Prosecutorial discretion is a factor that can impact decisions in criminal cases and is critical to understand. The extent of discretionary decision-making in criminal law is an issue subjected to numerous discussions as it creates an opportunity for biased ruling and is often criticized for being one of the causes of racial inequalities in incarceration rates. One of the reasons for the increasing role of discretion may be the gaps between legislation and the social environment. Hence, while law and social norms are often merged and interconnected, the further development and growing complexity of both society and the legal system create separation between them.
An example of the role of the discretionary decision can be seen in Philly DA 104 documentary. The topic of parole and probation law in Philadelphia was covered in the video. There are two opposite standpoints in the discussion of probation laws – one is presented by County District Attorney Larry Krasner, who proposed to reform the criminal system by providing an opportunity to end probation earlier (Brook, 2021). His standpoint is supported by Latonya “T” Myers as a person subjected to probation and her probation officer. Latonya “T” Myers was put on probation after a felony of beating her mother’s boyfriend with a stick after he attacked her mother when Latonya was 12 (Brook, 2021). Since she has been on probation, she has tried hard to serve the community, went to college, and received a job as a defender. However, she is still at risk of going to jail if she fails to provide a weekly report. From her standpoint, the law does not provide any reinforcement for her effort, but she is constantly pressured by the punishment regardless of her positive actions. Her position is that law in society is not fair and provides too much suffering and no reward. People on probation are viewed as second-range citizens and it cannot be considered a real second chance.
On the contrary, judge Scott DiClaudio believes that there is no correlation between probation policies and the way it causes people to commit more crime. He believes that the law is just and has a positive effect on society. Hence, the life of Latonia was affected by the discretionary decision of a judge who did not put effort into looking beyond the way parole cases are traditionally ruled and investigated the case. In the film, there are judges who have different opinions on probation laws and regulations. Hence, they may have ruled differently in Latonya’s case due to discretion. The documentary shows how biased and crucial prosecutorial discretion can be in the life of offenders.
Brook, Y., Passon, T. & Salazar, N. (2021) Episode #1.4. Philly D. A.