For decades, legal commentators sounded the alarm about the tremendous power wielded by prosecutors. Scholars went so far as to identify uncurbed prosecutorial discretion as the primary source of the criminal justice system’s many flaws. Over the past two years, however, the conversation shifted. With the emergence of a new wave of “progressive prosecutors,” scholars increasingly hail broad prosecutorial discretion as a promising mechanism for criminal justice reform.

The abrupt shift from decrying to embracing prosecutorial power highlights a curious void at the center of criminal justice thought. There is no widely accepted normative theory of the prosecutorial role. As a result, prosecutors are viewed as the criminal justice system’s free agents, deploying the powers of their offices as they see fit to serve constituents, public safety,or, most broadly, the cause of justice.

This Article uses the rapidly shifting views about prosecutors to explore normative theories of prosecution: What should prosecutors be doing? It highlights the emptiness of the current “do justice” model and proposes an alternative “servant-of-the-law” theory of prosecutorial behavior that could place real constraints on prosecutorial excess. It also explores ways in which a servant-of-the-law model could, perhaps counterintuitively, contribute much-needed theoretical grounding to the progressive prosecution movement.

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108 California Law Review 1203-1253 (2020)