Why does the Shelby County DA matter?
The Shelby County district attorney is the most powerful person in the Shelby County criminal legal system.
They have the power to to influence bail negotiations and to decide whether or not to charge someone with a crime, who gets access to mental health and drug treatment diversion programs and who doesn’t, how tough to be on sentencing, and whether or not to charge police officers with crimes when someone is injured or killed by police.
DAs’ decisions have an enormous impact on incarceration rates and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Yet no locally elected official has more power and less accountability than a prosecutor.
The 2022 Shelby County DA Candidates
Steve Mulroy Amy Weirich
The ACLU of Tennessee sent a questionnaire to both candidates for Shelby County district attorney asking about their positions on key civil liberties and civil rights issues. Our goal is to promote voter education and voter participation.
The ACLU does not endorse or oppose candidates, but we do want to give you the information you need to make informed decisions. Information below is from the candidate questionnaire we distributed to both candidates and from publicly available sources.
|Topic||Steve Mulroy||Amy Weirich|
|Committed to making the district attorney’s office more open and transparent, holding regular meetings with the public to discuss community concerns||Yes||Did not respond|
|Supports the use of diversion courts and/or programs to address substance use disorder and mental health||Yes||Yes|
|Pledged to only seek cash bail as a last resort, which maintains public safety while preventing people from remaining behind bars before their trials solely because of their inability to afford cash bail||Yes||Did not respond|
|Open to seeking ways to improve the criminal justice system||Yes||Yes|
|Promised to hold police officers accountable by ensuring independent investigations in all cases where police seriously injure residents and will make these findings available to the public||Yes||Did not respond|
|Pledged to make prosecuting those arrested for crimes usually associated with poverty or health, such as trespassing, shoplifting, seeking or providing an abortion, or obstructing a sidewalk, the lowest priority for the DAs office||Yes||Did not respond|
Full questionnaire links: Steve Mulroy | Amy Weirich did not respond to the Candidate Questionnaire
Accountability and the Election
DAs are elected by the voters, which means they are accountable to you. The last DA election was in 2014. Only 28% of Shelby County’s registered voters voted in the 2014 election when the district attorney was last on the ballot.
The next election is on August 4, 2022. Early voting begins on Friday, July 15.
Find out if you are registered and where you can vote here.
The Shelby County DA impacts:
DAs make decisions that influence whether people are held in jail because they cannot afford bail or they cannot pay their fines and fees. The result is a two-tiered system of justice that separates the people who can afford to buy their freedom and those who cannot.
DAs’ decisions contribute to significant racial disparities in our jails and prisons. According to 2010 Census data, Black people made up about 17% of Tennessee’s overall population, but 44% of the state’s incarcerated population. In 2021, Black people made up 55% of Shelby County’s population, but 81% of the jail population. In 2018, 97% of the children in Shelby County transferred to adult court were Black. In 2019, 99% of the children in Shelby County transferred to adult court were Black.
DAs have the power to determine whether a child is kept in the juvenile legal system or prosecuted in the adult system, where they are much more likely to be harmed and to reoffend once released. All children make mistakes. DAs can push children into the criminal legal system or give them a second chance to learn from their mistakes. In 2019, more juveniles were transferred to adult court in Shelby County than in any other jurisdiction in the state.
DAs have the power to choose whether their offices will recognize and effectively respond to the needs of LGBTQ people. In Tennessee in 2019, 12.2% of all hate crimes were motivated by anti-LGBT bias. Of all the hate crimes in the state that year, 31% were cleared either because the victim refused to cooperate or the district attorney declined to take the case.
More information on Tennessee’s DAs can be found at: DAs Report to You.