The Atlantic

The Problem With Electing Prosecutors

The Manhattan district attorney has come under fire for campaign donations he received—one from Harvey Weinstein's lawyer and others from a Trump family attorney.
Source: Brendan McDermid / Reuters

Cyrus Vance Jr., Manhattan’s district attorney, is facing intense public scrutiny for a series of prosecutorial decisions in cases involving the Trump family and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Multiple stories have emerged about how lawyers connected to those figures have donated to Vance’s campaigns, along with the implicit suggestion that those funds may have played a role in his deliberating.

Such is the paradox of America’s unusual habit of electing its prosecutors. Proponents of the tradition defend it as a check to ensure the most powerful players in the criminal-justice system are accountable to the people they represent. But as Vance’s situation underscores, forcing prosecutors to campaign for votes and glad-hand for dollars can also undermine the faith in the system that elections are meant to restore.

His situation isn’t unique. The Manhattan DA’s office is one of prosecutor offices nationwide, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Voters in 46 states directly elect the top prosecutors for those

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