientists, economists, or othersocial scientists. There are nuanced accounts of presidential elections and nationallegislative elections, exploring both theoretical and empirical aspects of electionsas a method of controlling government priorities and actions.4 2 At the statewidelevel, there are rich accounts of gubernatorial election campaigns and theories toexplain the pattern of results found in those elections.43 The same applies to statelegislative elections. Further, there are some empirical studies of judicialelections.44Yet when it comes to the prosecutor, one of the most ubiquitous and powerfulfigures to appear regularly on the ballot, we rely most on anecdotes.45 Scholarshave begun to construct theoretical accounts of the likely effects of elections onprosecutor behavior, but these theories so far have developed without much of anempirical basis.46It will require more than anecdotes and untested theories toexplain how those elections might operate differently from others.C. The Promise of Local ControlGiven the poor prospects for legal controls on prosecutors, the system of voteraccountability-by default-carries many of our hopes for controlling prosecutors.How well do elections hold chief prosecutors accountable to public values?There are reasons to be hopeful. Prosecutors deal with a limited range ofpublic policy questions: those dealing with crime. Unlike presidents, governors,42See, e.g., ROBERT A. DAHL,

the prosecutor has applied the criminal law according to public values. This article surveys the typical rhetoric in prosecutor election campaigns, drawing on a new database that collects news accounts of candidate statements during prosecutor elections. Those statements reflect the candidates' claims about

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