Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What is 'prosecutorial discretion' anyway?

With this, my debut guest-post this time 'round, I fear I will take the title of the lamest of the lame-guest bloggers. But I have to start somewhere. Speaking of which, the headline all on its own is pretty darned lame don't you think? Basil will never ask me back...

So I'm a liberal who believes that government can be used as a force for good. Then last night I ran across this story about a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security restrictions on thier school-issued laptops.

I was outraged and said the kids are not felons and the law should be changed.

Overnight a commenter said the laws are fine:

Prosecutorial discretion in the case of criminal prosecution and good advice from an attorney are better protection from frivolous resort to the legal system than legislative action.

What do you think? Who checks the prosecutor? I can do whatever I want if the prosecutor likes me? Are they elected? Do you know who yours is?

We have a leggal system that most of us can't afford and the large majority of cases never go to court. So where's due process? All of it in the prosecutor's hands? That's one powerful position and it makes me uncomfortable.

Not just lame but shamelessly linked to 3 of my posts! I'll try better next time...  :-)


  1. Damn, I only self-linked once ... I feel like I missed an opportunity ... /TJ

  2. I think that a certain amount of prosecutorial discretion is healthy, and that too much would lead to what you're suggesting, Joe. However, I think there are bigger fish to fry here.

    I do think the students should be prosecuted, because they did break the law. They stole bandwidth from the school and made unauthorized changes to school computers, and they kept doing it even after they were punished, so they're not completely innocent babes who were just having a little fun and happened to stumble across a boundary one time. They were warned and they didn't stop.

    If possible I'd like to see their parents dragged into it too (maybe through a civil suit), if as the article suggested their parents think they should be given points for "creativity". This isn't a frickin' art class, it's a cyber crime. I would like to know why the school squandered precious education dollars (for which they come a-begging every year) on handing out computers in the first place, when they keep complaining that they don't have enough money for facilities and teacher salaries. And the sheer stupidity of whoever created the password-- and then DIDN'T CHANGE IT when they knew it had been compromised-- is just baffling. How is it that we have people this incompetent working in our schools?

    With all these serious problems that need addressing in this case, you're focusing on the prosecutorial discretion?? Yeah, I think this could have been handled better and should not have gotten to the point where it had to go to the courts. But now that what's done is done, prosecution is in order.

  3. TJ: I didn't even get the trackbaks. evidently I did it wrong. How lame is that???

    Wacky: I'm not saying the kids did nothing wrong, and I have to admit I flew off reflexively. I'd like to read more articles and their site, and I promise I will.

    But the focus on judicial discretion is valid just the same, because I believe that those kids should not have been charged with a felony, period. I'm sure they could have found another crime. Criminal mischief for example, or abuse of property. Who knows what they could have come up with but this wasn't the only option. This was the prosecutor's choice.

    The law is a blunt and clumsy instrument, with serious consequences, and I don't think appropriate in this case. Did they steal credit card info? Social Security info? Grades??? Not in anything I read (the article and the school board statement). They "misused" the computers

    It seems to me that an appropriate punishment, and a way to end this, was for the school district to TAKE BACK THE COMPUTERS!!! And go ahead, for the really bad ones, expell them!!! But make them into felons?

    PA has a state law that defines "altering computer data, programs or software without permission" a felony and I think that's very, very dangerous.

    The thing is, I don't believe for one second they will be tried and convicted, I believe this is just a legal club. And it's not clear to me that the lesson that will be learned by those kids is the one intended.


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