Prosecutorial Discretion: Exploring Racism and Bias in the Justice System Winter 2024

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Prosecutors hold enormous power in our justice system, with very little oversight. The decision to initiate a criminal investigation, the manner and conduct of the investigation, and the ultimate decision to charge a crime, rests solely with prosecutors. Unlike any other governmental entity, prosecutors have very few external guidelines informing their decisions. Does this unfettered discretion cause racially disproportionate results in charging decisions; bail recommendations/pretrial detention; plea negotiations; convictions, and sentencing? This question is not easily answered, indeed, cause and effect are not always evident despite what we have witnessed during the era of mass incarceration. In this course, we will examine the role of the prosecutor during all stages of a criminal case; consider the danger of unchecked power; and discuss possible safeguards against injustices, both perceived and real.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 30
Expected: NA
Class#: 1354
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Paper(s) or report(s); Other: Class discussions
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Enrollment preference is given to students planning to pursue further studies or careers in law, criminal justice or closely related fields.
Unit Notes: Andrew McKenna is a former federal prosecutor and Special Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, DC. Research interests include prison reform; civil rights and liberties; universal access to mental health and addiction treatment.
Materials/Lab Fee: $20
Attributes: STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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