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Not many American lawyers are aware that at Common Law there existed a right for an individual to bring a private criminal prosecution against another person. The private prosecution occasionally crops up in other common law countries — like in England last fall — but it is more of a rarity in the United States. It appears that the last private prosecution in the US may have been in North Carolina in the 1970s.

Though striking most as odd, and disconcerting to some, there just may still be a place for this anachronism. Like the recent English case noted above, there is a natural (given the working relationship) reluctance for district attorneys to go after cops. What other recourse is there when a district attorney will not bring charges?

Perhaps everything new is old again. The main obstacle seems to be that the private prosecution means that only those with the means to pay are afforded justice. Others would say that we already have that problem.

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