A recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times bytwo Stanford law professors discussed a study they conducted that purportedly documents a lack of diversity among California prosecutors. The op-ed created a great deal of discussion among career prosecutors in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The essential premise of the article was that criminal justice system would be fairer and more just if the local prosecutor offices were staffed with more attorneys who were of the same ethnicity or race as the communities they served. In this claim, the authors failed.
Buried in the piece was the author’s admission their study “did not analyze how workforce diversity in prosecutors’ offices influences the outcome of criminal cases.” Their claim that other (unnamed) researchers have found minorities receive different sentences when minorities are underrepresented by prosecutors is a non-sequitur. Sentences are imposed by Judges, not prosecutors. Nor was their premise of unequal treatment advance by their claim that, “respect for the law and trust in legal institutions are undermined” when prosecutors are not diverse.
I agree that diversity is laudable goal in all facets of life including the criminal justice system. Diversity is improving in prosecutor’s offices, and prosecutor gender diversity is very high. In fact, in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office females comprise the majority of prosecutors, and the elected district attorney is an African American female.
Any lack of diversity is not the product of intentional discrimination. Prosecutors can only be hired from one distinct population — lawyers. Regrettably, attendance of law schools by minorities, both by color and ethnicity, is low. African Americans and Latinos, the groups most represented as charged defendants, have low representation in the legal profession and in law schools.
Diversity is very important, but let me be clear; there is no real evidence that it affects what happens in a criminal courtroom. All prosecutors in California took an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and the State of California, and have promised to seek the fair administration of justice regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. It is a promise that the residents of California should demand they adhere to, and if there is a failure to do so it must be exposed and corrected.
The authors of the Times opinion piece, Debbie Mukamal and David Alan Sklansky, offer no evidence whatsoever that prosecutors in California treat those accused of a crime differently based on race, creed, or sexual orientation. As an African American prosecutor I took the oath I described above. I chose this profession because it is important to me that my community gets the same fair and just law enforcement as any other group in California. I expect my Asian, Latino and white colleagues to ensure that happens in every courtroom in Los Angeles County. Does it happen in every instance? No. Sadly racism exists in any large institution in America and the criminal justice system is no different.
The authors discuss prosecutors’ diversity by talking about high profile deadly force cases involving police officers across the country. The public understandably has questions when a police officer kills a person who later is found to be unarmed and not attempting to unarm an officer. While we can debate the justification of any individual killing, it is clear this issue is causing deep mistrust of the criminal justice system by communities of color. But the color of the prosecutor’s skin, their gender, or ethnic background does not determine if you will be charged with a crime by a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney. Either the evidence supports the criminal charge, or it doesn’t.
In my experience, the prosecutors within the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office rely on facts and evidence, not individual biases, in making charging decisions and handling criminal cases. I do not know of a single Deputy District Attorney that treats cases differently based on the individual Deputy District Attorney’s race, ethnicity, or gender. I am confident that prosecutors across the state do the same. It should be the expectation of every person living in Los Angeles County that such professionalism exists in all cases, and that every case be handled based on the facts and evidence without consideration of the gender, race or creed of the defendant.
Diversity as a goal is laudable; it is not a substitute for ethical behavior by prosecutors, which I believe the residents of California should demand and receive.
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Bobby Grace is a Director of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.