The Boston Bar Association (BBA) salutes District Attorney Dan Conley on his dedicated service to the people of Suffolk County—not just for his 16 years heading the office, but also his nine years as a line prosecutor. We thank him and wish him the best on his next step.
Prosecutors should be judged not on their win-loss records or the high-profile cases they pursue but rather on their insight and their leadership. DA Conley was certainly a national leader.
“Dan started out working in the trenches. By the time of his appointment as DA, he already knew the ins and outs of not only the office but the city he has always called home. I admire Dan’s leadership and would like to personally wish him well,” BBA President Mark Smith said.
Early in his tenure, he convened a task force on eyewitness identification, bringing in defense attorneys and academic experts to advise him on best practices, with the goal of ensuring that no one was wrongfully prosecuted on the basis of unreliable eyewitness evidence. The policies he implemented policies went beyond what even the US Department of Justice had been recommending and provided a model not only for law enforcement but for the Supreme Judicial Court as well.
When the BBA convened its own task force on wrongful convictions in 2008, DA Conley’s advancements helped inform their internal discussions and their ultimate recommendations on eyewitness identification. His First Assistant DA (now Judge) Joshua Wall also served on the task force. DA Conley understood that any wrongful conviction is a double tragedy—both for the person mistakenly punished and for justice itself, with the true perpetrator left at large.
He also led by example in the field of human trafficking, as one of the first district attorneys in the nation to recognize that the young women and girls arrested for sex trafficking-related crimes are frequently victims themselves, often at the hands of traffickers. He implemented a Safe Harbor program, that has been a national model, to divert them away from prosecution and toward services to help them turn their lives around. As a result, many women in the Boston area today have the opportunity to make the most of their lives.
DA Conley’s faith in the benefits of diversion was not limited to trafficking cases: He embraced the concept of pre-arraignment diversion for juveniles, having never forgotten his early experience of prosecuting scared young kids. His Juvenile Alternative Resolution program was designed to steer offenders out of trouble and prevent them from racking up criminal dispositions that would then haunt them for a lifetime. While the BBA has long advocated for more inclusive criminal justice reform measures for adults as well as young people, we commend DA Conley on his record of seeking constructive solutions for juvenile offenders.
Finally, DA Conley led through his hiring practices, putting together the talented, diverse staff of prosecutors who handle thousands of cases each year.
We hope that the next Suffolk County District Attorney will continue to lead in all these areas, and more, following DA Conley’s example.