PA Supreme Court Upholds Prosecutorial Discretion

Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner

By William McCurry

PHILADELPHIA, PA – District Attorney Larry Krasner late last week praised a unanimous decision by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court that, according to the DA, confirms: “We have more affirmation that, in Philadelphia and across the United States, voters get to choose who makes prosecutorial decisions on their behalf.”

The decision related to a case where the trial court refused to recognize the DA’s decision-making in a case, and later appointed a special prosecutor.

Justice David Wecht of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled the trial court did not have authority to remove the district attorney’s office (DAO) from a violation of probation hearing.

Justice Wecht held “because we can find no authority (statutory or inherent) authorizing the appointment of a special prosecutor to represent the Commonwealth in VOP proceedings, we vacate the trial court’s appointment order.” Every other Justice joined the opinion.

Wecht provided: “On September 6, 2018, the parties again appeared before the court, this time at the Commonwealth’s request. At that hearing, a different ADA appeared and explained to the court that his supervisor, the DAO’s First Assistant, had declined the request to file a revocation motion prior to the disposition of Mayfield’s new charges.

“The ADA also argued that the DAO has the sole discretion to defer revocation proceedings until the disposition of new charges. In response, the trial court made clear that it intended promptly to hold a revocation hearing. The court also warned the ADA that it intended to proceed “independent of whether or not the Commonwealth decides to do [its] job.”

On Sept. 19, 2018, the trial court removed the DAO and appointed “special prosecutor” James Lloyd.

“I am gratified to see the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognize the independence of prosecutors and their decision-making, just as our office has always recognized the independence and decision-making authority of the judiciary. “The justices rightly note…‘there is no statute which grants the trial court the authority that it purported to exercise here’ in 2018,” said DA Krasner said.

“It is curious that back when prosecutors were all about mass incarceration and winning convictions at all costs — including at the expense of the truth — few in the criminal legal system questioned their decision-making or discretion. But now that approximately 10 percent of Americans are served by progressive DAs, routine prosecutorial decisions are coming under attack.

“Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this decision has affirmed the discretionary authority of prosecutors. We have more affirmation that in Philadelphia and across the United States, voters get to choose who makes prosecutorial decisions on their behalf,” Krasner noted.

William McCurry is a fourth year at Sacramento State, majoring in Criminal Justice. He is from Brentwood, California.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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