Transparency & Public Data
“Prosecutorial discretion” is a legal concept that means that prosecutors have broad power to decide how to prosecute their cases (including the decision of whether to prosecute at all). This gives prosecutors an enormous amount of power. Prosecutors decide whom to prosecute, what to charge, whether to recommend freedom or incarceration before trial, whether to plea bargain (and what terms to offer), and whether to dismiss a case altogether. Nationwide, 94% of felony cases are resolved by plea bargains -- meaning that in the vast majority of serious criminal cases, no jury is involved and judges are only nominally involved.
With this power comes the potential for abuse. I'm generally proud of the way that our prosecutor's office has handled the cases that I'm familiar with, but we know by looking at both nationwide and Virginia statistics that there is a tremendous amount of bias in our criminal justice system, both along racial and socioeconomic lines.
The first step towards addressing the risk of bias is transparency. The prosecutor's office needs to record and publish demographic data showing what charges are being filed, against what types of defendants, and how these cases are being resolved.
Not only does data collection help us avoid bias (and allegations of bias), it's necessary to do our jobs. In private practice I constantly rely on data about the business for decision making -- this is equally necessary (if not more important) in public service.
The Commonwealth's Attorney is an elected position. Gathering and sharing data increases the accountability of the office, which is critical for giving voters the information they need to make the right decision.