The District Attorney has a responsibility as the leader of Allegheny County’s criminal justice system to ensure that its duty to serve the public is met at every juncture at which the public may come into contact with the system. As District Attorney, I will ensure that our office takes a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to all matters within the office’s scope and sphere of influence including Charging Decisions, Bail, Discovery, Prosecutor Training, Plea Negotiations, Violent Crime, and Victim Services.
The District Attorney has broad discretion to choose which crimes to prosecute and which crimes to divert from the criminal justice system. The initial charging decision is crucial to the ultimate outcome of a case and thus has life-changing consequences for criminal defendants.
Most cases filed in Allegheny County involve low level, non-violent offenses driven by any one or combination of these factors:
substance abuse disorder;
untreated/undiagnosed mental health issues; and,
lack of stable employment, housing, or other resources.
As Allegheny County District Attorney, I’ll work with local law enforcement agencies to divert low level, nonviolent cases out of the criminal justice system. We’ll connect defendants to mental health and/or substance abuse treatment options when appropriate. Access to services is a key factor in reducing recidivism and ensuring people have the support networks in place to live a law-abiding life and is more cost-effective in the long run.
Prosecutors across the country, including here in Allegheny County, routinely charge as many crimes as possible for a single incident. This practice of filing numerous, often redundant, criminal charges is known as charge stacking. Prosecutors stack charges to leverage the threat of a long sentence to entice defendants to plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for a guaranteed, negotiated outcome, typically including probation. Stacking charges also leads to unreasonable bail decisions, as a case is made to look more serious than the facts would support. As District Attorney, my office will not leverage unreasonably stacked charges as a plea negotiation tactic. All filings will be carefully prepared to ensure charges are fitting and appropriately supported by evidence.
The purpose of bail is twofold: 1) to ensure defendants appear at future court dates and 2) to protect the public. Cash bail has not effectively served these purposes. Studies have repeatedly shown there is no relationship between a person's ability to post a cash bail and the chances that person will either appear for court or commit a crime once released. But cash bail does lead to the unnecessary incarceration of people too poor to secure funds for release, and it provides an opportunity for allegedly violent individuals with access to resources to walk free. As District Attorney I will advocate against the use of cash bail in Allegheny County.
Instead, pretrial detention decisions should be guided by individualized assessments of defendants, their history of appearing in court, and the risk they pose to the community. In Allegheny County, a defendant specific Pre-trial Risk Assessment report is generated before each initial bail hearing. While these risk tools have their limitations, the reports can serve as a guide in the setting of bail. If a defendant has a history of violent behavior and poses a significant danger to the community, as District Attorney I will advocate for conditions of release (no contact orders, electronic monitoring) or the denial of bail.
The public must have faith that the policies of the District Attorney’s office are fair and administered even-handedly. As District Attorney, I will implement an Open-file Discovery process. Open-file Discovery ensures defendants and defense counsel have full access to the prosecution’s evidence. If a lab report, witness statement, or piece of physical evidence is in the District Attorney’s possession, those items will be shared with the defense. Additionally, all Brady Material – exculpatory evidence – will be immediately provided to the defense.
The timely and full exchange of discovery materials will decrease the length of time needed to resolve cases, ensure just outcomes in the courtroom, and help improve the integrity of the justice system.
As District Attorney of Allegheny County, I will implement a robust prosecutor training program led by a full-time, in-house attorney. Every new prosecutor should have access to experienced and welcoming mentors within the office. Assistant District Attorneys should have the resources and support they need to handle their caseloads with care and thoughtfulness. An investment in training, education, and support will not only improve attorney recruitment and retention, but will result in more just outcomes and increase the public’s confidence in the justice system.
As District Attorney, our attorneys will be trained to make fair and reasonable plea offers. A plea offer will consider the rights and wants of the victim, and the impact on public safety. Periods of incarceration and terms of probation should be tailored to the specific rehabilitative needs of the defendant.
Unnecessarily long periods of probation lead to an increase in jail population. Over two-thirds of our jail population is comprised of individuals waiting to resolve a probation detainer, most of whom are non-violent offenders. Probation should be a tool used to protect public safety and ensure offenders are taking advantage of court-provided services aimed to aid their rehabilitation. As District Attorney, plea offers that include probation will contain defined periods of supervision that balances public safety and the rehabilitative needs of the defendant.
Diverting low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system will allow the office to focus its prosecution efforts and concentrate its resources on the crimes that pose the biggest threats to public safety. The prosecution of homicide, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and financial/tax crimes will be made a top priority. Individuals who commit violent crimes and who pose a danger to our community will be prosecuted aggressively and competently.
It is a District Attorney’s duty to seek justice for victims of crime. For too long victims in Allegheny County haven’t been supported or heard. As District Attorney, I’ll expand services to victims of violent crime, especially sexual assault and intimate partner violence survivors. We’ll seek to provide support and services as soon as possible, whether a suspect has been charged or remains at large. A victim services representative will maintain contact throughout the life of a criminal case to ensure there is an open line of communication with an Assistant District Attorney.