Interim Study Report: District Attorney Accountability

Interim Study Report: District Attorney Accountability

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — A recent Interim Study Report outlines the best ways to provide accountability and transparency to prosecutors offices. The Oklahoma House of Representatives heard an interim study on the topic of District Attorney Accountability on August 30th, 2021 in the Judicary – Criminal Committee Chaired by Representative Rande Worthen.

There is an office in government that has traditionally had more power and fewer checks and balances than any other governmental office. That is the office of the District Attorney. Local District Attorneys are responsible for providing legal counsel to the county they represent, and also for all criminal prosecutions in the district. Because the District Attorney is a county officer with their own elections, their own decision-making protocols, and little oversight, their power has gone largely unchecked as the criminal justice system has grown to gargantuan proportions.

District Attorneys face no direct oversight for any of their charging decisions, plea recommendations, or their lobbying activities at state legislatures. While they answer directly to the people who elected them in their districts, there is essentially no visibility to their decisions. Because our modern criminal justice system has morphed to be a massive “plea bargain machine” (95% of cases are disposed of by plea), the elected District Attorney and their assistant attorneys are the only ones who know exactly how the plea recommendation calculus works – and who benefits or suffers from it. This calculus changes from county to county and from DA to DA. Prosecution has become one of the most subjective parts of the criminal justice system.

Many other states have begun the hard work of introspection as it relates to their district attorneys’ practices. Oklahoma has yet to begin this work. It is for this reason Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform worked together with Representative Collin Walke to put together an interim study on District Attorney Accountability.

The study pulled together experts and research and best practices from across the country on this topic. We have compiled the research into this report that deep dives into the research and takeaways presented to the committee.

“As we move further into reform efforts in Oklahoma, we cannot avoid reforming the one of the bedrocks of our criminal justice system: the prosecutor’s office,” Colleen McCarty, Deputy Director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said. A recent study by University of North Carolina School of Law’s Prosecutor and Politics Project showed prosecutors are strong lobbyists in Oklahoma, advocating for expanding criminal law, extending sentence ranges, and harsh supervision tactics. State lawmakers passed 59.4% percent of prosecutor-backed bills and struck down every measure they opposed during the four-year study period. “When prosecutors have so much power in the courtroom, and so much power at the legislature, its our duty as citizens to require transparency and oversight to the prosecution system,” McCarty added.

Key Research Takeaways

  • Prosecution needs stronger individual accountability measures as well as collective accountability measures.
  • In large part, prosecutors are ethical and delivering justice. However, because prosecutors have so much power, one bad one can do a lot of damage. Stronger controls help support good prosecutors and allow them to show their work to the voters.
  • Legal ethics and Bar Associations usually fall short in delivering accountability to prosecutors.
  • Trial sanctions do occur for prosecutors weilding their power in evidentiary hearings, prelims, and at trial. However, 95% of cases are disposed of as plea bargains.
  • In Oklahoma, we saw an uptick in the charging of Possession with Intent to Distribute in the year after SQ780 was passed. This indicates many local prosecutors were upcharging cases they would have filed as simple possession to ensure they could get a felony conviction.
  • Collectively, prosecutors can be reinforcing issues of systemic poverty, racism, and sexism through their charging and sentencing practices.
  • Connecticut passed SB880 in 2019 which allows for the collection of demographic and prosecution data, which is anonymized to protext victims and defendants.
  • Florida passed Sections 900.5 and 943.6871 which allow for this collection of prosecution data, bail bond data and a data collection agency that cost $1.5MM to establish and $600k to maintain on an ongoing basis.
  • Better data and transparency also protects victims – victims deserve to know and see the plea bargain recommendations, the decline rates, and the close rates of homicide cases in their communities.

Download the full interim study report here.

1 thought on “Interim Study Report: District Attorney Accountability

    • Author gravatar

      Defense attorneys have the duty to defend their clients if they are innocent or guilty so the truth does not matter to them. District attorneys (prosectors) have the duty to seek the truth. This is how our courts should operate, but this is not at all how it is done. The district attorneys office has become a business that only cares about money and their conviction rate. They have become a plea bargain machine. They could care less about the truth and do not attempt to seek the truth. If they know you are innocent they will still seek to make you and everyone else believe you are guilty and attempt to get you to agree to a plea bargain because a plea bargain is still a conviction which helps their conviction rate and also brings in money with fines, jail time, bail, probation fees, parole fees, and etc. I have a personal example of this I would like to share. I am a divorced father with one son. My son is 9 years old and in the 4th grade. I have full custody of my son and his mother has visitation rights. Her boyfriend does not like children and has a history of abusing women and children. When my son was with his mother one weekend he witnessed her boyfriend chocking his mother in a drunken fit of rage. Every since he witnessed this happen he has had a fear of being anywhere near her boyfriend. It is my duty to keep my son safe so I had the same fear. When the following incident occurred my son was out of school for spring break vacation which lasts one week. On the first day of the vacation week my son’s mother shows up to my home wanting to take my son for the week. I would not allow it due to my son’s fear of her boyfriend and I felt like I would be putting my son in danger if I let her take him for that week. She was very upset with my decision and would not accept it. She then tried to take my son by force. She took him from my home and quickly put him in her car, but I was right behind her and was trying to get him out of her vehicle. I managed to get the car door open before she could drive away. She jumped out of the driver’s seat and got in-between me and my son who was sitting in the back seat with the car door open. She is screaming and belligerent at this point. My son is crying while this is going on and when I looked at him and saw this my heart was breaking, but his safety was my main concern. When she realized there was no way I was going to allow her to leave with him she began to punch me in the face. Her mother was there as well and watching what was happening. When she was punching me in the face I put my arms in the air and told her and her mother that my arms are in the air and no matter what you do to me I am not going to defend myself or even touch her. I knew if I put one finger on her that I could get into trouble. I am a big man and I can take a punch so I took it. Her mother then called the police. When the police showed up it was two cars with four officers. The officer in charge just happened to be a good friend of hers. Even though the officer was her friend I felt like they would be on my side. When she was punching me she cut the top of my nose with one of her rings and there was blood all over my face. The officers took pictures of my face and then began to get my side of the story as other officers were speaking with her a good distance from me getting her side of the story. I explained to them that I have full custody of my son with paperwork signed by the judge, she came to my home on my property attempting to take my son and my reasons for not allowing him to go, and everything else that happened. Luckily for me she was not lying and trying to say that I hit her or anything like that. In fact she told them the same thing that I told them, the truth. At that point the supervising officer that was her friend told me because I followed her to her vehicle that I was the aggressor and everything was my fault. My jaw dropped! I explained that we are on my property, she came here, I only followed her because she was forcibly trying to remove my son from my property. He then explained to me that he didn’t care and none of this mattered and I was the aggressor and wrote me a citation to appear in court for assault, yes assault, even though I never touched her and she even said I never touched her! Then they even let her take my son! I couldn’t believe what was happening! When I went to court over this I did not have a attorney because I just assumed that it would be thrown out. There were two prosecutors. They were both young men in their late 20’s. Before court was about to begin they both called me outside the court room to speak with them. In their hands they had all of the paperwork for my case as well as the pictures of my face. They read everything to me from the paperwork and then tell me that both of our stories are the same, and then they look at the pictures of my face, and both of them look at me and tell me that they can’t believe she did not get arrested for assault and other charges for coming to my property and trying to forcibly remove my son. The one holding the file then looked at me and said you got railroaded! I then looked at both of them and said great, I am so happy that you both see the truth, have evidence of the truth, and you both agree that I should never have been charged with anything and it should have been her in the court room and not me. I then said, so what happens now? I assume you guys have a little paperwork to do and then you will dismiss the charge, right? They both looked at each other and giggled, and then they looked at me while smiling and almost fully laughing told me no, we never drop or dismiss anything, ever! Once again my jaw was on the ground! They then said that they were going to help me out by offering me a plea deal. They told me to plea to a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge and I would get a $25 fine and it’s over and I can go home. I told them to kiss my ass and I’ll see you in court! This actually went to a trial! I went to court and represented myself. The judge was a female. When it was over the judge looked at me and said I deeply apologize for what these officers and prosecutors have put you thru and how I should have never been in that court room. The judge was astonished that I was charged with a crime when my son’s mother committed multiple crimes but was never charged with anything and also allowed to leave with my son that day. Finally, someone who actually cares about the truth! My entire life I always believed that prosecutors were all about seeking the truth and I quickly got a lesson that this could not be further from the truth. I’ve always known there are crooked cops, but I never imagined that prosecutors are actually much worse than any crooked cop. Prosecutors have the power to destroy your life and they do it everyday for two simple reasons, to make their conviction rates look good and to bring in as much money as possible for the city and state. The ONLY thing that any prosecutor should ever care about is the truth! They should do everything within their power to uncover the truth! And if the truth shows the defendant to be innocent then they should immediately dismiss charges against that person! When prosecutors discover evidence that shows a defendant to be innocent they will conceal or hide it because they only care about convictions and any evidence that proves innocence hurts their conviction rates! If prosecutors knew that they would lose their license, go to jail, face fines, lawsuits, and etc. then they would not be doing what they are doing by ruining innocent peoples lives! Prosecutors need to be rewarded for uncovering the truth and letting the innocent go free, but instead they are rewarded for good conviction numbers no matter the cost! This has to change immediately because to many innocent people are going to jail because of prosecutors that only care about convicting you. This is not a free country! This is a country that will lock you up and destroy your life for money and numbers! Someone has got to do something about this. I live in Louisiana. The most politically corrupt state in the nation. From politics to the prosecutors to the police. Does anyone wonder why one of the smallest states in this country has the highest incarceration rate? It’s because no one cares if you are innocent or guilty, no one!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: