Expanding the Reach of Progressive Prosecution

12 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2020

Date Written: November 23, 2020


"Progressive Prosecutors" are flourishing in jurisdictions across the country. The question remains whether the progressive prosecutor movement will have a lasting impact and, if so, what that impact will be. This Essay explores this theme by discussing, first, the rise of progressive prosecution and, second, how this movement’s initial success can stimulate the long-overdue development of a generally applicable, normative theory of the prosecutor’s role. It suggests a conceptualization of the American prosecutor as a caretaker for the criminal justice system, who should default to lenience when that system becomes so congested and punitive that it cannot deliver on its constitutional ideals.

Even as progressive prosecution remains an ongoing source of reform in liberal jurisdictions, it is important to consider the movement’s impact outside of those jurisdictions. Nonprogressive prosecutors and the voters who elect them are also open to reform. But they are not likely to embrace the “progressive” label or its accompanying rhetoric. The key to the overall success of progressive prosecution in the long run may be to invite these prosecutors in and offer them an alternative frame for prosecutor-driven reform. A new unifying norm of prosecutorial behavior, better suited to the modern era, could turn out to be the most important legacy of progressive prosecution.

Keywords: progressive prosecutors

Suggested Citation

Bellin, Jeffrey, Expanding the Reach of Progressive Prosecution (November 23, 2020). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 110, No. 4, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3736813

Jeffrey Bellin (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

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