Josef Nilhas


There is a current trend of electing progressive or “reform-minded” prosecutors over “tough-on-crime” prosecutors in local elections across the country. Traditionally, prosecutors have possessed wide discretion over which cases to prosecute or not, and the law presumes that “prosecutors make discretionary decisions disinterestedly, unaffected by their own self-interest or the interest of others.” However, recently in Missouri, state officials have pushed for providing the state attorney general with concurrent jurisdiction over certain cases. In particular, the Missouri Senate passed a provision through an amendment to House Bill 2 (“HB2”) that would allow the State Attorney General to take over homicide cases in St. Louis City after ninety days if the Circuit Attorney has not filed charges or by request from “the chief law enforcement officer of the investigative agency for the alleged criminal offense or offenses.” Proponents of the measure say understaffed and inexperienced prosecutors require this kind of assistance to fight the “crime epidemic” in St. Louis City.

The proposed HB2 would drastically change Missouri’s historical practice of allowing the local prosecutor to exercise wide discretion in their roles. The election of progressive prosecutors in various cities and counties across the country is not something that has happened by chance. These communities are making the active choice to elect someone as prosecutor who feels the same way they do about the justice system. Voters who elect progressive prosecutors expect them to take many of the actions discussed throughout this Note, such as reduced prosecution of drug crimes or infrequent attempts to pursue the death penalty. While this issue is somewhat new in Missouri, similar proposals and discussions concerning a local prosecutor’s level of discretion have arisen across the country. This author suggests that the best resolution is for local legislatures to reject bills like HB2, which intentionally transfer local power away to the state level.

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