In democratic governments committed to the rule of Law, prosecutors should be accountable to the public, just like other powerful government agents who make important decisions. The theoretical need for prosecutor accountability, however, meets practical shortcomings in criminal justice systems everywhere. Individual prosecutors everywhere express allegiance to the rule of Law through the wise decisions made by each prosecutor and across offices as a whole. But the claim "trust us" does not in fact generate the level of public trust that one should expect in a government of Laws. Institutional strategies to guarantee prosecutor accountability all fall short of the mark Call it the accountability deficit. Speaking broadly, the answers to this problem in the United States and elsewhere in the world appear at first to be quite different. Prosecutor accountability in the United States builds on electoral accountability. This external check is designed to compensate for the shortcomings of weak judicial review and overbroad criminal codes. By contrast, most European and indeed most criminal justice systems around the world rely on internal bureaucratic accountability to keep prosecutors in line with rule of Law norms. Prosecutors join a centralized bureaucracy and then follow explicit articulated guidance in crucial areas of the ]ob, enforced by regular internal review. The two forms of accountability, however, have more in common than casual observation suggests. Systems in the United States, driven by longterm growth in prosecutors' offices and the arrival of information technology, rely more heavily all the time on internal bureaucratic controls. Likewise, systems elsewhere in the world rely on public oversight and respond to public input. Systems with a blend of internal and external controls on criminal prosecutors are now the norm around the world. This convergence of the two main mechanisms for achieving prosecutorial accountability, however, does not mean that the accountability gap is about to disappear. The scale of the responses that will close the accountability gap must combine boldness and practicality, as modeled in the Law of sentencing in the 1980s.
Recommended CitationRonald F. Wright and Marc L. Miller, The Worldwide Accountability Deficit for Prosecutors, 67 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1587 (2010).
Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/wlulr/vol67/iss4/9