Prosecutors formulate various policies that dictate which types of crime to pursue, how much evidence is necessary to file criminal charges, and when to plea bargain.
Three models of prosecution policy
Joan Jacoby, executive director of the Jefferson Institute for Justice Studies in Washington, D.C., designed three models of how prosecutors manage their offices.
In the legal sufficiency model, the presence of the minimum legal elements of a crime triggers the prosecution of a case. Under this model, a prosecutor's office accepts many cases for prosecution but settles most through plea bargains.
Prosecutors using a system efficiency model focus on speeding up the processing of cases, reducing court backlogs, and conserving prosecutorial and court resources. To accomplish these goals, they screen out weak cases at intake and downgrade felonies to misdemeanors in order to dispose of cases through plea bargaining.
In the trial sufficiency model, prosecutors file charges only in cases in which there is enough evidence to ensure conviction and make only minimal use of plea bargaining. Prosecutors adhering to this model require good police work and competent trial lawyers in the prosecutor's office.
Many prosecutors establish special programs aimed at prosecuting certain kinds of crimes and injustices. Some federal prosecutors, for instance, zero in on specific crimes. During the early 1960s, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy focused the resources of the Department of Justice on racial discrimination. Asked why he picked racial discrimination, Kennedy replied, “There are racial injustices, and they are flagrant. And I have the power and responsibility to do something about it. It's quite simple.”
From 1978 through the 1990s, federal prosecutors mounted a major effort to eliminate the Mafia. Using RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), electronic surveillance, undercover government agents, and mob turncoats, U.S. attorneys initiated a stream of investigations and produced a flow of Mafia prosecutions throughout the United States. No other period in U.S. history comes close in terms of the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of leaders of crime families.