Criminal procedure has long set a boundary between public and private in criminal enforcement: generally speaking, enforcement decisions at the post-charging stage are exposed to some degree of public view, while those at the pre-charging stage remain almost entirely secret. The allocation of public and private is, at heart, an allocation of power—and the current allocation is a relic. When private prosecutors were the mainstay of criminal enforcement, public court processes effectively constrained them. But those processes do little to constrain the spaces where enforcement power today resides: in decisions by the servants of a state-run, professionalized enforcement apparatus on whether to investigate, to charge, or to decline charges.

This Article challenges criminal procedure’s centuries-old boundary between public and private in criminal enforcement. It argues that the justifications for the boundary are outdated and overstated, and the costs undernoticed. The public-private boundary has served to skew enforcers’ incentives, impoverish insight into enforcement patterns and their causes, weaken traditional channels of accountability (judicial, electoral, and internal), and erode public trust. The Article reimagines a new boundary for our time, one that strengthens secrecy in some respects while relaxing it in others, and enables robust oversight of necessarily secret processes. More fundamentally, the Article is a call to center the public-private boundary in accounts of power in the criminal process.



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