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Next Year's DA, Sheriff Elections Will Help Shape Criminal Justice's Future

Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to charge Donald Trump for trying to steal the 2020 presidential race will make Atlanta courtrooms a focal point of next year’s elections. Willis and Trump could also share a different stage come 2024: They’ll likely appear on the same ballot, as one bids for the White House while the other seeks a second term as Atlanta’s chief prosecutor, Bolts Magazine reports. Local DAs like Willis have become a key GOP target this year, as Republicans go after prosecutors who they think are standing in the way of their political or policy ambitions. New Georgia and Texas laws give courts and state officials more authority to discipline DAs. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is challenging Trump for the GOP’s presidential nomination, has over the last 18 months removed two Democratic prosecutors from office, angry over their policies like not prosecuting abortion cases.  The presidential election is pulling sheriffs into its orbit. Far-right sheriffs have allied with election deniers, using local law enforcement to amplify Trump’s lies about 2020, ramp up investigations, and even threaten election officials.


One such sheriff, Pinal County’s Mark Lamb, is now running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, leaving his office open. In Texas, Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Sheriff Bill Waybourn inspired a new task force that will be policing how people vote while he runs for reelection next year. With roughly 2,200 prosecutors and sheriffs on the 2024 ballot, voters will weigh in on county offices throughout the nation, settling confrontations over the shape of local criminal legal systems while choosing the president and Congress. These local offices often get overshadowed in a decentralized justice system, but that’s also what makes these offices so powerful: DAs exert a great deal of discretion within their jurisdiction, choosing what cases to prosecute and how harshly, as do the sheriffs who run their county jails like fiefdoms. Most of the counties choosing their prosecutors and sheriffs in 2024 last elected these officials in 2020, a tumultuous year defined by the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and amplified attention to racial injustice.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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