The Powers of Your District Attorney
In North Carolina, your local district attorney (DA) is responsible for:
Has the Power to Charge Someone with a Crime
Once someone enters the justice system, your district attorney has the sole power to decide:
- If charges will be brought against that person
- How many charges to bring against that person
- How serious those charges are
This responsibility ultimately gives district attorneys the power to:
- Determine the length and types of sentences people can receive
- Decide whether or not a person can be executed
- Decide what will ultimately go on a person’s criminal record
What goes on someone’s criminal record can severely impact person’s life, even after they have served their sentence. Criminal records can stop people from holding many types of jobs, voting, enrolling in college, being eligible for loans, and much more.
Overzealous charging by “law and order” district attorneys are directly causing mass incarceration. DAs also have within their power to choose rehabilitation and prevention instead of using incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution to crime.
To directly reduce incarceration and address systemic racism, you should elect a DA that will:
- not press charges for minor, non-violent offenses
- if charges are warranted, choose ones that do not come with excessively long sentences
- avoid strategies such as “three strikes” and “habitualization”
- ensure charges are fairly made, so Black and brown people do not continue to receive more numerous and more serious charges than white people do for the same actions
Offer Plea Agreements
District attorneys not only decide whether to charge someone, and what to charge someone with, they can then offer plea deals to the very people they charged. In a plea agreement, the DA asks the person they charged to give up their right to a fair trial. In exchange, the person pleads guilty, sometimes to a lesser charge, and agrees to serve a sentence. Nationwide, it is estimated that over 94-97% of felony convictions are the result of plea deals, and even higher for misdemeanor convictions.
By combining their power to both charge and then offer plea deals, DAs can:
- Effectively deny due process to someone accused of a crime
- Convince someone to waive their right to a fair and speedy trial
- Can easily manipulate people towards a specific outcome
Problematic DAs can use plea agreements to manipulate people by restricting their choices. For example, a DA could choose to press charges against someone that are punishable by death. Once faced with the possibility of dying, many people will waive their right to a fair trial and settle for an extremely long prison sentence, even if they are innocent.
As an alternative, you can elect a district attorney that will make sure:
- People fully understand and exercise their rights to a speedy and fair trial
- Plea agreements are not used to manipulate people towards specific outcomes
Investigate and Prosecute the Police
When a police officer injures or kills someone in the line of duty, it is very unlikely they will be held accountable in today’s justice system. And even when these officers are charged, they are rarely convicted. Part of the problem is that district attorneys are responsible for investigating and prosecuting these cases.
Most of the cases the district attorney prosecutes would not be successful without a supportive working relationship with the local police. However, when it is the police themselves going on trial, the district attorney is put in a difficult situation – investigating and prosecuting the people they rely on make their other cases succeed. As a result, many district attorneys do not want to jeopardize their relationships with the police, and choose not to press charges.
However, you have the power to elect a district attorney that is committed to holding police accountable for their actions. In North Carolina, district attorneys can take actions to eliminate this conflict of interest, including appointing special, unbiased prosecutors in cases of police misconduct and violence.
Find Your DA
The NC Conference of District Attorneys Association maintains a directory where you can find the contact information for your local district attorney.
Inform Your Vote
With your vote, YOU have the power to elect a district attorney that will create the kind of justice system that is better for your community.