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The Kansas Leadership Center Journal featured Haub Law Professor Bennett Gershman in "District attorneys races in Johnson, Shawnee counties highlight broadening debate on criminal justice"

10/21/2020

The Kansas Leadership Center Journal featured Haub Law Professor Bennett Gershman in "District attorneys races in Johnson, Shawnee counties highlight broadening debate on criminal justice"

It’s hardly a typical election year for law enforcement officials. Prosecutors who once touted campaign slogans like “tough on crime” and “law and order” have tweaked their message, says Bennett L. Gershman, a Pace University professor of law and a former prosecutor who is now considered a national expert on prosecutorial misconduct and a frequent speaker at campus Federalist Society events.

“Prosecutors need to be and are showing themselves as much more focused on making sure the justice system is just,” he says.

The top elected prosecutor in many jurisdictions often goes unchallenged. When opponents arise, some voters feel uneasy making a judgment call on who is better qualified for the job.

Understanding the complex workings of the legal system isn’t for the one-dimensional. It means many incumbents enjoy long tenures, Gershman says.

“Now the community has become a much more powerful constituency than maybe in the past,” Gershman says.

...

It’s difficult for voters to assess or review a prosecutor’s work, many argue, because the practice of law is complex. It’s filled with confidential information and requires a lot of judgment calls by the top prosecutor. It takes an enormous amount of trust from voters.

“Prosecutors really have more discretion, I think, than any public official in America. Who has the power to deprive people of their liberty and even their life and certainly their reputation?” Gershman says.

Conviction rates and high-profile cases often get mentioned in media reports, but the vast majority of the cases prosecutors handle fail to generate much in the way of headlines.

When voters stop and ask themselves who to vote for, Gershman says, they might think about prosecutors’ day-to-day communications with the public. How do they talk about mental illness, drug cases and gun violence?

Read the full KLC Journal.