Prosecutors are quitting in droves across the U.S.,and there are few applicants to replace them. If you believe prosecutors are too punitive, your reaction might be “Great.” Prosecutors drive the criminal justice system, so fewer prosecutors should mean fewer people going to prison, right? Fewer prosecutors does not translate into fewer defendants being charged. Instead, prosecutorial vacancies lead to existing prosecutors having impossibly high caseloads and making serious errors, reports Slate. Counterintuitively, huge vacancies in prosecutors’ offices are actually bad news for criminal defendants.
More than 15 percent of prosecutor positions are unfilled in Houston and Los Angeles. In Fort Lauderdale and Detroit, the prosecutor vacancy rate exceeds 20 percent. In Alameda, Calif., 25 percent of prosecutor positions are empty. In Miami, a staggering 33 percent of prosecutor positions are unfilled. The situation is just as bad or worse in many other prosecutors’ offices. Some reasons for the vacancies are obvious. Prosecutors get paid less than most other lawyers, and they have to handle huge caseloads (especially with the backlog caused by the COVID pandemic). Most people do not want a job with long hours and low pay when other options are available. The workload for each case has increased in the digital world. When two or three officers show up at the scene of a crime with their body cameras rolling, they create hours of video footage. Prosecutors must painstakingly review that footage to fulfill their discovery obligations to the defense.
Prosecutors cannot do that work from the comfort of their homes. After the pandemic, many lawyers want the ability to work remotely. Prosecutors typically must be in court every day to handle an unrelenting stream of cases. As a result, almost no prosecutor’s office is able to provide a remote work option.