Published Reports and Data

Enforcing Marijuana Prohibitions: Prosecutorial Policy in Four States

As states have increasingly legalized and decriminalized marijuana, the enforcement of criminal laws prohibiting the personal possession of marijuana has become more controversial in those states where cannabis remains illegal. Among other controversies, some local prosecutors have publicly stated that they will not continue to prosecute cases involving personal possession of marijuana. Although such statements have captured headlines, very little systematic research has been done to see how prosecutors, as a group, enforce criminal laws prohibiting personal possession. This study fills that gap by examining prosecutorial enforcement of laws prohibiting the personal possession of marijuana in four states that have not legalized medical or adult-use marijuana—Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. It examined views of both incumbent prosecutors and those candidates running for the office.

Media Coverage of Prosecutors and Their Elections: Results of a Pilot Study

Very little is known about the media coverage that prosecutors receive. This pilot study aims to improve the discussion surrounding media coverage of the criminal justice system more generally and of prosecutors in particular. It provides a glimpse into the quantity and the quality of the media coverage that prosecutors receive during an election year in print news stories. Specifically, the study quantifies the amount of media coverage, the content of coverage, and the tone of coverage that prosecutors and candidates for prosecutor receive. The study includes data from a sample of five to ten prosecutor elections in four states. In total, the study examines 27 prosecutor elections in jurisdictions of varying populations; some of those elections were contested, while others were uncontested. In the contested elections, the study also includes information about the coverage that candidates for the office of prosecutor received. All told, the study examined more than 2,000 articles—every article that mentioned the elected prosecutor or a candidate for the office in the calendar year 2020.

National Study of Campaign Contributions in Prosecutor Elections

The Prosecutors and Politics Project has compiled a database that identifies who contributed to prosecutor elections and the amount of their donations. Contribution data includes data from jurisdictions that elected local prosecutors during the years 2012-2017.  Campaign contribution information is often publicly available, but the format of that information varies from state to state, the information is often scattered across multiple sources, and the information is sometimes incomplete. The project compiles this fragmented data into a single nationwide database that will allow sustained study about who contributes to prosecutor campaigns and the amount of contributions.

National Study of Prosecutor Lobbying

The Prosecutors and Politics Project conducted a nationwide study of prosecutor lobbying. The study developed a comprehensive picture of how often prosecutors lobbied state legislatures, the criminal justice issues on which they lobbied, what position they took, and the ultimate outcome of proposed state legislation that touched on these issues. The study covered bills introduced in the years 2015-2018. The study found that prosecutors were active lobbyists who often lobbied in favor of bills that expanded the scope of criminal laws and bills that increased punishment. Bills that prosecutors supported were more than twice as likely to pass as bills that they did not support.

National Study of Elected Prosecutors

The Prosecutors and Politics Project conducted a nationwide study of prosecutor elections.  The first of its kind, the study gathered data from every jurisdiction that elects local prosecutors during the years 2012-2017.  An analysis of the data shows that voters are rarely given a choice between candidates.  The likelihood of having such a choice varies significantly across states, and it appears to depend on the population within a particular district and whether an incumbent is running in the election. 

Law Enforcement Donations in Prosecutor Elections

Using the national database of campaign contributions, the Prosecutors and Politics Project presents a nationwide snapshot of law enforcement donations in local prosecutor elections. Data show that law enforcement affiliated individuals and institutions are an important source of campaign contributions in certain elections.

Ongoing Research Projects

National Study of Elected Prosecutors, 2018-2019

The Prosecutors and Politics Project is collecting data to continue a study of elected local prosecutors. The study will include nationwide election results in prosecutor elections for 2018 and 2019. Data will be available on the UNC Dataverse, and a report will be published in 2021.  

National Study of Campaign Contributions and Elected Prosecutors, 2018-2019

In conjunction with election research, the project is collecting campaign contribution information for prosecutors in election years 2018 and 2019. Data will be available on the UNC Dataverse, and a report will be published in 2021.