Vote For Your District Attorney
District attorneys (DAs) hold tremendous power. Electing the right district attorney is a huge step in criminal system reforms like ending mass incarceration and keeping law enforcement accountable. Find out if your DA is up for election and make your vote count. Check your sample ballot.
The Power of a District Attorney
Today, approximately one in 99 adults in the U.S. are behind bars and millions more are under parole or probation terms. Many players, from police to judges have a hand in the incarceration crisis, but DAs have nearly unlimited power to decide who enters the legal system and what happens to them.
A district attorney decide:
- Whether a person is prosecuted or gets a pass
- What crimes people are charged with
- What crimes to prioritize charging
- Who is routed into diversion programs designed to help people
- Whether to try to keep someone locked up before their trial even starts
- What cops to call to the stand
- Whom to bring a death penalty case against
- Whose parole to fight
- Probation terms
- Basically, how the system treats those most susceptible to injustice.
Each of California’s 58 counties elects its own DA, who then sets priorities for the entire DA’s office. DAs are supposed to seek justice and serve as a leader and representative of the diverse communities they represent, but all too often, DAs seek convictions instead of justice and remain out of touch with the wishes of their electorate and unavailable to the communities they serve.
How District Attorneys Can Make a Difference
We know DAs have power. We know they have abused their power. They coerce confessions. They fight reforms. They break the law in pursuit of convictions. It doesn't have to be like this.
DAs can and should protect justice and those most susceptible to injustice. We have seen transformational DAs elected to office all over the country who ran on platforms of ending mass incarceration and addressing racism and racial disparities in their office’s work. A transformational prosecutor should;
- Support safe pretrial release for people who have not even been convicted of a crime yet
- Advocate for alternatives to incarceration and preventative measures instead of using incarceration as a one-size-fits all solution to harms
- Hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct and killings
- Treat kids like kids whenever possible
- Consider all immigration consequences so families can stay together
- Advocate for community-based services for those with mental health issues, substance use disorders, or other behavioral health issues
- Create thriving conviction review units
- Recalibrate office priorities so that success means pursuing truth and justice rather than convictions
- Create an environment of transparency and accountability by voluntarily disclosing information about their offices.
Check out some transformational DAs from across the country:
- Larry Krasner (Philadelphia, PA) – The Intercept article on the Krasner memo
- Rachael Rollins (Suffolk County, MA)
- Wesley Bell (St. Louis County, MO)
- Diana Becton (Contra Costa County, CA)
Join the movement and learn more
The ACLU SoCal is part of the Los Angeles Coalition for DA Justice and Accountability, a coalition of local justice reform organizations, advocates, artists, organizers, and people who have been directly impacted by our criminal legal system. Get involved and learn more.