Criminal law

Response to Crime – The New York Times


Fighting has broken out in several states between locally elected Republican and Democratic lawmakers over how to respond to the crime.

Democratic district attorneys (they often serve cities with many Black and Latino voters) say they prioritize serious crimes. In response, Republicans (who mostly represent white and rural areas) have accused them of ignoring criminal law and are working to facilitate their removal from office.

Today, I’m going to explain what’s happening and why it matters.

Since 2015, dozens of prosecutors who promised progressive reforms have taken office across the country. They pledged to send fewer people to prison and reduce the harm to low-income communities associated with high incarceration rates.

To that end, many of these plaintiffs have said they will use the discretion the law generally allows them to decline to charge for categories of offenses, such as low-level marijuana offenses. About 90 public prosecutors out of more than 2,000 public prosecutors nationwide participated in these elections. Pledge Failure to prosecute violations of the abortion ban. Many of these prosecutors have been re-elected, demonstrating the continued support of the electorate.

However, conservatives say prosecutors are shirking their duty. It is legitimate, they say, to refuse to prosecute a particular case; Excluding charges for a class of offenses is not. In the words of a Tennessee Republican legislator: “The district attorney has no power to decide which law is valid and which is not.” Conservative Heritage Foundation a to divide from its website to attack “rogue prosecutors”.

And in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and elsewhere, Republican lawmakers have moved to remove or reinstate prosecutors and officials who oversee the court system. Republicans, who are largely rural, often aim to disappoint urban voters, including many black and Latino residents, who elected candidates on platforms of locking in fewer people.

Examples include:

  • In February, Mississippi House Passed A bill creates a new judicial system in part of the state capital, Jackson, a majority-black city run predominantly by black officials. And in neighborhoods where Jackson’s mostly white residents live, this legislation would effectively replace locally elected judges with state-appointed judges, and city police with a state-run force.

  • Tennessee lawmakers in 2021 gave The state’s attorney general has the right to request that a judge replace local prosecutors in cases where they decline to press charges. Republican lawmakers criticized Nashville Attorney General Glenn Funk, who He said Simple possession of marijuana is no longer prosecuted. Funk also said he would not charge businesses that ignore a state law that requires them to post signs indicating that transgender people can use individual bathrooms.

  • When Deborah Gonzalez, a progressive, ran for attorney general in Athens, Georgia, in 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp tried to overturn the election. Kemp lost on the court, and Gonzales won the seat.

  • In Florida last August, its governor, Ron DeSantis deposed Andrew Warren, the Democratic attorney general elected for the district that includes Tampa, who has pledged not to prosecute offenses related to abortion or transgender health care.

These actions upend a long tradition of local control of criminal justice. In the 19th century, many states adopted local elections for prosecutors to ensure that they “reflect the priorities of local communities, not officials in the state capital,” according to one report. date. Criminal laws are enacted largely at the state level, and prosecutors, who are supposed to be accountable to their communities, decide how to enforce them.

Since prosecutors lack the resources to charge each arrest, their discretion is a feature of the system. In the past, prosecutors usually used their discretion to deal strictly with crimes. “We are now seeing government efforts to undermine the will of local voters who have elected prosecutors who are using their discretion for a fairer and more lenient system,” said Marisa Roy, a lawyer for the government. Local Solutions Support Center, He said. “It is inherently undemocratic.”

And in a few states, Republicans are considering legislation that would give them the power to remove local prosecutors. Georgia lawmakers recently Passed A bill that would create a committee with the power to remove prosecutors. He’s waiting for Kemp’s signature.

The Missouri House of Representatives has passed a bill allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor for violent crimes for a five-year term. The bill was originally written to target St. Louis, where the city’s elected attorney general, Kimberly Gardner, is a progressive black Democrat.

And in Texas, dozens of these bills are in the works. Any one Passed This week, the Texas Senate will block prosecutors from adopting policies that refrain from prosecuting a type of crime. Another proposal is to create a council dominated by political appointees that could refer public prosecutors to a court of first instance to be dismissed for incompetence. Republican supporters of the legislation Targeted Five prosecutors, from large metropolitan areas, said they would not prosecute certain crimes, including some related to abortion or transgender medical treatment of minors.

When a new type of legislation appears in different states, sometimes a national policy organization promotes it. This may happen with these bills. Last July, a Heritage Foundation employee met by videoconference with Republican lawmakers about limiting the power of attorneys general, according to a person familiar with the Texas bills. The legislation has become a priority for the Texas House Speaker and Lieutenant Governor. “The Heritage Foundation meets with a diverse group of people and organizations on public policy topics,” a spokeswoman for the foundation said.

And given the conservative momentum behind the bills, Roy expects to see more. “All of this is related to the backlash against the racial justice movement and criminal justice reform,” she said.

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