The right to prosecute crimes

There’s been a move lately among DAs in major cities to simply refuse to prosecute certain crimes. (I believe this may have started on a national level under Obama, but it’s taken on a lot of steam lately at the local level.)

Question is whether in such circumstances, anyone else has the legal right to step in and prosecute. Could a mayor just appoint a team of prosecutors and prosecute crimes that the DA is refusing to prosecute? The police? Anyone?

It’s called private prosecution.

In a real travesty of justice, a judge goes after an innocent advocate.

Though the case is captioned United States of America v. Steven Donziger , prosecutors from the Southern District of New York declined to take up the case, and so a federal judge drafted criminal contempt charges and appointed private counsel to lead Donziger’s prosecution on July 30.

Well it would be called that in the specific case of a private citizen. But what about the mayor (or police)? That’s government too, but just not the DA.

OK, but that’s not going to happen if the DA decides that as a matter of policy he will not prosecute turnstile jumping or resisting arrest or the like. The mayor might think that’s a terrible idea as a matter of public policy, but any individual case is not going to rise to the level of “real travesty of justice” such that a judge might unilaterally get involved.

The outcome:

On July 26, 2021, after almost two years of home detention, Donziger was found guilty by Judge Preska on all six contempt charges. Judge Preska wrote that the contempt case had nothing to do with any responsibility Chevron might have for pollution in Ecuador’s rainforest. On October 1, 2021, Judge Preska sentenced Donziger to the maximum sentence of six months in prison. Preska said that Donziger had not shown contrition and “It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law”. Donziger appealed the sentence, which he described as “another example … of the punitive nature of what’s happening. It’s almost unheard of for someone convicted of a misdemeanor in the United States not to be let out pending his or her appeal”. A federal appellate court rejected Donziger’s request for bail while his appeal was pending. He reported to prison on October 27, 2021.

On December 9, 2021, Donziger was released from prison to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest per a pandemic-related early release program.

Since the crime he was sentenced for was contempt of court, no private individual could have brought out this outcome.


nevermind right back atcha.

Seems like a conflict if the same judge can force the prosecution AND assign the judge for it.

Indeed. And assign the private “prosecutors” (who had a relationship with Chevron)
The whole thing stinks.

At the risk of hijacking the thread, it’s a shame we can’t get private prosecutions when DAs refuse to go up against the thin blue line.

Maybe It’s just a thing in Canada, but I seem to recall something about the Crown Prosecutor (or was it a District Attorney in USA?) having the right to intervene and end a private prosecution.

So you can prosecute if the prosecutor couldn’t be bothered, but not if they actively opposed the case.

The answer is highly dependent on jurisdiction. Orange County (FL) State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in 2016 that she would not seek the death penalty in any case, citing prosecutorial discretion. Then-governor Rick Scott reassigned all death-eligible cases to another county’s state attorney. The Florida Supreme Court held that Scott was within his authority, as the Florida Statutes permit the governor to reassign state attorneys with cause.

The issue there wasn’t the state attorney’s refusal to enforce a particular law, of course, but the outcome would have been the same had Ayala announced that she would no longer prosecute marijuana possession offenses.

The practice of refusing to prosecute certain offenses long predates Obama. For example, Attorneys General of both parties followed a policy of granting blanket parole (a term of art in immigration law which doesn’t mean the same thing as parole in criminal law) to Cuban nationals under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

That’s correct. The Criminal Code still permits private prosecutions for certain offences, but the Attorney General always has the power to take over the prosecution, which then includes the power to enter a stay of proceedings.

One notable case of a private prosecution was the Zundel matter. Jewish groups had tried to get the Ontario AG to consider hate crime charges against Zundel, but the AG refused. Instead, a Holocaust survivor began a private proseuction against Zundel under the obscure criminal offence of spreading false news. The ONtario AG took over the prosecution, but did not stay it, instead continuing to prosecute it. The prosecution ended when the Supreme Court held that the false news offence was contrary to the Charter.

What I remember was when Life of Brian first played in North America, the crown prosecutor in Sault Ste Marie laid charges of “blasphemous libel” which hadn’t been used for dozens of years. (Humor is lost on some people). The AG stepped in and dropped the charges.