By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 47
I was recently asked why some cases are handled by the Attorney General’s Office, instead of the District Attorney’s Office. There are a few reasons why this occurs, which I will address over the next couple weeks.
As we have discussed throughout this year, each District Attorney has broad authority to prosecute crimes that occur within their respective counties and oversight of all cases that are handled by his/her office.
However, just like everything else in our system of government, there are checks and balances. One such check is when the District Attorney himself/herself has a conflict.
Obviously it would not be appropriate for another prosecutor in the office to handle a case where the District Attorney has a conflict because that attorney answers directly to the DA.
Thus, the law provides a couple options to resolve this issue, and the primary way is to refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office.
A few examples of potential conflicts are:
- when the defendant was a former client of the District Attorney;
- where the District Attorney’s involvement could be viewed as either politically motivated (for or against a defendant) just because of who the defendant is;
- where the District Attorney is personally a victim;
- where the District Attorney is a member or board member of an organization that is a victim of a crime; or
- where the defendant is a close personal friend or family member of the District Attorney.
In each of these scenarios, there is either the potential for an actual or apparent conflict of interest, which could deteriorate confidence that prosecutions are being properly handled.
Therefore, in order to help maintain that highest level of trust in the decision making abilities of District Attorneys, the referral system exists so that a disinterested prosecutor handles certain cases.
If you have any questions that you would like answered in this weekly article before the end of the year, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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