A thread from a UNC law professor goes over that. The thread started in response to a headline that said the FBI and DOJ were considering not charging all the rioters at Capitol on January 6. Some people naturally reacted with outrage to that, and Prof. Byrne Hessick wrote a threat in response:
I completely understand why people are angry about this. But the truth is that the criminal justice system routinely fails to prosecute people who are obviously guilty of crimes. It’s at the very core of modern criminal justice enforcement. It’s a serious problem that most Americans don’t know this. But we routinely fail to prosecute people who have obviously committed crimes. We just don’t have the capacity to pursue all of those cases. Part of the problem is that we’ve made too many things illegal. Another problem is that we’ve refused sufficiently fund the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges we’d need for full enforcement. But we also don’t have the cultural commitment to full enforcement. This isn’t just a question of partisan politics. And it isn’t just about race either. We’ve literally built a system predicated on partial enforcement of the criminal laws. In sum, if you’re angry about this, I understand. But that anger probably means you need to pay more attention to the criminal justice system generally, and not just when a bunch of losers storm the Capitol. A big hello to everyone in my mentions who are here to tell me that *they* know how prosecutors use their discretion to prosecute only certain groups of defendants. Please share your dataset with those of us who actually studprosecutors’ decisionmaking. We’d love to see it!
I wanted to chime in and say that this resonates with me, based on my work experiences. I think what she’s saying applies to many, if not most situations, that involve the enforcement of rules–specifically, situations where pursuing every infraction and meting out the appropriate consequences is not practical. Workplaces and schools are some examples.
What are the implications of this? And is there an alternate system that would prosecute every infraction, and would that be desirable? What are these systems? I’ll try to answer that in the rest of this post (in the comments section).